Tonkinese Cat

The Tonkinese Cat was initially developed by crossbreeding the Burmese and the Siamese; overtime it kept what was best from its ancestors, but it also developed its own unique features. Nicknamed Tonk by its admirers, this breed is appreciated for its sociable and playful temper, its unique mink pattern (similar to the mink) and for its pleasant body shape. In the past decade, this breed became increasingly popular, and in 1998 the Tonkinese became one of the top 10 most popular breeds, according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association. The following year, it fell on 11th place, being surpassed by its relative, the Burmese, but this was not going to stand in the way of its popularity and its bright future.

Tonkinese History and origins

The planned, selective breeding of the Tonkinese was only initiated in the 1960s, but natural crossbreeding with Siamese and Burmese specimens had been the norm for hundreds of years.

The plain brown cats and the chocolate brown Siamese cats, most probably the initial Burmese and Tonkinese, were first brought to England from Siam at the end of the 1800. At first, all varieties were exhibited in the British cat shows, but beginning with the 1900s, only the blue-eyed Siamese specimens were allowed to participate. The cats that did not have blue eyes were not allowed to participate in shows and they gradually became extinct from the felis family.

The Tonkinese reappeared at the beginning of the 1960s, when Canadian breeder Margaret Conroy crossbred a black Burmese and a Seal Point variety of Siamese. The resulting kittens were light brown with blue eyes and pleasant personalities. At that time, neither the Burmese nor the Siamese existed in their current extreme form. Therefore, the initial Tonkinese build was intermediary between these two breeds, a build that remained unchanged to this day. Initially named the golden Siamese, the breed was renamed to Tonkinese in 1971, after the Tonkin Lowland region, which was considered the cradle of the Vietnamese civilization. Even though the Tonkinese was not native to that region, this name gave it a nice exotic touch.

Although the Tonkinese was a controversial breed from the very beginning and neither Siamese, nor Burmese breeders wanted anything to do with it, the breed’s popularity increased consistently. The Canadian Cat Association was the first feline authority to acknowledge its membership, and nowadays all feline associations in North America acknowledge the Tonkinese as a member. The Tonkinese cats are preferred especially by cat lovers who like the traditional Siamese and who want a cat with a less extreme aspect and a head shape that is very common among show cats nowadays.

Today, the Tonkinese is acknowledge as a member of the following international associations and organizations: American Association of Cat Enthusiasts (AACE), American Cat Association (ACA), American Cat Fancier’s Association (ACFA), Canadian Cat Association (CCA), Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), Cat Fanciers’ Federation (CFF), The International Cat Association (TICA), Traditional Cat Association, Inc. (TCA), United Feline Organization (UFO).

External features and measures

The Tonkinese Cat is neither robust like the Burmese, nor slim like the Siamese, it falls somewhere in the middle. Surprisingly heavy when lifted up, the Tonkinese is a medium-sized muscular and athletic cat. The head has a slightly rounded, conic shape and the medium-sized ears point upwards. The beveled almond shaped eyes are of a green-blue color. Its front legs are slim and muscular, while the hind legs a slightly longer.  The paws are oval, the tail is rather long and slim.

Given that the Tonkinese inherits the genes responsible for coloring and pattern from both parental breeds, there are three varieties of this breed, according to the inherited genes: plain like the Burmese, pointed like the Siamese (with the extremities of a different, usually darker color) and Mink, somewhere in between. The mink variety is a unique feature of the Tonkinese breed and by the standards of many associations it is a proof of the authenticity of the breed, though some of them recognize the pointed and plain varieties as well. Even the plain varieties have the extremities of a darker color, but the contrast between the two shades is much less obvious.

The mink variety appears when the cat inherits one set of genes from the Siamese and one set of genes from the Burmese. Since both genes are recessive, the result is a slightly lighter base color in comparison to the extremities color. The green-blue eye color is also a characteristic of the variety and the breed. The pointed Tonkinese cats have blue eyes, and the plain ones have green to yellow eyes.

The accepted coat colors are natural (brown with dark brown extremities), champagne (cream-yellow to beige with brown extremities), blue (light grey-blue in warm shades with ardesia blue extremities) and platinum (light silver grey with dark silver grey extremities).

The contrast between the base color and the extremity color varies according to the pattern. Other coat colors include red, cinnamon, medium brown and cream, but they are very rare and are not accepted by all associations.
The adult Tonkinese weighs around 2.5 – 5.5 kg, the male being slightly larger than the female.

Tonkinese Cat Personality

The Tonkinese has an interesting, fascinating personality, which should not surprise you since the Burmese and the Siamese are both highly appreciated for their tempers. The Tonkinese inherited the best parts of its ancestors character – it is curious, clever and communicative like the Siamese and vivacious and social like the Burmese. Its voice is weaker and softer than the Siamese and it usually is less noisy. The Tonkinese cats believe in the felines’ right to free speech and they will tell all about their day when you get home.

The Tonkinese cats turn any activity into play time, whether it’s assisting you in making the bed or helping with dinner. Being very social, the Tonkinese longs for companionship and affection. They establish strong connections with their human companions, following them everywhere, so the Tonkinese may not be the right choice for you if you spend a lot of time away from home. In the absence of human companionship, of another feline or pet, the Tonkinese will become depressed and ill-tempered, becoming thus an unpleasant companion. This is why you should probably get your Tonkinese a feline companion.

Family and Home Relationships

The Tonkinese is exclusively an apartment cat since its curious and creative personality might make it more vulnerable to the variety of threats that exist in the external environment. Given that this feline requires a lot of attention, the Tonkinese will be most happy by your side around the house.


It loves children; it gets easily attached to them and they will probably take part in a lot of adventures together. The Tonkinese can live comfortably together with other pets and even with dogs, if it is used with them from an early age.

Tonkinese Cat characteristics

Its very short and silky coat requires minimal care. Brushing once a week will keep your Tonkinese just gorgeous. You should only give the Tonkenese a bath only if it gets in contact with certain dangerous substances, otherwise it is perfectly capable to care for its own coat all by itself with no help from you. You should check and clean its ears and claws periodically.

Tonkinese diseases and health issues

The Tonkinese is usually strong and healthy, but make sure you get your pet from a renowned breeder that is able to provide a health certificate. Like its ancestor the Siamese, the Tonkinese is prone to gingivitis, therefore dental care and yearly check-ups are mandatory.

A rare breed of Asian cat

The Tonkinese male, like the male of any cat breed, is prone to the feline urologic syndrome (the formation of crystals within the kidneys or the bladder), which is why you should pay close attention to the cat’s diet and to the possible urinary issues that might appear.

After the age of 6-8, it is recommended to bring your cat in for a routine check-up and investigation (scans, x-rays, blood and urine test) even if its healthy in order to discover possible health issues and tend to them through adequate diet and treatment.

The average life expectancy of the Tonkinese is 12-15 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *