Wondering whether to adopt a Burmese or a Siamese cat? Totally stuck on the answer? Well, aside from taking one of each, there is another solution: the Tonkinese cat!
With the intelligence and beauty of the two breeds, but a less piercing voice compared to a Siamese, the Tonkinese may not be quite as well known as the breeds that made it, but owners who have gotten one love it. So what should you know about the Tonkinese cat (or “Tonk” as it is often known)?
History of Tonkinese Cats
Tonkinese cats were actually created nearly by accident! This breed was created as a cross between the Siamese and the Burmese, but the original matriarch was an accident. Wong Mau belonged to Dr. Jospeh Thompson of the US who had received the small dark-brown cat from a sailor who brought the cat from a distant port in 1930.
It was thought that Wong Mau was a Siamese with a chocolate coat, aka, a Chocolate Siamese, which was a type of Siamese described in the 1880s. In Britain, the chocolate Siamese would eventually disappear, replaced by the seal-point, but they existed still in Thailand and Myanmar, likely due to natural mating between Siamese and Burmese.
The sailor thought he was bringing back a Chocolate Siamese in Wong Mau, but she was actually likely a crossbreed who would then go on to have kittens whose descendants would be used in the deliberate crossing later on.
In the 1950s, deliberate crossing between the Siamese and Burmese began, and they were called “golden Siamese”. Other breeders took up the program in order to produce a dark brown cat with darker points and with aqua eyes.
The name “Tonkanese” was registered by the Canadian Cat Association in 1967, chosen as a nod to the musical “South Pacific” which referred to an island where people of mixed origin could live safe from persecution.
However, the name spelling prompted a lot of confusion, so in 1971, the name was changed to Tonkinese, for the Bay of Tonkin in Vietnam, despite the fact that the breed itself has nothing to do with the island.
It took until the 1980s for the breed to gain full recognition and show status. Now Tonkinese cats are not bred out to Siamese and Burmese – there is enough stock to keep it ‘in house’, as it were.
Characteristics of Tonkinese Cats
It shouldn’t be at all surprising that Tonkinese cats borrow heavily from their Siamese and Burmese parentage. The idea was to create a cat breed that is more ‘mink’ in color and points after all! But Tonkinese cats put their own twist on their heritage.
Tonkinese cats aren’t terribly large in size, and they have relatively slim legs and a slim tail. However, they are muscular and firm, giving them a lot more weight than you would think just by looking at them!
They only stand up to about ten inches tall, but can weigh in at up to twelve pounds, which is pretty hefty for such an otherwise small seeming cat! This level of muscle gives them a lot of athleticism – this is one breed that plays, climbs, and runs around hard.
Tonkinese cats usually have natural point or natural solid color coats along with multiple points and mink colors. Champagne, blue, and platinum versions of these are the most popular, along with the chocolate that gave them their rise in the first place.
In total, Tonks have 12 different color variations. They tend to have blue or aqua-colored eyes and their coat is relatively short, close to the body, and soft. It is not particularly hypoallergenic though and these cats shed the usual amount for any short hair cat.
Tonkinese cats have a lifespan of about up to sixteen years. It takes them about two years to fully mature and for their coat color to come in properly.
Temperament of Tonkinese Cats
The temperament of a Tonkinese cat though is mostly all its own. These are cats that need companionship. They are highly sociable, very intelligent, and extremely playful. These cats will get separation anxiety if they are left alone for too long and they are more likely to get into mischief as well.
If your home is empty a lot, it’s a good idea to make sure your Tonkinese has a buddy – either another cat or even a dog that can play with them and that your cat can ‘talk’ to. Generally speaking, though, another friendly cat is best or even a sibling.
These cats absolutely love spending time with their humans, whether it’s playing, showing off, doing tricks, hanging out watching tv and some lap time, or even going for a walk on a leash. They love to be cuddled and petted and they love to be played with – if it’s quality time, it’s a good time.
Tonkinese cats may have a less piercing voice than Siamese cats, but they are just as chatty. And since they also love climbing and jumping, you’ll often find them looming over you from the fridge, giving you all kinds of advice on just about everything.
And these cats will generally expect that you will talk back, even if you don’t actually understand each other. Ever wanted a pet that you could carry a conversation with, even if it actually makes no sense (well, to you anyway)?
The Tonkinese cat is definitely what you’re after. They will also follow you around, chattering all the while. (These are not quiet cats, in other words!)
Tonkinese cats also enjoy playing in water, though of course, they will do it at their discretion. A large, shallow pan of water with a few toys floating in it might even keep them busy long enough for you to get some work done without being talked at!
They also do well with puzzle toys and can learn how to play fetch, so be prepared for a lot of interactive playtime. They can even learn to walk on a leash so that they can get some fresh air.
Tonkinese cats are also a breed of cat which never quite grow out of being kittens. They are playful and active for most of their lives and since they take about two years to mature (physically), that’s a lot of kitten play time!
It’s best to be prepared for some feline antics if you bring a member of this breed home to live with you.
Tonkinese cats are generally pretty suitable cats for family life. They enjoy playing with other cats and even dogs (properly introduced), they are smart enough to stay out of the way of children they don’t want to hang around, and they will play with children who are gentle and respectful, but also have enough energy to keep up with them.
Much like Siamese cats though, Tonkinese cats can be ‘bossy’ they have to be alpha in any household, so make sure that any other pets are willing to accept the Tonk as the Top Cat.
Depending on the temperament of the cat, the Tonkinese will either bond closely with one member of the family (like a Siamese) or share affection with everyone in the family.
There’s no way of knowing which way a Tonk will go (though even if they don’t bond closely with everyone, they will still usually enjoy everyone’s company – they may just have a ‘favorite’.)
In any event, they prefer to always be in the company of someone and a Tonk that is alone for too long will show signs of separation anxiety and depression.
Health Conditions of Tonkinese Cats
Overall, Tonkinese cats are a healthy breed, owing to careful breeding. But they are prone to gingivitis, and they can be sensitive to anesthesia! They can also inherit some of the problems that Siamese cats have, including:
- Amyloidosis, which is a disease where the amyloid protein is left in body organs, usually the liver
- Asthma or other bronchial diseases
- Congenital heart defects
- Crossed eyes (fairly rare though since this was mostly knocked out of Siamese cats as well)
- Gastrointestinal conditions (or just a sensitive stomach)
- Hyperesthesia syndrome, which is a neurological condition that makes cats excessively groom themselves (to the point of hair loss) and are overstimulated by petting or touching making them act out.
- Involuntary rapid eye movement
- Progressive retinal atrophy (which there is a genetic test for)
Tonkinese cats can largely thank their Siamese cat ancestors for these problems, especially the neurological ones!
Aside from the inherited potential problems, Tonkinese cats should also have regular periodontal care as they are more prone to gingivitis than many other breeds.
General grooming is advised as well, though they don’t need it as often as many other breeds since they do have short hair. They rarely require bathing, but they may need to have their nails clipped or have access to some good scratching posts.
It’s also important to take them to the vet if they start showing erratic behavior as Tonkinese cats can inherit neurological conditions from their Siamese side.
Otherwise, most Tonkinese cats are both healthy and long-lived, often living twelve to sixteen years or even slightly more.
Tonkinese cats should stay as indoor cats (or go outside on a leash) to keep them out of danger from cars, wildlife, other animals, and from being stolen (they are not a suspicious breed of cat and may go off willingly with a stranger!) It will also protect them from many illnesses and parasites like fleas.
What is the Ideal Owner for a Tonkinese Cat?
Tonkinese cats do absolutely best in a family or with a few people in the household, preferably with at least one person always home at any given time to lavish them with attention and watch them play or talk to them.
They are extremely sociable cats who get lonely and anxious when they are left to their own devices for too long.
They are also smart enough to make up their own entertainment when bored, which usually means getting into your things, so make sure they have a good supply of a variety of toys and perches. Tonkinese cats are also lap kitties, so be prepared for a lot of cuddling from a surprisingly heavy animal.
Tonkinese cats are usually fine with children and other pets, so long as everyone is properly introduced. It’s often suggested to get a friend for a Tonkinese cat if you don’t already have one so that they don’t get lonely if people are gone for long periods of time. Another chatty, sociable cat is usually the best fit, but one that will also accept the Tonk as the alpha feline.
Tonkinese cats may have a harder time in smaller places or in multi-family buildings like apartments. They are loud, they like to have space to patrol and play, and they are real climbers, so you may have to worry about your furniture or curtains. They are smart enough to be trained off of things, but they may get stubborn.
If you do like to have a social, rather clingy, chatty, and agile cat, then a Tonkinese is a lot of fun. But make sure you have the space, neighbors who don’t mind hearing a running commentary (or live in a single house), and that you are willing to dedicate the time to socialize with it! In this way, a Tonkinese will be mentally and emotionally fulfilled which makes for a happier cat.
Summary of Tonkinese Cats
The Tonkinese cat was bred to be a cross between the Siamese and Burmese with many of the positive traits of both. They certainly inherited much from both breeds!
This is a beautiful cat with a dozen different color varieties and vivid aqua or blue eyes. They are also extremely social, chatty, and intelligent, able to ‘carry a conversation’ and learn tricks. They tend to get along well with other animals, love their families, and enjoy both playtime and cuddle time with equal devotion.
If you have ever wanted a beautiful cat to talk to, play with, and cuddle with, it’s hard to go wrong with the Tonkinese. And you don’t have that piercing chatter that a Siamese gifts you with! (Though you may get some of the neurological quirks…)
Have you ever owned a Tonkinese? What was it like? Let us know in the comments.
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.