The Tibetan is a medium-sized breed of cat that is new to Britain but is already fully recognised in the Netherlands (from where it originates), Belgium, Germany, France and South Africa. It is a semi-longhaired Tonkinese, and whereas the Tonkinese derives from a Siamese/Burmese cross, the Tibetan is the result of a Balinese (a semi- longhaired Siamese) and a Burmese. Tibetans are slowly beginning to gain popularity in the UK with a currently small handful of breeders promoting this new breed. These breeders have also formed a specialist cat club devoted to Tibetans, and are working towards gaining recognition from both the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) and The International Cat Association (TICA) in due course. The Burmese gained recognition here in the 1950s, and the Balinese in the 1980s, with the mink-coated Tonkinese gaining full recognition in 2001, and so there is good reason to believe that the Tibetan will also be fully recognised in the future.
The first breeder of this extrovert and affectionate variety was Agnes Driessen of the Netherlands. She produced her first litter in 1992 and then dedicated herself to a six-year breeding programme before the Tibetan gained recognition with the Dutch Cat Breeders Association (the Dutch equivalent of the GCCF) in 1997. At the moment there is no universal breeding policy (although this may well evolve as these cats gain further popularity), with some registration bodies only permitting the original Balinese, Burmese and Tonkinese to be used in pedigrees for official registration. However, others allow the Tiffanie (Asian Longhairs) with ‘Burmese Colour Restriction’ in the pedigree (such as in some of the first generation Tibetans being bred in the UK), whilst others even exclude the original Balinese, so as to prevent the breed acquiring the more extreme Oriental type of the Siamese. When the Tibetan is recognised by the GCCF, a breeding policy will be formulated (taking advice from the specialist breed club) for breeders to adhere to in Britain, and only kittens with the permitted breeds in their pedigree will be registered by the GCCF.
Although the Tibetan is a very elegant cat, it does not have the svelte lines of the Orientals (including Siamese and Balinese) nor the more solid build of the Burmese, being somewhere between the two in body type. It does, however, share one distinct feature with its Balinese cousins, which is the soft, silky and flowing coat of the semi-longhaired Balinese, together with the plumed tail. As with the short-haired Tonkinese, there are three basic coat markings – Mink (a blend of the Balinese and Burmese coat patterns), Pointed (deriving from the Balinese with a pale coat and colour on the ‘points’ of the ears, face, tail and legs) and Sepia (from the Burmese, with mainly solid colouring, although a very slight colour distinction can be seen between the coat and the points). Each coat pattern has its corresponding eye colour -
for those with the mink coat pattern it is described as blue-green or aquamarine, those of the pointed Tibetan are blue like a Balinese, whilst those for the Sepia variety are chartreuse or amber, like their Burmese cousins. Within these coat markings, the Tibetan is bred in exactly the same combination of coat colour and patterns as the Tonkinese, which now amounts to seventy-four variations. This includes – brown, 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). The tabby coat patterns derive only from the Balinese side of the family, as (so far) we do not have tabby Burmese. Eyes are a basic almond shape, large and expressive, and the Tibetan has quite a muscular body and a wedge-shaped head with large ears, although not so extreme as the Balinese.
Tibetans, like their shorthaired counterparts the Tonkinese, are very sociable, friendly cats, who enjoy the company of other cats (ideally another extrovert breed), 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 are very chatty, with maybe a slightly less strident tone than their Burmese relations, and more like the Balinese side of the family, although they will offer their opinion on many matters!
The Tibetan does not have known breed-related health problems, and pets from reputable breeders should be strong and healthy. In common with all breeds, 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 Tibetan kittens neutered by the time they are 6 months old, as, like their Balinese, Burmese and Tonkinese 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 Tibetan
Tibetans 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. Although they have soft silky coats of medium length there is not an undercoat, which means that they tend not to get knots and tangles like other semi-longhaired breeds, and also do not moult heavily. However, it is still a good idea to brush and comb them regularly to keep the coat looking silky, and to keep an eye open for any other problems such as fleas or other pests that sometimes get buried in longer coats. Tibetans 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.