Common questions we are often asked by potential kitten clients are “Will my Bengal climb on my counter tops or other places I don’t want him to?”, or “Will he climb all over my furniture or scratch it?”. My short answer is always “Yes”. Let me explain.
A Bengal – not unlike many other breeds of cat – likes to be up high. Bengals, even more so than other breeds, seek high places in part due to the fact that their ancestor – the Asian Leopard Cat – is a tree dwelling cat. The Asian Leopard Cat sits high in the trees to survey its surroundings, not only as a means of survival, but also in order to locate its prey. It hunts within and below the trees it lives in.
Counter tops are not only high, but they are also very interesting. They’re where all the exciting stuff seems to be happening and they provide a great vantage point from which to watch all the other exciting stuff happening just below. Why wouldn’t a highly intelligent and curious animal such as a Bengal cat want to be right up there in the middle of all the action?
Other fun places for Bengals to be are the tops of refrigerators, bookshelves, entertainment consoles, and doorways. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that they can actually get up into the some of the places they manage to get to! Bengals are not only astute climbers, but they are also incredibly powerful jumpers. Given these attributes, it makes sense that one who wishes to live with a Bengal, needs to accept the fact that they will have to provide their Bengal with acceptable places up high to play, perch, or rest. Trying to fight such an innate instinct seems futile – and ultimately sort of boring, don’t you think?
We highly encourage our kitten clients to begin thinking about this need to climb and be up high well ahead of time before bringing their kitten home. This may simply mean rethinking your furniture’s purpose. For example, maybe you don’t need that space up on top of your refrigerator and could place a cushion or comfy towel up there as a place where your Bengal will be allowed to nap. Our cats love to perch up on the refrigerator while we’re making meals or doing chores as it is a great vantage point for them to watch us and each other go about the day. We keep our oven mitts on top of the refrigerator and these provide the perfect cushion for a nap. You could also consider clearing off the top of a bookshelf or other ledge type surface for your Bengal to use as a resting spot or perch. Think about whether you really need that space for nick nacks, before considering it off limits for your Bengal. Maybe you can share.
If sharing your furniture and appliances with your new family member is not your idea of a good option, then you will need to add some dedicated cat climbing posts and trees or other forms of vertical space especially for them. Besides satisfying the bengal’s desire to be up high, adding some vertical space to your home for their use will also provide them the opportunity for more space to exercise. If you are not willing to do this, then you should seriously reconsider living with a bengal.
When creating these spaces around your home for your Bengal to climb, be sure to add sisal rope, or carpeted ramps – these additions will provide your Bengal with something to dig into and to scratch and pull at when needed. Keep in mind that a cat NEEDS to scratch. Scratching allows your cat to remove the dead outer layer of his claws and to stretch out his back and shoulder muscles after sleeping in a tight little ball for hours and hours during the day. Scratching also serves as a marking tool for cats – they have scent glands in their toes that leave pheromones behind to help others know who has been in the spot they are scratching at. Scratching while stretching is also a great stress reliever for a cat. To deny your cat the resources to carry out this very natural, instinctual act, is denying him a very important form of emotional release.
Accordingly, your Bengal should never be punished for scratching – instead he should be carefully redirected to appropriate scratching spaces. It's your duty to provide him with these spaces well ahead of time so that they can readily be utilized during training sessions, if need be. Rest assured that if you provide your Bengal with adequate climbing and scratching materials (using carpet and wood wrapped in thick sisal rope), it's far less likely that you will have an issue with him scratching or climbing on your own furniture to begin with.
Whether you decide to keep your cat’s adventure apparatus simple, or if you plan to go all out and build something extravagant, you will be doing your Bengal and yourself a huge favour. Most Bengals will immediately take to any climbing apparatus that you introduce them to, however it’s always a good idea to have some catnip spray on hand to assist with the introduction. As a general kitten training practice, we use catnip spray (we find the Kong brand the most effective) to encourage our kittens to stay off couches and other human furniture in favour of their own climbers and shelves instead. We simply spray a touch of cat nip in the places we want them to make their own so that they begin to spend more time in those areas and leave their own scent on them for future reference.
Pictured below are some ideas for apparatus which can be purchased or created yourself, using some imagination (images have been found on Pinterest and other readily available public web sources):
International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada 2018, Calgary Alberta, accessed February https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/leopard-cat
Pam Johnson-Bennett. Why Does My Cat Scratch the Furniture. https://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/why-does-my-cat-scratch-the-furniture/
Carmen Klassen, Owner of Jewelspride Bengals