Last updated: February 18, 2017
The Tonkinese is a blend of the Burmese and Siamese. He may look like a glamour puss but the Tonkinese is all clown and expects you to be his adoring audience. In return, he will love you to the ends of the Earth and back and make your life so much more enjoyable.
The Tonkinese is a medium sized cat, usually weighing between 5 – 12 pounds. The body is a moderately long rectangle. It is not long like that of the Siamese but would never be described as cobby either. When lifted, they are surprisingly heavy and by no means delicate. The Tonkinese should be well-muscled. They have moderate bone. The hind legs should be slightly longer than the fore legs. The tail is wide at the base and tapers to a blunt tip. It is about the same length as the body.
The head is a modified wedge with gently curving edges. From the front it appears to have the shape of an equilateral triangle. The ears carry the wedge shape of the head further. They are slightly longer than wide with oval tips. They are medium sized. The eyes have the same shape as a peach pit. This means that they are almond shaped on the upper half but more rounded on the lower half of the eye. They are wide set and slightly slanted. They can be a variety of colors and eye color does correspond to coat pattern. Sepia cats have chartreuse (green – gold to yellow – green) colored eyes. Mink cats have aqua colored eyes. Pointed cats have eyes that are a shade of blue ranging from sky blue to violet.
The coat is short, fine, and silky to the touch. It lies close to the body and needs to grooming although the Tonkinese will enjoy the attention of a weekly rub down to keep it shiny. All colors are allowed in the Tonkinese. They come in three basic coat patterns – pointed, mink and sepia. Pointed cats have a light body with a notable darkening of color at the points (feet, face, ears, and tail). In mink patterned cats, the points are much more blended into the body color although still noticeably darker. There should not be the same degree of contrast as there is in a pointed cat. Sepias are sometimes called solid and there is very little contrast at all between color at the points and body color. Many registries do not allow pointed and sepia patterned cats to be shown, only mink patterns.
Some firmly believe that the Tonkinese is a natural breed that has been around for centuries and is one of the described breeds in the famed book, The Cat Book Poems of Siam, during the Ayudha period (1358 – 1767). Many believe that Wong Mau, the cat used to develop the Burmese breed in North America, may actually have been a Tonkinese. While it is quite possible that Siamese and Burmese cats have been purposefully and naturally bred together over the centuries, the modern Tonkinese is related to cats developed in Canada in the 1960s.
Margaret Conroy, a Canadian Burmese breeder, bred her Burmese queen to a Siamese stud. She referred to them as “golden Siamese” and found that the cats were very much a blend of the two breeds. Fascinated with the results, she began to work at developing the breed. She joined forces with Jane Barletta, an American breeder from New Jersey who was also interested in the idea of the golden Siamese, and together they drafted the first breed standard.
The Canadian Cat Association (CCA) became the first registry to accept the new breed into its ranks in 1971. Today, most registries accept the Tonkinese and they frequently rank within the top ten breeds by popularity in terms of litter registrations. The name came from the Tonkin Bay in Vietnam although the breed is not Vietnamese in origin.
The modern Tonkinese started as a hybrid and has been very healthy thus far. The biggest concern that faces is that the gene pool is not as large as breeders might wish. Some registries do still allow Tonkinese to be outcrossed to Siamese and Burmese cats which can further expand the gene pool. A limited gene pool is not necessarily a problem as long as the breed is healthy.
The problem arises when a disease arises within a breed with a limited gene pool. Because many of the cats within a small gene pool are closely related, they are likely to share similar genes and a population that is resistant to the illness may not be available to breed resistance and healthier lines into affected breeding stock. Viruses tend to eliminate small gene pools much more easily than diverse gene pools. So, while it isn’t immediately a problem, it is something breeders will need to consider as they move forward.
The Tonkinese is an attention seeking clown. He loves to be the center of attention and firmly believes that that is his right. The Tonkinese maintains a kitten’s playfulness well into his adult years. Any object can be turned into a toy. It is always best to provide lots of toys and rotate the variety to prevent boredom or your Tonkinese may decide to make some new toys of his own design. These could include items you don’t feel belong in the toy box.
They are very affectionate cats and like to interact with their families, wanting to be involved in all activities in the home. They are keen conversationalists too. They may not have quite as strident a voice as the Siamese but they can be just as talkative. They will tell you all about their day in great detail, so be prepared to listen.
They do well with children and are happy to play with them. They will also get along well with other pets including other cats and cat friendly dogs. They do not manage well when left by themselves for extended periods of time though. If the family will be away during the day due to other commitments such as work and school, it is best to have a second cat to keep the Tonkinese company.
The Tonkinese can be an ideal choice for families that want an active, playful cat that wants to be involved with his family. They are very affectionate and loving creatures but do need company if they are to be left alone for extended periods of time.