Is a Bengal cat a tabby cat?

Leopards Realm Bengal Cats
Leopards Realm Bengal Cats. Photo: the breeder.
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Yes, all Bengal cats are tabby cats. I’ll explain. ‘Bengal cats’ are a cat breed. ‘Tabby cats’ are domestic, stray and feral cats with a certain type of cat coat: the tabby coat. So, the latter encompasses the former. It is a wider classification. An umbrella classification if you like. The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) refer to the Bengal coat’s ‘tabby pattern’.

Stunning young Bengal curls up around owner's head and suckles on her cheek
Stunning young Bengal curls up around owner’s head and suckles on her cheek. Screenshot.

You’ll see tabby coats with most cat breeds

In most cat breeds the tabby coat is allowed by the cat association’s breed standard. So, you’ll see tabby Maine Coons and tabby American Shorthairs for example. Of course, you won’t see a tabby Siamese cat because they have one type of pointed coat. Although you will see a Siamese cat with tabby pointing! They are called ‘lynx point’ Siamese cats.

You’ll also see tabby-and-white coats on both random bred and purebred cats across many breeds. The white is caused by the presence of the piebald gene. The tabby element is caused by the agouti gene. And you’ll see gray, brown, snow, red etc. tabby type coats (and many more) as well. They are all variations on the same theme.

Glossy, high contrast Bengal tabby coat

The thing about the Bengal cat’s tabby coat is that it is glossy and contrasty thanks to years of selective breeding that it seems only belongs to the Bengal cat and no other breed. This is not really true. It’s just that it is a glamorised tabby coat, of which there are three types: blotched or classic, spotted and mackerel (striped).

Bengal cat coat infographic
Bengal cat coat infographic. Published here under a creative commons license. CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE IT LARGER. YOU STAY ON THIS PAGE.

Difference in appearance between Bengal cat and random bred tabby cat

How can you tell between a Bengal cat and a tabby cat? Well as mentioned they can be one and the same cat but as the tabby coat is the most common, you’ll see it on many random bred cats. Bengal cats have a certain refined appearance which distinguishing them from random-bred (mixed breed) tabbies. It is fairly easy to tell the difference.

Difference between random bred tabby cat and Bengal cat in appearance
Difference between random bred tabby cat and Bengal cat in appearance. Image: MikeB

Types of Bengal cat coat

The Bengal spotted tabby can be sub-divided into different types such as arrowheads and donuts. The classic tabby for the Bengal is called the marbled Bengal cat. It is a blotched swirling tabby. You will not see the striped tabby on the Bengal. Although there is an overlap between the spotted and striped tabbies as when spots are joined up, they become stripes! The CFA refer to three types of Bengal cat tabby patterns: ROSETTED/SPOTTED TABBY PATTERN, MARBLE TABBY PATTERN and CHARCOAL TABBY PATTERN EFFECT in their breed standard.

Over decades, Bengal cat breeders have consistently refined the tabby coat to create a range of Bengal-specialised tabby coats which you will only see on this breed of cat. But they are still tabby cats in a fundamental sense.

Bengal cat with great coat of clear arrowhead markings
Arrowhead spots on Bengal. Photo: Pinterest.

Glitter

The Bengal cat breeders have gone a step further and made cats with glittering coats. These are prized on the show circuit. Here is an example:

Bengal cat glitter
Bengal cat glitter. Photo: Belle Ami Bengals.

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