Bengal Nose – a comparison between a good nose and an affected nose – photo copyright Helmi Flick
This page was first written, as I recall, in around 2009. It has been updated on more than one occasion including today June 5, 2022 at which point I have republished it. My understanding of the cause of Bengal nose is that it is an inherited genetic condition but I welcome the viewpoint of others in comments, please.
Bengal Nose refers to a condition, which is a dry, crackly nose leather reported by breeders and in a research paper. It is not as far as I am aware a medical term. The nose leather (for people not in the cat fancy) is the end of the nose for a cat. Some breeders think the condition is caused by an incorrect diet in which there is a shortage of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). In that case rubbing vitamin E oil on the nose alleviates the condition. At least one vet diagnosed it as a food allergy, which was cleared up by a change in diet incorporating a different protein level.
However, a research article emanating from Sweden tells a different story. Diet may be a factor but there are other causes. There is also the question as to whether this condition is inherited from the Asian Leopard cat, the wild cat ancestor to the Bengal cat. For the time being, it is the research paper that tells us something about this disease. Perhaps more work is required? Or more cat breeder input.
The research was self-funded and is entitled, “A novel ulcerative nasal dermatitis of Bengal cats” – Author: K. Bergvall. The author refers to the condition as a unique dermatitis that affects Swedish Bengal cats. It, in fact, seems to affect non-Swedish Bengal cats too. The work was carried out on 48 cats over the period 1999-2003. This is many years ago and it surprises me that it has only now being talked about. Perhaps I (and others) was unaware of it but breeders (or some breeders) were aware of it and didn’t discuss it. How prevalent is it? Not sure, but of the 48 cats presented to the researcher 6 had crusts, fissures, erosions and ulcers of the nasal planum. That represents 12.5% of the total. The current percentage may be lower. Planum means “A plane or flat surface”. Nasal means “pertaining to the nose”. That doesn’t exactly tell me the area we are talking about but as it is the nose leather (info from breeders – above) it must refer to the flat surface at the end of the cat’s nose.
The condition was found to start at 4 months to 1 year of age. Antibiotics did not work. Salicylic acid improved the lesions in one of two cats treated. Prednisolone (a synthetic steroid similar to hydrocortisone – it is used as an anti-inflammatory drug and is an immunosuppressive drug) proved effective in curing one cat and partially cured another. Steroids are, as far as I am aware, a last resort in treatments as they can cause side effects. Some breeders wouldn’t consider steroids to be suitable to control this condition, for an otherwise healthy kitten.
The most successful drug in treating “Bengal Nose” was Tacrolimus ointment. This is an immunosuppressive drug used with corticosteroids to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs in humans. This drug decreased the lesions in 4 cats. Lesion means “discontinuity of tissue”. In this case it means that the nose leather is not cut but made up of broken tissue as a result of the condition.
The researcher speculated that it was an inherited disease and one linked to the immune system of the cat. Cat breeding can lead to defective immune systems and higher levels of ill health in purebred cats. It is well known that purebreds generally live shorter lives that Moggies, on average. Inbreeding depression is a description of immune system malfunction or an immune system not working to full effect. Bengal Nose may be linked, therefore, to inbreeding in Bengal cats but this is pure speculation by me. It is, though, recognized that the Bengal breed has been developed from a small number of founding individual cats. Also, the fact that the problem has no known environmental or dietary cause (i.e. it cuts across a variety of circumstances) and does not respond well to usual medication except as described above indicates a genetic illness.
There is no reference to it in Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, Fully Revised and Updated, a recommended book.
It there anyone who can shed light on Bengal Nose?
Update June 10, 2021: The Institute of Genetics refers to this condition as “nasal hyperkeratosis”. It’s not completely clear that this is the condition called ‘Bengal Nose’ which can be suffered by Bengal cats but they state that it has been recognised for more than 10 years and is mainly reported in Bengal and Egyptian Mau cats. They say that it is an inherited disease. In other words, it is a disease caused by inheriting defective genes. They say that the mode of inheritance is unclear by which, I presume, they mean that the not sure whether the gene is dominant or recessive. On their website they were asking for help from readers to send in blood samples so that they could do some research on this and better understand the condition. Their article is undated but I think that it was written some time ago.
This page, written by me, was published in 2017 and there is precious little according to a Google search on the causes of Bengal Nose. There are quite a few posts on the Reddit.com website from Bengal cat owners reporting that their cats suffer from this condition. It is probably not that uncommon and therefore something needs to be done about it.
I believe that the fact that nothing or little has been done is indicative of an inbreeding issue with the cat breeders. If they are unwilling to address the problem (which seems to be the case) nothing will change.
Update June 5, 2022: I have just bumped into another study on this topic. It is titled: Juvenile idiopathic nasal scaling in 3 Bengal cats.
The conclusion of the scientists was that “an underlying congenital condition is suspected that manifests with high epidermal cell turnover and normal keratinisation”.
My interpretation of that is the cause is an inherited genetic condition which results in the cells of the nose being produced and shared at a higher rate than normal. This smaller squares up as I recall with what I said above and I suspect, without being critical, that this is a selective breeding process. Selective breeding is controlled inbreeding to fix appearance characteristics. When humans play with natural selection and indulgent artificial selection, another term for selective breeding, they are liable to end up with this sort of result.
Definitions from www.thefreedictionary.com