The Tonkinese breed, which was recognised by the GCCF in 1991, comes from the East, as with its relatives the Burmese and Siamese, where it has been known for centuries. Tonkinese have been known in the West for at least a hundred years and were first mistakenly called Chocolate Siamese in the 1880’s. However, in 1930, in the USA, Dr Joseph Thompson examined the genetics of his imported cat Wong Mau and described her as a hybrid of the Burmese and Siamese.
Most Tonkinese in the West nowadays are descendants of cats which were bred by crossing Burmese with Siamese to produce offspring which, while having many of the delightful physical and personality traits characteristic of the parent breeds, are nevertheless a distinct breed in their own right. If a male Siamese is mated with a female Burmese, or vice versa, the resulting kittens will be first-generation (usually referred to as F1) Tonkinese. If such a Tonkinese is then mated to another Tonkinese, the offspring, no matter what their colour or coat pattern, will still be Tonkinese.
An intermediate Tonkinese, with the head darker than the body
Tonkinese cats are pointed (i.e. their ears, facial mask, feet/legs and tail are darker than their body colour), with a 'foreign' body shape which should be neither short and stocky nor overly long. They are slim, elegant, muscular cats who are usually heavier than they appear. Their heads are, ideally, a gently-rounded wedge shape, with medium-sized ears and rounded, almond-shaped eyes which may be blue, green-gold or a rather beautiful blue-green shade known as 'aqua', depending on coat-pattern (see below), and the coat is short, soft and velvety. They come in a variety of colours - brown (the 'original' colour, corresponding to seal-point in the Siamese or sable in the Burmese), blue (a dark grey which may have a hint of silver to it), chocolate (a paler version of brown), lilac (a paler version of blue), red (a rich, deep orange), cream (a cool 'clotted-cream' shade), apricot (a warm but subtle shade of reddish-brown) and caramel (a warm brownish-blue). All the colours may also be produced in tortoiseshell, tabby or tortie-tabby.
A Tonkinese showing a gently rounded wedge shaped head
Because the Tonkinese are descended from the Siamese and Burmese breeds and the 'partial albinism' or Himalayan gene which causes pointing is a recessive gene which varies between these two parent breeds, Tonkinese cats may have any one of three basic coat patterns. The tonkinese (with a lower-case t), intermediate or 'mink' coat pattern shows a subtle gradation of colour, with a lighter shade of the base colour on the body blending into noticeably darker, contrasting points. In the high-contrast (Siamese) coat pattern the body colour is quite pale, especially in youth, with strongly contrasting darker points, and the Burmese coat pattern shows less contrast, with a darker body colour and points which may be only slightly darker than the body. The eye colour also varies - cats with an intermediate coat pattern will have aqua, or blue-green eyes, those with a Siamese coat pattern will have blue eyes, while those with a Burmese coat pattern will have green-gold or amber eyes.
At present, only Tonkinese with an intermediate coat pattern are eligible to be shown at GCCF Shows, although this may change in the future.
An example of a Tonkinese with aquamarine eyes
Any attempt to describe the personality of the Tonkinese will of necessity include a lot of generalisations - these cats are very much individuals and as such will vary in character to some extent. Bearing that in mind, however, some traits can be said to typify the breed.
Tonkinese have lots of personality! They're sometimes described as 'more like dogs than cats' and in many ways this is a very good description. They are sensitive, intelligent cats who bond strongly with their human companions and will show their affection very clearly. They're inquisitive and curious, need and enjoy company (both feline and human) and attention, and love to be active and to have something interesting to do. They make excellent companions - they love to be with people and are often quite talkative and will hold long 'conversations' with their owners, although in general they're less vocal and have less raucous voices than the Siamese. On the downside, they are easily bored, have wills of their own and can be stubborn, although it's often possible to distract them with a game or a cuddle. Because of their intelligence, many Tonkinese can be trained, for example, to walk on a leash or to perform simple actions like 'sit' or 'lie down' on request and some teach themselves to retrieve a thrown ball or stick, open doors or even, occasionally, to use a human toilet!
A properly socialised Tonk is an outgoing, confident cat who will make its presence felt. They usually get on well with children (provided the children have been taught not to chase them, pull at them or otherwise tease them, as with any cat), other cats and cat-friendly dogs and most of them are happy to socialise with people, even strangers.
Tonkinese cats are full of personality and can be mischievous!
Will a Tonk suit you?
A Tonkinese will probably suit your lifestyle and your family if:
you want a cat who will consider itself a member of the family, who will show its affection and appreciation for you and other family members but always on its own terms
you can provide a stimulating and interesting environment, with plenty of company both from humans and preferably, from other cats
you'd be happy with a sociable cat who will want to be with you, sit and talk to you, investigate everything you do and insist on its fair share of attention
you're prepared to consider your cat's needs and feelings, treat them with respect and if necessary, make compromises to ensure the cat's contentment and well-being
any children in the family are of an age to understand that a cat is not a toy but a living creature who can feel pain and fear and will defend itself very effectively if it feels it needs to
However, you should consider very carefully whether Tonkinese will suit you if:
you want a placid, undemanding lap-cat who'll fit into your life uncomplainingly - Tonks will certainly sit on laps and be restful, but only when they want to, which may not happen at the same time as you want it
all the members of your family are out all day and there are no other cats in the household - a bored, lonely Tonk is an unhappy Tonk, and an unhappy Tonk will share its unhappiness.
you love to have beautiful objects around you and want nothing but the best in your home - Tonks are no respecters of precious things, fragile ornaments, expensive velvet draperies or shag-pile carpets
anyone in your household has allergies; Tonkinese often live as indoor cats but this does not mean they don’t shed fur nor allergy inducing dander, (however they don’t shed as much as outdoor cats or traditional long-haired cats)
A Tonkinese can have either a tortoiseshell or tabby coat pattern or a solid coat colouring