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The Tonkinese is a very personable, medium-sized cat distinguished by a lithe elegance and stunning beauty. With point coloration like the Siamese and Birman breeds, this cat is an extremely friendly, talkative animal with an entertaining personality, who seeks your undivided attention and lifelong love.
As with many other cat breeds, the exact history of the Tonkinese varies to some degree from historian to historian. Tonkinese cats are known to be the result of a recent crossbreeding between the Siamese and Burmese cat breeds, although some assert that Tonkinese-like cats have existed since at least the early 19th century, and quite possibly, much earlier than that. The founding cat of the official Burmese breed was probably a mink hybrid cat named "Wong Mau," a small walnut-colored cat imported to California by Dr. Joseph Cheesman Thompson in 1930.
According to The International Cat Association (TICA), although some believe the Tonkinese to be a new designer breed, this cat can be traced back to the Ayudha Period (1358-1767) evidenced from documentation in The Cat-Book Poems of Siam. Since Burmese cats, originally called “Copper Cats” in their native land of Southeast Asia, existed for centuries in the same general regions as the Siamese, the possibility of crossbreeding seems highly likely. As a result, the true history of the Tonkinese remains shrouded in mystery, adding to the breed’s already intriguing appeal.
The Tonkinese cat finally got its formal start as a recognized breed in the early 1960s, when Canadian breeder Margaret Conroy crossed a sable Burmese with a seal point Siamese. The product of that cross was a cat of “intermediate” temperament and type, which Conroy originally called the “Golden Siamese.” At that time, neither the Burmese nor the Siamese had yet been transformed into their current conformations. The Siamese had yet to attain its extremely sleek show style, and the Burmese was not yet as compact and cobby, nor was its head shape as broad and rounded. Combining these two breeds to achieve a uniform and consistent head and body type was a challenging endeavor for developers of the Tonkinese.
Some claim that the outcome achieved is closer to the original look of the Siamese, before breeders had developed today's triangular head and very long, leggy body.
By the way, the Tonkinese name is not related to the Tonkin region of Indochina, or to the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. When the breed was first established in Canada, the breed name was actually spelled "Tonkanese," which was a reference to the island in the musical “South Pacific” where "half-breeds" suffered no discrimination. Eventually, the current spelling was adopted, and it is under this spelling that the breed was recognized by feline associations in the United States.
In 1971 CCA became the first cat registry to grant Championship status to the Tonkinese. CFF recognized the Tonkinese in 1974; TICA followed in 1979. The road to acceptance is never smooth. Many new breeds can't achieve acceptance without a period of controversy, and the Tonk was no exception. Gaining approval and support from the cat fancy community has been as challenging as attaining a good head type. However, by 1990, all of the major associations had finally accepted the breed for Championship status.
The Tonkinese cat has a charming personality motivated by high intelligence, which is not at all surprising, since the Burmese and Siamese are also appreciated for their lovely temperaments. Faithful followers say the Tonkinese represents the best of both breeds. Its voice is milder in tone than the Siamese, but its distinctive meow is often compared to the quack of a duck. According to some, this meow can be annoying when the cat is seeking your attention. But the Tonk has an unbridled enthusiasm for the little thrills of life, drawn to interactive toys such as human fingers, catnip mice, and the tails of its feline companions. The Tonkinese makes every close encounter an episode of fun and games!
Wrapped in a mink coat with sparkling aqua eyes, the extroverted Tonk is a purring package of pleasure who expects nothing but your unadulterated love and attention. Frisky cats with an amusing sense of humor, the Tonkinese will entertain you for hours with its endless antics. Extraordinarily affectionate, this is a cat who needs to be adored. Many fanciers say that it’s a blending of the best of both worlds from the Siamese and Burmese ancestry, creating a delightful, gorgeous cat that adds joy to the lives of everyone lucky enough to own one.
These are also very intelligent cats with a long memory and a strong will, so persistence pays off when training them. Tonkinese will greet and entertain all of your visitors, with the assumption that your guests have come specifically to meet your cat. Full of energy, this cat enjoys the company of children, dogs, and other pets alike – not one to be fussy at all – but definitely cannot tolerate isolation or loneliness! While not as vocal as a Siamese, the Tonkinese cat will hold chatty conversations with you and expect your full attention at all times. Interesting toys and a cat tree, or better yet, another very active cat can keep it busy when all else fails.
Tonkinese come in four colors and exhibit three predominant patterns. The most commonly accepted colors are: platinum, champagne, blue, and natural, although European associations also accept red, cream, caramel, apricot, and tortoiseshell. The three main coat patterns are mink, solid, and pointed. Solid is essentially a Burmese coat pattern; pointed a Siamese pattern. Mink is a unique Tonkinese pattern, featuring shaded points like the Siamese. Mink falls between Burmese and Siamese, with less abrupt contrast between the body and legs than the Siamese. The Solid coat is characterized by body coloration in a tone closely complementing the point color, reducing the contrast between body and points even more. The mink variety is the most desirable for the show ring in cat fancier associations.
Typically, solid Tonkinese kittens have gold or blue-green eyes; cats with the pointed pattern are blueeyed; and the mink-patterned cats have a pretty shade of aquamarine. A great deal of subtle variation exists in colors and patterns, and Tonkinese kittens’ body color darkens with age to some degree in all patterns. Cats kept in colder climates will typically be darker in their mink or point shading, like their Siamese cousins.
For a medium-sized cat, the solidly muscular Tonkinese is surprisingly heavy. Males weigh from eight to twelve pounds and females, from six to eight pounds. Some weigh even more. Litters typically yield four to five kittens. Their attractive sparkling eyes are the highlight of their very pleasing modified wedge-shaped faces. The medium-sized ears are pricked slightly forward, emphasizing the cat's alertness.
Keeping the Tonkinese sleek and soft is easy, as the short thick coat does not need much care. A rubber brush used once a week removes any loose dead hair and an occasional bath keeps the minklike coat at its very best.
Any kittens who fail to perfectly meet breed standards are labeled “pet quality,” and are usually sold as companion pets for less money, since they cannot be exhibited. However, they still have the same exuberant Tonkinese charm and personality, as well as the complex and fascinating genetics of the coat and eye coloring. Tonkinese cats are stunners!