Tonkinese are a domestic cat breed produced by crossbreeding between the Siamese and Burmese. They share many of their parents' distinctively lively, playful personality traits and are similarly distinguished by a pointed coat pattern in a variety of colors.
It is believed that Tonkinese-like cats have existed in the West since at least the early 19th century. The founder of the American Burmese type, a female named Wong Mau imported to the USA in 1930, is thought to have been genetically a crossbreed of this type.
More modern Tonkinese cats are the result of a Canadian crossbreeding program between the Siamese and Burmese breeds, with the aim of creating the ideal combination of both parent breeds' distinctive appearance and lively personalities. The cats thus produced were moved from crossbreed classification to an established breed in 2001. The name is a reference to the Tonkin region of Indochina. Tonkinese cats under the age of sixth months have historically been referred to in the West as 'small-cats' rather than 'kittens' to reflect a more direct translation from Burmese, although this term has become almost obsolete since the mid-20th century.
Tonkinese are a medium-sized cat, considered an intermediate type between the slender, long-bodied modern Siamese and British Burmese and the more "cobby", or substantially-built American Burmese. Like their Burmese ancestors, they are deceptively muscular and typically seem much heavier than expected when picked up. Tail and legs are slim but proportionate to the body, with distinctive oval paws. They have a gently rounded, slightly wedge-shaped head and blunted muzzle, with moderately almond-shaped eyes and ears set towards the outside of their head.
Coat and color
Tonkinese are currently officially recognized by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in four base colors: natural (a medium brown), champagne (a paler buff-beige), blue and platinum. Some European associations also accept red, cream, caramel, apricot and tortoiseshell.
Each of these colours is in turn divided into three types of coat pattern: "point", the classic Siamese-style dark face, ears, legs and tail on a contrasting white or cream base, and blue eyes; "solid", similar to the Burmese, in which the color is essentially uniform over the body with only faintly visible points and gold or green eyes; and "mink", a unique intermediate between the other two, in which the base is a lighter shade but still harmonious with the point colour, and the eyes are a lighter blue-green, called aquamarine. Owing to the comparatively recent development of the breed there is still some acceptable variation in these colors and patterns.
Like both parent breeds, Tonkinese are intelligent, active, vocal and generally people-oriented cats, playful and interested in everything going on around them; however, this also means they are easily susceptible to becoming lonesome or bored. Their voice is similar in tone to the Burmese, persistent but softer and sweeter than the Siamese, similar to the gentle quacking of a duck. Like Burmese, Tonkinese are reputed to sometimes engage in such dog-like behaviors as fetching, and to enjoy jumping to great heights.
The Tonkinese is a true crossbreed type, with coat colour and pattern wholly dependent on whether individuals carry the Siamese or Burmese gene. Breeding two mink Tonkinese cats does not usually yield a full litter of mink kittens, as this intermediate pattern is the result of having one gene for the Burmese solid pattern and one for the Siamese pointed pattern.
Colors and patterns in any litter depend both on statistical chance and the color genetics and patterns of the parents. Breeding between two mink-patterned cats will, on average, produce half mink kittens and one quarter each pointed and solid kittens. A pointed and a solid bred together will always produce all mink patterned kittens. A pointed bred to a mink will produce half pointed and half mink kittens, and a solid bred to a mink will produce half solid and half mink kittens.
- Shun Gon - a Chinese Tonkinese cat, who plays the drums and the piano using chopsticks appears in the Disney movie The Aristocats.
- Susie Page; The Complete Cat Owner's Manual; Fog City Press; ISBN 1-875137-84-X (hardback, 1997)
- Linda Vousden; Tonkinese Cats; TFH/Kingdom; ISBN 1-85279-087-3 (hardback, 1998)
- Allevamento Argento Vivo Tonkinesi
- Canadian Cat Association: Breed Profile: Tonkinese
- Tonkinese Breed Club UK: GCCF Breed Standard Tonkinese