July 11, 2000
BENGAL CAT LAWS
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for the position of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture on the sale and purchase of Bengal cats and how other states address this issue.
Bengal cats are descendants of cats crossbred from Asian leopard cats and domestic cats. Asian leopard cats are small wild cats that resemble ocelots. Most Bengal cats are at least four generations removed from Asian leopard cats. Bengal cats generally weigh between eight and 16 pounds and were recognized as a breed by The International Cat Association in 1984.
Connecticut Law and Department of Agriculture's Position
CGS § 26-40a bars the possession of potentially dangerous animals, including various members of the felidae (cat) family. The ban does not apply to (1) zoos, research institutions, and related facilities and (2) people who possessed potentially dangerous animals on or before May 23, 1986.
The law allows a person to possess a Bengal cat only if it was (1) registered with the Department of Agriculture by October 1, 1996 and (2) certified by an internationally recognized cat breeding association as being without wild parentage for at least four generations. The law barred the importation of Bengal cats after June 6, 1996. OLR memo 99-R-0593 describes the history of this law. To date, 18 owners have registered their Bengal cats.
The department has historically opposed allowing Bengal cats in the state out of a concern for rabies. According to Bruce Sherman, the state veterinarian, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not believe there is a proven rabies vaccine for Bengal cats. In particular, USDA has not conducted a study to determine the length of time Bengal cats can pass the rabies virus through their saliva. The results of such a “virus shed” study would determine the length of time a Bengal cat would need to be quarantined to find out whether it was rabid. Under CGS § 24-40a, Bengal cats are considered unvaccinated for purposes of the rabies control laws, whether or not they have received the standard cat rabies vaccine. This means that if the cat bit someone it would need to be killed and examined to determine whether rabies is present.
Laws in Other States
We were able to identify only two other states that regulate Bengal cats (the other states appear to treat them as domestic cats). Georgia bans all hybrid cats, including Bengal (Ga. Code. § 27-5-5). Massachusetts generally bars the possession, sale, breeding, import, export or release of a wild felid hybrid. But, these provisions do not apply to a domesticated show or pet cat registered with a nationally or internationally recognized breeding association or registry that certifies the pedigree and registration of such cat to be without any wild felid parentage for a minimum of three generations (Mass. Gen Laws. ch. 131 sec. 77A). Unlike Connecticut, this provision is not limited to cats registered with the state as of a certain date.