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The Tonkinese is a cross between the Siamese and the Burmese, and known affectionately as 'Tonks' by the many admirers of the breed. They are a complete blend of the characteristics of the founder breeds, less angular in shape than a Siamese, but lighter in weight than the Burmese, with nothing extreme about their appearance. There are currently three types of coat pattern in the Tonkinese - the high-contrast pointed as in the Siamese, low-contrast solid as in the Burmese, and the intermediate-contrast (known as mink), which is the only pattern that can be shown in Britain currently. Interestingly, the three coat patterns are closely linked, as the breeds from which they derive come from the same gene series in which the albino gene turns black hair to brown, and also leads to a reduction of pigment on the warmer parts of the body, hence the 'points' colour being slightly darker. People who have enjoyed the Disney cartoon Aristocats films may remember a Tonkinese cat called Shun Gon, who plays the drums using chopsticks!


There is evidence to suggest that although the Tonkinese as we know it today is a relatively recent breed, the cats assumed to be 'chocolate Siamese' between the 1880s and 1930s may actually have been Siamese-Burmese hybrids of Tonkinese type. Some breeders also believe that the early 'lighter phase Burmese' may actually have been a Tonkinese. However, it is generally agreed that the first documented Tonkinese in the West was a brown female called Wong Mau who was imported into the USA in 1930, and was genetically proven to have the mink coat type. However, the hybrid characteristics of Wong Mau were bred out of her offspring, and a concentrated breeding programme to create the Tonkinese breed by crossing Siamese and Burmese to get the mink pattern coat did not start until the 1950s, initially in both Canada and the USA, when they were first known as 'golden Siamese'. Gradually Breeders in several countries sought to recreate this lovely breed and eventually the mink coat pattern was recognised as a preliminary breed in Britain by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy in 1991, gaining full recognition in 2001. The other two coat patterns are still regarded as 'Variants' without full recognition, though this is currently under consideration, especially as the coat pattern does not breed 'true' and a mating between two mink-coated Tonkinese does not necessarily produce a whole litter of mink-coated kittens, and the other coat patterns may also be present.


The original Tonkinese were brown, deriving from the seal brown of the Siamese and the sable brown of the Burmese, but as with so many other breeds, many more colours have now been developed - blue, lilac, chocolate, caramel, red, cream, apricot, tortie (brown, blue, lilac, chocolate, caramel), and tabby (ticked mackerel, tipped or spotted pattern in all the main coat colours), so that all in all, seventy-four colour combinations are currently possible! Interestingly, the tabby coat patterns derive only from the Siamese side of the family, as (so far) we do not have tabby Burmese. The eye colour of the mink coat pattern is described as blue-green, as if the two eye colours have been mixed on a palette with the blue eyes of the Siamese and those of the Burmese varying from chartreuse through to amber. The eyes of the pointed Tonkinese are blue like a Siamese, whilst those for the solid variety are chartreuse or amber, like their Burmese cousins. Eyes are a basic almond shape, large and expressive. They have very muscular bodies, often heavier than they look with short dense coats, and a wedge-shaped head with large ears.


Tonkinese are very sociable, friendly cats, who enjoy the company of other cats (ideally Tonkinese, or another extrovert variety), and dogs, as well as with all the human members of the family, and are a very tolerant, playful and affectionate breed, almost always purring. They are not destructive, but need company and plenty of toys and activities to keep them entertained, and are generally only naughty if they are lonely or bored. They love retrieving toys that are thrown for them, and are also quite fond of heights in their homes, often to be found perched precariously on the highest shelf or on top of a door. They are very chatty, with maybe a slightly less strident tone than their Siamese and Burmese relations, with a definite point of view on most things.


The Tonkinese does not have known breed-related health problems, and pets from reputable breeders should be strong and healthy. In common with all breeds of cat, they nevertheless need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors. It is wise to have Tonkinese kittens neutered by the time they are 6 months old, as, like their Siamese and Burmese cousins, they tend to mature sexually at a very young age, and do not need to have a litter of kittens first. Un-neutered male cats will spray in the house and tend to wander if allowed out, whilst un-neutered females will be very noisy.

Caring for a Tonkinese

Tonkinese are not fussy eaters (unless they're allowed to be) and will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. However, cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available. Eyes and ears should be checked and kept clean if necessary by use of a clean damp cloth. These cats have very short glossy coats, which need little grooming, and can normally be kept free of loose hairs simply by stroking. Tonkinese can live very happily indoors without going outside, so long as they have a feline climbing frame (or areas of different levels that they can play on) and a scratching post to 'strop' their claws.

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