The shockingly short lives of many Bengal cats

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The Bengal cat, known for its beauty and athleticism, is among the top ten most popular and well-known cat breeds. However, it may not be widely recognized that when adopting a Bengal kitten, one might expect their new, glamorous family member to have an average lifespan of only 8.5 years according to one major study, or 7.3 years according to another.

The number of Bengal cats assessed in the first study was 73 and 15 in the second study. If we average these averages, we get a Bengal cat life expectancy of 7.9 years.

Most cat caregivers expect their domestic cat to live to around 15 years of age. Some go beyond the age of 20. Some Bengal cats live to the age of 20 but far too many live short lives bringing down the average. If a Bengal cat owner reads this and is confused because their cat is 18 years old and fit, remember that these are averages.

The Bengal on average has a life expectancy of around half the typical 15 year lifespan. As I say in the title: shocking. People should know this.

And there can only be one major reason and that is that the Bengal cat is one of a number of cat breeds which genetically inherits a serious heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Other well-known breeds affected are the Maine Coon and Sphynx (there are others). Both have similarly shortened lifespans as a consequence, with the Sphynx having the shortest lifespan of all the breeds.

Click this to read about cat breed life expectancy for some prominent breeds.

Other inherited diseases affecting the Bengal

The Bengal cat inherits these diseases:

  1. PK-Def (Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency): This condition impairs red blood cells’ ability to metabolize, leading to anemia and other blood-related problems. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, weight loss, jaundice, and abdominal enlargement. Testing breeding cats’ DNA helps identify carriers and avoid affected kittens.
  2. Bengal PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy): PRA causes blindness by destroying light-sensitive cells in the eye. Symptoms typically appear around 7 weeks of age and progress over time. Testing breeding cats helps determine carriers and prevent affected kittens.
  3. HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy): HCM thickens the left ventricle wall of the heart, leading to scar tissue. Regular screening helps manage this condition, which can cause heart failure. This is the big one. The killer which shortens lives.

Studies referred to in first paragraph

Here are the two studies which I have referred to:

For the 8.5-year lifespan: Teng KT, Brodbelt DC, Church DB, O’Neill DG. Life tables of annual life expectancy and risk factors for mortality in cats in the UK. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2024;26(5). doi:10.1177/1098612X241234556.

For the 7.3-year lifespan: O’Neill DG, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, Brodbelt DC. Longevity and mortality of cats attending primary care veterinary practices in England. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2015;17(2):125-133. doi:10.1177/1098612X14536176

HCM

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a common heart condition in Bengal cats, affecting approximately one in every four individuals. While there is no DNA test specifically for HCM in Bengals, annual echocardiography can help detect moderately to severely affected felines.

This disease thickens the heart muscle, leading to stiffness and poor heart function. Symptoms may include irregular heartbeat, heart murmurs, shortness of breath, lethargy, and sudden death. If you’re considering Bengal kittens, regular HCM testing is crucial to monitor their heart health. Remember that HCM can occur in cats aged between three months and 17 years.

My conclusion

When you buy a Bengal kitten from a breeder point out this article to them and ask some tough questions politely. Ask them:

  • What they do to minimise the inheritance of the genetic mutation which brings this disease to offspring and
  • Can they produce evidence that their cats have a normal life expectancy?
  • Also ask why breeders in general have so catastrophically messed up the selective breeding of this handsome cat.

There is no DNA test for HCM in Bengal cats as far as I know. Wrong? Please tell me in a comment.

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