Bengal cats are illegal in certain states, but most states do not enforce the laws regarding Bengals. Hawaii is the only state that enforces its ban on Bengal cats in its entirety.
Why are Bengal cats illegal in some states? Bengals are considered a hybrid animal due to the fact they’re a cross between the Asian Leopard Cat and the domestic feline. The first to fourth (F1 to F4) generation of hybrid Bengals retain much of their untamed nature and can be difficult to live with and can be very destructive to the native wildlife if allowed to roam unattended or escape.
Even though Bengal cats are illegal in some states, you won’t be arrested for their ownership, but you may be fined and have your cats confiscated if their lineage falls into the F1 to F4 categories. Even then, the only state that has active enforcement is Hawaii due to its sensitive ecosystems. Read on to learn more about why Bengal cats are illegal, yet not illegal, in some states, and how you can own a Bengal cat while staying on the right side of the law.
Why Bengal Cats are Illegal in Some States
The illegality of owning a Bengal cat stems from the fact that it’s the offspring of a domesticated and undomesticated pair of cats. The resulting first generation (F1) of Bengal cats usually have more in common with their wild parent than they do their domesticated parent. These offspring are classified as hybrids according to the laws of the states that restrict trade in wildlife.
The Netflix documentary “Tiger King” highlighted the fact that there are a few states that have no laws whatsoever regarding the ownership of exotic animals while other states ban their ownership completely. Bengal cats of the F1 to F4 generation are considered exotic animals due to their unpredictable and unruly nature. However, Bengals that are F5 and beyond are considered domesticated cats and can be legally owned in all states except Hawaii.
The driving reason behind making Bengal cats illegal is due to their unpredictable nature from the first generation to the fourth. They are unlikely to use a litterbox, prefer to eat raw meat and need to live in an environment that resembles the natural habitat of their non-domesticated parent. These cats are best handled by people trained to handle exotics and have facilities that are appropriate for the needs of F1 to F4 Bengals.
Most private owners will not have the skills or training to handle the nature of an exotic cat. A lack of training and awareness can lead to trouble and tragedy for both the cat and the owner. States that have made Bengals illegal are focusing on the early generations only. Bengals that are generation F5 and beyond are considered domesticated and suitable for ownership by anyone.
Proponents of Bengal cats say that the breed is domesticated at the F3 generation, but much of the wild cat instincts remain and can make the Bengal a difficult pet to own. States that ban Bengals at this level recognize the fact that the F1 to F4 generations of Bengals are not appropriate for ownership by people without training and licensing or permits to handle wildlife.
States Where Bengal Cats are Illegal to Own
A few states ban ownership of the early generations while allowing ownership of F5 and beyond. Hawaii bans ownership of Bengals in their entirety and some cities have bans or limitations in absence of state laws. Laws are always changing, so make sure to check with the state and local laws prior to obtaining a Bengal cat. The states that ban ownership of F1 to F4 Bengals include:
- New York State
As previously mentioned, the only state that has an outright ban on Bengals at all generations is Hawaii. All other states allow ownership of Bengals that are at least F5 and lower.
Some cities also ban the ownership of Bengals. They are:
- Denver, CO
- New York City, NY
- Seattle, WA
The city of Denver recognizes the difference between generations F1 to F4 and allows for ownership of cats that are L5 and lower. Seattle and New York City have total bans on ownership of Bengal cats of any generation.
Laws related to Bengals in various states
Let us take a look at the regulations laid out by different states with regards to keeping Bengal as a pet.
New York City and State
All generations of Bengals are banned in New York City.
The regulation was imposed strictly after an incident of a person keeping a tiger as a pet in his apartment.
Some years ago, a small opportunity was available for the owner of Bengals.
They had the option of getting a permit for their cat.
However, now that option has also been closed.
You cannot own a Bengal cat under any circumstances in the state of New York.
According to the law of Georgia, the hybrids of all non-domestic breeds are banned.
You cannot even get a permit.
You will have to prove that the Bengal belongs to a lower generation that is beyond F5 or F6 to even be considered for a permit.
Regulation of first and second generation of Bengals is made in the state of Massachusetts.
Bengal owners have to register their cats with proof of their ancestral history.
Verification is required that they do not have any wild parentage for at least three generations.
Strict rules and regulations were laid out by the state of Iowa in the year 2007.
You have to go through quite a long process to get a permit to keep a Bengal cat in Iowa.
The state bans Bengals unless they are by F4 or above.
A proper license and permit is required to keep any generation of the cat wherein proof of their ancestry has to be provided.
Why are Bengal cats illegal in Hawaii?
Well, we’re not sure.
But the fact remains that all types of Bengals are illegal in the state of Hawaii regardless of which filial stage they belong to.
This state placed a ban on hybrid breeds including Bengals in 2010.
A special license is required to keep an exotic animal; the process is tedious and complicated.
Bengals are banned in this state.
Violation results in liability to pay a fine which does not go beyond $1000.
Every generation of Bengal is banned within the state.
Bengals from early generations are banned in the state.
The cat needs to be separated from its wild ancestry for at least five generations.
While the Bengal cat is not outrightly banned in the state, the F1 and F2 generations are strictly regulated.
The law of California prohibits declawing the Bengals unless it is necessary for their health.
The state of Indiana regulates exotic cats and requires a permit for an F1 generation Bengal cat.
Bengal Cats 101
Understanding the Difference Between Hybrid and Domestic Bengal Cats
It’s important to understand the difference between a Bengal that’s classified as a hybrid and one that’s classified as a domestic pet. A hybrid Bengal in the F1 to F4 generations do not make good house pets while those that are F5 and lower (F6, F7, etc.) possess most of the domestic traits that are associated with house cats. You need to be aware of the distinctions when you’re looking at getting a Bengal cat.
When you buy from a reputable Bengal breeder, you are getting a cat that is at least F5 if not lower and will make for an agreeable, if energetic, companion animal. Here’s a look at the differences between hybrid and domestic Bengal cat behaviors:
Hybrids in the F1 to F4 generations have more in common with their wild cat ancestry than they do their domestic cat ancestry. Wild cats do cover their scat as a part of their survival instinct, but they are unlikely to use the litter box with any regularity, and that is also true of the higher generations of hybrids. The F1 hybrid looks more like their Asian Leopard Cat parent than they do the domestic cat and also exhibit wild cat behaviors that include a high prey drive, a lack of desire to bond with humans, and more difficult to accept training or conditioning to life indoors. Higher generations require special diets that are similar to the foods they’d eat if they were living in the wild.
Bengals that are F4 and lower have a much lower percentage of wild cat DNA and are more like a domestic house cat. They are larger than their house cat counterparts, have a lot of energy, and are very curious and alert, but otherwise do not exhibit wild cat behaviors. A Bengal uses a litterbox out of instinct, eats regular cat food, is affectionate and bonds easily with people. The major differences between the domestic Bengal and domestic cat is size and energy. A domestic Bengal needs a lot of mental and physical stimulation and tend to be more vocal, but are otherwise easier to handle and live with.
Do I Need to Get a Permit or License to Own a Bengal Cat?
The only time you need to get a permit or license to own a Bengal cat is when they are in the first to fourth generation of ancestry, and only in the states that require permits or licenses to own, handle and care for the cats of these generations. If you live in one of these states and are interested in owning Bengals of the F1 to F4 generations, you need to undergo training from a qualified wild animal handler and earn your license or get a permit.
If you buy a Bengal kitten from a reputable breeder who is breeding cats that are F5 or lower, you do not need a permit or license to own them. The only state that has an outright ban of Bengals from any generation is Hawaii. As previously mentioned, Bengal cats that are F5 and lower are considered domesticated by all states and cities that have bans on the higher generations. You can safely purchase a Bengal kitten or adopt from a rescue without needing to apply for the permission to own one.
What Happens if I’m Caught Owning a Bengal in a State Where They’re Illegal?
In the event you’re caught with a Bengal in a state or city that bans ownership of higher generations and your Bengal is F5 or lower, you are not breaking the law. However, if you own higher generations and are caught, you can face anything from a citation and fine with the requirement to become permitted or licensed to giving the cats to a qualified sanctuary. What happens when you’re caught owning a Bengal depends on the laws of that state or city and the terms of prosecution.
What is a Bengal cat?
The definition of a Bengal cat is that of a cat that is descended from the pairing of an Asian Leopard Cat and a domestic cat. They are sometimes referred to as leopard cats due to the rosettes on their coat resembling that of a leopard.
Why isn’t the difference between hybrid and domesticated Bengals more well-known?
The average pet owner is very unlikely to come across a hybrid Bengal for sale as a general rule. The F1 to F4 generations are typically handled by people who are wildlife rehabilitators or breeders who are looking to introduce a new bloodline to the domestic Bengal market.
Can I buy an F1 Bengal?
Ethical breeders do not sell hybrids to the public at large which means the population of hybrid Bengals is much lower than the domestic Bengal. The ratio of hybrids to domestic is such that most pet owners only know of the L5 and lower generations and don’t know about the distinctions between the two types.
What does the “F” stand for when referring to generations of Bengal cats?
The letter “F” stands for Filial, a French word for son. An F1 Bengal is the result of the pairing of a domestic cat and an Asian Leopard Cat. Subsequent generations are the result of breeding Bengals that are further removed from their original parentage. An F2 Bengal is the result of the pairing of two F1s, and an F3 is the result of the paring of two F2s.
How big do Bengal cats get?
Bengal cats average anywhere between 8 to 15 pounds and are 13 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder. Some Bengals can be taller and heavier while some are the size of a house cat.
Are Bengal cats aggressive?
Bengal cats that are L5 in generation and lower are about as aggressive as the average house cat. They may nip and use their claws during play, but they generally have a harmonious nature that allows them to get along with people and other pets without stress. The key difference between a Bengal and a domestic cat is energy levels. Bengals play harder and longer, and have more strength to power their muscles.