Most of us are familiar with the Siamese cat breed, and at first glance the Tonkinese may be taken for a Siamese cat by the uninitiated! There is a good reason for this; there is a lot of Siamese ancestry within the Tonkinese breed, and the Tonkinese (or “Tonk” as they are sometimes called) came into being originally by the crossing of pedigree Siamese cats with pedigree Burmese cats.
Now recognised as a breed in its own right, the Tonk originated in Canada, and now enjoys considerable popularity as a domestic pet both in Canada and across the wider world, including within the UK. The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy recognised the Tonkinese breed in 1991.
While the Tonk has a lot in common with both the Siamese and Burmese cats, nevertheless the Tonk is very much its own breed, having its own recognisable personality and appearance traits that are all its own. If you are considering buying an oriental cat and want to find out more about the Tonkinese, read on to find out more about this vocal, friendly and attractive cat breed.
The Tonkinese cat is usually lean yet strong, often appearing more delicate than they actually are due to the amount of muscle tone they typically carry. They have triangular shaped faces similar to that of the Siamese cat, although the shape of the head is not as pronounced as that of their Siamese cousins. They have large, widely set ears, and oval-shaped paws that are rather different in shape and appearance from that of other cats.
The Tonkinese cat can come in a range of coat colourations, being referred to as “solid” coloured when the coat is all one shade (like the Burmese cat) or “pointed” if the coat is one colour while the paws, mask and tail (the “points”) are another shade, as is the case with the Siamese cat.
The Tonkinese coat also comes in a third variant that is unique to the breed and not seen in either the Burmese or Siamese cat: this is known as “mink,” and reflects a pattern of “points” like that of the Siamese, but more muted and blended with the body colour than the distinctive contrasting points of those with pointed coats. The mink colouration is considered to be the most desirable Tonkinese coat colour in showing circles, but can be one of the hardest to produce, as not all litters that result in breeding two mink-coloured Tonks will result in all or most of the remaining offspring displaying the mink colour pattern.
The Tonkinese breed that we know today came about due to the crossing of Siamese and Burmese cats, and Tonkinese cats can trace their ancestry back to these two individual breeds, although most Tonks today have full Tonkinese breeding for many ancestral generations.
Records of cats that may have been the very first Tonkinese in existence go back as far as the early 19th century, although it is not known if these first Tonkinese-type cats were again, bred from Siamese and Burmese ancestors.
While “Tonkinese” is also the term used to refer to the language spoken by the people of Tonkin, an area in the North of Vietnam, the Tonkinese cat bears no relation to this region and the breed as we know it today was founded in Canada.
The Tonkinese cat ideal is a middle of the road mixture of all of the best traits of both the Siamese and Burmese cat in one. They are renowned for their kind temperaments and strong bonds with their owners, and are highly intelligent and inquisitive cats as well. Their personalities are usually considered to be nearer to that of the Burmese side of the scale than the Siamese.
They have a distinctive meow or voice, which is understandable given the Siamese side of their ancestry, although their tone is quite distinctive and not the same as that of the Siamese cat. The call of the Tonk has been likened to something like that of a duck quacking, and the Tonk is not shy about letting their feelings be known vocally! They are rather talkative cats, and if they are trying to get your attention, will often “quack” at you until their needs are met!
The Tonk is an active, alert cat that requires a lot of stimulation and play, and may prove itself to be an adept hunter in the right situations! They are also highly affectionate, and like nothing better than sitting or sleeping beside their favourite people.
The Tonk has a great many desirable traits that make them eminently popular as pets, and they also generally live happily with other animals or as part of families with well behaved children. The Tonkinese is a relatively long-lived cat breed, often living into their late teens or even older. While the Tonk has a tendency to produce small litters (rarely more than four kittens) due to a degree of inbreeding and line breeding during the formative days of the breed, they are not considered to have any particularly elevated risk factors for potentially serious or dangerous inherited health problems.
If you are keen to own an oriental cat, or love either the Siamese or Burmese breeds but are looking for something a little different, the Tonkinese cat is definitely worthy of a second glance.