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    Place of origin



    According to Thai legend, the pointed Siamese cat represents royalty and power, whereas the Burmese cat represents holiness and spirituality. The interbreeding of these two color forms of the native Thai cat is not uncommon in their native country, providing the historic foundation of what much later became known as the Tonkinese breed. Before the selective breeding programs of twentieth-century cat fanciers, the Siamese, Tonkinese, and Burmese might have been mistaken for three coat patterns of a single breed (the conformation of the Siamese and Burmese did not properly diverge until the 1970s).

    Nineteenth-century descriptions demonstrate that all three varieties, with their different eye colors, along with early Korats, were imported and termed Siamese. Both Harrison Weir (1889) and Frances Simpson (1903) described "Chocolate Siamese" (not to be confused with chocolate point Siamese!) whose pattern matches the "natural mink" pattern (also called sable or brown mink).

    The foundation cat of the Burmese breed, the walnut-brown cat Wong Mau, along with those other early "Chocolate Siamese" imports, were genetically natural (brown) mink. In the 1930s, Wong Mau produced both pointed and mink pattern offspring when mated to a sealpoint Siamese. To do so, she had to carry genes for both the Siamese and Burmese pointing patterns, meaning that she was effectively a naturally occurring Tonkinese.

    The popularity of these "in-between" patterned cats with pet lovers between the 1930s and 1950s was an obstacle to the development and acceptance of a "pure" Burmese breed because some breeders (realizing their commercial appeal) continued to use mink pattern cats in their breeding programs rather than create sufficient numbers of pure-breeding Burmese.

    In the 1950s, a New York pet shop owner bred Sealpoint Siamese with Sable Burmese for several generations, calling these "Golden Siamese" and selling them as pets. He had seen several cats with rich brown bodies and darker points that were intermediate between the Siamese and Burmese. These were destroyed by many Burmese breeders because they did not breed true. His Golden Siamese proved popular pets during the 1950s and 1960s, but he discontinued breeding, having apparently proven that they could breed true.

    In the mid-1960s, a breeder in New Jersey and another in Canada independently crossed Burmese to Siamese cats. Both produced a line of brown cats with darker points and aquamarine eyes, later combining their breeding programs and writing the "Tonkanese" breed standard. They called the brown pattern "natural mink" because it resembled an undyed mink pelt, and it was later joined by blue and honey varieties. The "Tonkanese" was recognized by the Canadian Cat Association (CCA) in 1965; in 1971, the breed was renamed Tonkinese. It was recognized by the CFF in 1975 and the CFA in 1978.

    In the United Kingdom, it was first recognized by the Cat Association of Great Britain. It was recognized in 1991 by the GCCF a year later. In Europe, the FIFe does not yet recognize the Tonkinese, so European breeders register their cats with TICA instead. It was recognized by the South African Cat Association in 2000 and is also recognized in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, the Tonkinese faced opposition from Siamese and Burmese fanciers because it was a “crossbreed” and did not breed true.

    Since the 1980s, these cats have a sufficiently large established gene pool that crossing to their parental breeds is no longer strictly necessary. To keep the gene pool diverse, many registries permit outcrossing to Siamese, American Burmese, and/or European Burmese. Tonkinese bred in associations that do not permit outcrossing may have smaller litters due to higher levels of inbreeding. The Tonkinese is believed to be clear of the lethal head defect gene carried by some lines of Burmese in the United States.

    In the early days, the name was spelled "Tonkanese," alluding to the residents of a fictional island in the musical South Pacific where "half-breeds" suffered no discrimination. The modern spelling, Tonkinese, suggests the Tonkin region of Indochina, not far from its Siamese and Burmese sister breeds.

    The mink-patterned Tonkinese inherits one gene for Siamese color restriction and one gene for Burmese color restriction. As a result, it exhibits an intermediate pattern. By definition, a Tonkinese is heterozygous; that is, the pattern is produced by inheriting one of each gene. When bred together, mink Tonkinese also produce colorpointed variants and Burmese-patterned variants as well as mink pattern cats; however, these do not have the conformation of either the Siamese or Burmese and are registered as variant or nonstandard Tonkinese.

    Once dismissed as a "poor quality Siamese," the mink and pointed Tonkinese continue to appeal to cat lovers seeking the older, less extreme style of Siamese. The solid Tonkinese variant resembles the early Burmese, being more foreign in conformation. Tonkinese are not simply Siamese–Burmese crosses; after several generations, these cats have a look and character all their own. To its aficionados, it is a modern recreation of an ancient variety.

    Physical description

    A "medium" cat in every way, breeders strive for the elusive perfect middle point between the elegance and length of the Siamese and the more rounded conformation of the Burmese. North American standards call for substantially built, strong cats. European standards call for medium build and foreign type. These differences result from the more foreign conformation of the BibleEuropean Burmese used in European Tonkinese development compared to the cobby, rounder-headed American Burmese (which is not recognized in Europe). Tonkinese are muscular and surprisingly hefty cats. Males weigh from 8 to 12 pounds (3.5–5.5 kg) females 6 to 8 pounds (3–3.5 kg).

    In the United States, the head is a modified, rounded wedge with open, almond-shaped eyes and medium-sized, wide-set ears. European standards call for a moderately proportioned wedge, more foreign in type than American lines. In Australia, breeders have combined Australian, New Zealand, North American, and British/European bloodlines, which they have outcrossed to American Burmese to create their own, subtly different, "Australian Tonkinese" look. The short coat is close-lying with a glossy sheen. Tonkinese can be late developers, coming into their best around two years old.

    Colors and varieties

    The three Tonkinese patterns are mink, solid (Burmese pattern), and pointed (Siamese pattern). Mink Tonkinese have shaded "points" that are a darker version of their body color. Mink is intermediate between Burmese and Siamese, with less contrast between body and legs than Siamese, but more contrast than Burmese. Mink is the preferred pattern for show-quality Tonkinese. Just like the Siamese, the torso of the pointed and mink Tonkinese tends to darken with age; those living in cooler climates also tend to be darker.

    In North America, only the four basic colors-seal (also called natural), chocolate (champagne), lilac (platinum), and blue-are recognized. Elsewhere (and depending on the registering body), the Tonkinese is recognized in brown, blue, chocolate, cinnamon, lilac, red, cream, blue-based caramel, lilac-based caramel, apricot, and in the tortoiseshell, tabby, and tortie-tabby (torbie) versions of those colors. This wider palette is due to the wider range of colors inherited from the European Burmese.

    Eye color is linked to coat color

    solid Tonkinese having gold or golden-green eyes; minks having aqua eyes; and pointed Tonkinese having shades of blue.On average, mink-to-mink matings produce 50 percent mink kittens, 25 percent pointed and 25 percent solid. Solid-to-pointed matings produce only mink kittens. Mink-to-solid produces 50 percent mink and 50 percent solid. Mink-to-pointed produces 50 percent mink and 50 percent pointed. Although considered pet quality by most registries, the pointed and solid Tonkinese variants inherit the same conformation and charming personality as their mink pattern brethren.


    Friendly, active, affectionate, and companionable, these cats love to play. The game of "fetch" seems to come naturally to them. Curious and intelligent, the Tonkinese loves to be involved in household activities and enjoy interactive play as well as lap time and shoulder-riding. They are gregarious and get on well with children, dogs, and other pets.

    The Tonkinese combines traits from both parent breeds. Although active and chatty, its voice is less strident, and it is less highly strung or demanding, than the Siamese. However, a bored or lonely Tonkinese can become mischievous. Some enthusiasts claim that pointed variants inherit more personality traits from the Siamese, whereas solid variants are more similar in character to Burmese.This breed has a wonderful reputation in the animal therapy community due to their tolerant nature, willingness to please, and trainability.

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    Special needs

    The Tonkinese is a robust cat who is easy to care for. An occasional grooming with a rubber brush to remove shed hair, followed by stroking the coat with a chamois cloth, will keep coat sleek and in top condition.


    Over the decades, several names have been proposed for semi-longhaired Tonkinese and mink pattern Persian Longhairs, bred by crossing Tonkinese or Burmese to Himalayans (Colorpoint Persian Longhairs). The names proposed have included Burmalayan, Himbur, Iranese, Layanese, Silkanese, Tibetane (Tibetaan in Dutch), and Tonkalayan. Thus far, only the Tibetaan and Tonkinese Longhair appear to have any form of recognition.


    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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