Published on July 10, 2011
The Tonkinese is a medium-size cat with a solid body and a short, silky coat that comes in three patterns—solid, mink, or pointed—and eight colors. The Tonk is known for striking aqua eyes, but not all Tonkinese have them. Depending on their color and pattern, some have equally beautiful eyes ranging in color from sky blue to violet to greenish-gold.
A number of cat breeds have been created using the Siamese as a base and then crossing him with other breeds to bring in desired traits, such as new colors, patterns or hair lengths. The Tonkinese is one such blend, created by crossing Siamese and Burmese.
The outgoing, active and playful Tonkinese has a strong desire to spend time with his people and involve himself in everything they are doing. You will also find that you have acquired a feline greeter who welcomes all of your guests with aplomb. When he’s not riding on your shoulder, the Tonk, as he is nicknamed, enjoys playing fetch, sitting in your lap or just chatting with you about his day. With his friendly, open attitude, he can be a good choice for families with children, other cats, or cat-friendly dogs.
The Tonkinese coat is easy to groom with weekly brushing. The only other grooming required is regular nail trimming and ear cleaning. He is prone to periodontal disease, so it’s important to brush his teeth at home with a vet-recommended pet toothpaste and schedule veterinary cleanings as needed.
The Tonkinese is well suited to any home with people who will love him and give him the attention and play he desires. Keep him indoors to protect him from cars, diseases spread by other cats and attacks from other animals. Tonkinese cats weigh six to 12 pounds and usually live for 13 or more years.
Other Quick Facts
- When you look at a Tonkinese, you see a cat with a muscular, medium-size body that is heavier than it looks. His head is a modified wedge shape, slightly longer than it is wide. The eye is shaped like a peach pit, and the medium-size ears are broad at the base with an oval tip.
- The glamourous Tonkinese is swathed in a minklike coat that comes in many different colors, including seal, chocolate, cinnamon, red, blue, lilac, fawn, cream and tortoiseshell points setting off a body of almost white to warm ivory. The intensity varies depending on whether the coat is pointed (high contrast, like a Siamese pattern), mink (medium contrast) or solid (low contrast, similar to the sepia tones of the Burmese).
- It takes up to two years for Tonkinese coat color to fully develop.
The History of the Tonkinese
The Tonkinese was developed in the 1960s by crossing Siamese and Burmese cats. Although it wasn’t known in 1930 when she was brought to the United States, the mother of the Burmese breed, Wong Mau, was a Tonkinese, what in the late 19th century had been called a chocolate Siamese. Cats of this type were depicted in “The Cat Book Poems of Siam,” which was written in Thailand some time during the Ayudha Period (1358-1767).
The development of the Tonkinese came about when breeder Jane Barletta decided to create a cat that would fall somewhere between the Siamese and Burmese in body type. As it happened, Canadian breeder Margaret Conroy had recently crossed a Siamese and a Burmese, producing kittens with attractive tan coats and aqua eyes. The two began working together, and the result was the Tonkinese.
The breed was recognized in Canada in 1971 and received full recognition from the Cat Fanciers Association in 1984.
Tonkinese Temperament and Personality
People exist to love and serve the Tonkinese. That’s what the cats believe, anyway, and who’s to say they are wrong? The affectionate but demanding Tonk knows that his rightful place is in your lap, on your shoulder, carefully watching over everything you do. Let him have his way and no one will get hurt.
Smart and sociable, the Tonk will follow you around, answer the door and escort guests inside, then put on a show for all to enjoy. Favorite games are tag, hide and seek, and fetch. When a lap or shoulder isn’t available, you will find him perched on the highest spot he can reach, keeping an eye on his minions. Or you may find him trying to break into the pantry where treats are stored or trying to pick the lock so he can go outdoors. Catproofing your home is essential if you plan to live with this clever and active cat. Keep breakables and toxic plants well out of his reach, and rotate his toys so he always has something new to interest him.
The Tonk loves attention and becomes bored easily. If you work during the day, get two, not only so they can keep each other company but also to prevent a lone Tonk from building a nuclear reactor in your living room or otherwise causing trouble. When you are home, the Tonk will chat with you about his day and expect a full report from you on how things went at work or school.
The Tonkinese is highly intelligent. Challenge his brain and keep him interested in life by teaching him tricks and providing him with puzzle toys that will reward him with kibble or treats when he learns how to manipulate them. Train him with persuasion and positive reinforcement in the form of treats and praise, and you will be amazed at what he can learn.
Always choose a kitten from a breeder who raises litters in the home and handles them from an early age. Meet at least one and ideally both of the parents to ensure that they have nice temperaments.
Then sit back and relax. Your Tonk is in charge. All you need to do is go along for the ride.
What You Need to Know About Tonkinese Health
All cats have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on kittens or who tells you that her kittens are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. Tonkinese are generally healthy, but it is always wise to buy a kitten from a breeder who provides a written health guarantee.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new kitten into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Tonkinese at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to protect his overall health. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier cat for life.
The Basics of Tonkinese Grooming
The Tonkinese coat is easy to groom with weekly brushing. The only other grooming the Tonkinese needs is regular nail trimming, usually weekly, and ear cleaning only if the ears look dirty. Use a gentle cleanser recommended by your veterinarian. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. The Tonk is prone to periodontal disease, so it’s important to brush his teeth at home and schedule veterinary cleanings as needed. Start brushing, nail trimming, and teeth brushing early so your kitten becomes accepting of this activity.
Choosing a Tonkinese Breeder
You want your Tonkinese to be happy and healthy so you can enjoy your time with him, so do your homework before you bring him home. For more information on the history, personality and looks of the Tonkinese, or to find breeders, visit the websites of the Cat Fanciers Association, Cats Center Stage, the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and The International Cat Association.
A reputable breeder will abide by a code of ethics that prohibits sales to pet stores and wholesalers and outlines the breeder’s responsibilities to their cats and to buyers. Choose a breeder who has performed the health certifications necessary to screen out genetic health problems to the extent that is possible, as well as one who raises kittens in the home. Kittens who are isolated can become fearful and skittish and may be difficult to socialize later in life.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include kittens always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any kitten, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your feline friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and unhealthy catteries can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick kitten, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy kittens. Put at least as much effort into researching your kitten as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Be patient. Depending on what you are looking for, you may have to wait six months or more for the right kitten to be available. Many breeders won’t release kittens to new homes until they are between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
Before you buy a kitten, consider whether an adult Tonkinese might be a better choice for your lifestyle. Kittens are loads of fun, but they’re also a lot of work and can be destructive until they reach a somewhat more sedate adulthood. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. If you are interested in acquiring an adult cat instead of a kitten, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show or breeding cat or if they know of an adult cat who needs a new home.
Adopting a Cat from Tonkinese Rescue or a Shelter
The Tonkinese is an unusual and uncommon breed. It is unlikely that you will find one in a shelter or through a rescue group, but it doesn’t hurt to look. Sometimes pedigreed cats end up at the shelter after losing their home to an owner’s death, divorce or change in economic situation. Check the listings on Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet.com or the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and ask breeders if they know of a Tonkinese who is in need of a new home.
Wherever you acquire your Tonkinese, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “pet lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the cat from both understand your rights and recourses.
Kitten or adult, take your Tonkinese to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.