The Tonkinese breed has its roots in Burmese and Siamese lines. Though these cats have existed for many years, some speculating back to the 1800’s, it wasn’t until the mid-1960’s that there was a movement to have the breed accepted and registered. At this time, two breeders independently started to cross Burmese and Siamese cats.
In the United States, Jane Barletta sought to create a more balanced breed. In Canada, Margaret Conroy had a timid English female Burmese that she wanted to breed and, lacking an appropriate Burmese male, paired her cat with a Seal point Siamese at the suggestion of a judge. Both pairings resulted in kittens with tan coats and aqua eyes.
Barletta placed an ad in Cat Fancy magazine, which led Conroy to contact her, and the two started to develop the first standard and agreed on the name Tonkinese. Developing the standards for a moderate cat breed proved a challenge in establishing the detail, consistency and acceptance into championship. The breed was closed to out-crosses and now for almost two decades, Tonkinese have been exclusively bred with other Tonkinese.
For a detailed history, read this article from The Cat Fanciers’ Association.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association defines the standards for Tonkinese as intermediate in type, surprisingly heavy, and while medium in size, balance and proportion are of greater importance. Often they are considered difficult to judge, as with Tonkinese, there should be no extremes.
Tonkinese can feature one of four base colours and one of three levels of body contrast, resulting in 12 different colours. Base colours are defined not by the body but by the colours of the cat’s points – face, tail, ears and legs.
- Natural – dark brown
- Champagne – medium brown
- Blue – slate blue
- Platinum – frosty gray
This defines the body contrast, the difference in colour between the Tonk’s point and its body colour.
- Mink – A distinct contrast between body colour and points body with a rich, even, unmarked colour along the body. Aqua eyes.
- Solid – Body is a slightly lighter shade of the point color, with very little contrast to the points. Green to yellow/green eyes
- Point – Off-white, with a marked contrast between the points and the body colour. Blue eyes
Mating two minks can produce all three coat patterns. Mating a solid to a point will produce a litter of exclusively minks. For this reason, many point or solid Tonkinese have received the prestigious designation of Distinguished Merit or DM. This is awarded to cats whose many offspring have been awarded titles of Grand Champion, Grand Premier or Distinguished Merit. A female must have produced five or more awarded offspring and a male must sire 15 or more who have received these titles to receive a DM designation.
While Tonkinese are aesthetically pleasing cats, perhaps what attracts owners the most is the distinctive personality of this breed. They are very active, and love to jump, play fetch, climb cat trees and tear through the house full of energy. However, they also have a loving, cuddly side that seeks out laps and claims them as their own. They need attention, crave companionship, and will demand it without hesitation. They are social and unreserved. They are comfortable in a household with other cats, dogs and kids. Because they are active and thrive with playmates, most people choose to have two Tonkinese if there are no other pets.
Though not highly vocal, they will often express themselves “chatting” in what seems to be sentences. It is impossible to ignore a Tonkinese; they will find multiple ways to gain your attention. They are very intelligent, and if they do not receive the response they have requested, they will find new and interesting ways to make sure they receive your full attention – perhaps in ways that make you wish you’d paid attention earlier.
Here’s a sweet video of Poppy grooming her gran’kitlet!
You can learn more about Tonkinese cats at many cat breed associations online: