Tonkinese Cats

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Tonkinese cats (colloquially known as Tonks) are commonly described as elegantly stylish, active and intelligent, with a lithe, expressive body. Its beautiful head is a medium wedge with large, shapely ears and limpid, almond-shaped eyes in sparkling aquamarine, topaz or sapphire. Its short fur is like shot-silk. This is a cat-shaped cat with great style and presence, and as such is highly sought after. In fact, expect to pay the same for a tonkinese kitten as you would for any Foreign breed of cat (Burmese, Siamese, or Oriental). The actual cost1 will depend on various factors, most notably, level of demand, time of year and place of purchase. Some breeders will charge more for what they consider to be show quality or suitable breeding animals. However, it may be possible to purchase what are known as variant tonkinese2for a relatively less amount. The natural life span of a tonkinese can, of course, vary but seems to be on average between 12 to 18 years, even longer in some exceptional cases.

The tonkinese appear in a sublime range of colours and patterns - Brown, Blue, Chocolate and Lilac (these equate with USA's Natural, Blue, Champagne and Platinum) plus Caramel, Red, Cream and Apricot. In addition, there are Tabbies and Tortoiseshells in all of these possible colour variations


Tonkinese are affectionate, intelligent, gregarious cats, with its colourful, lively personality making them ideal companions. Rather than having homogenuous traits, each individual tonkinese will demonstrate distinctive qualities of inquisitiveness, inventiveness and playfulness. Such endearing characteristics ensure their place as a true family member. Besides relating well to humans, they also develop strong bonds with their own kind, as well as getting along with other cats and dogs.

However, a single-cat household can be a lonely place for any cat, but especially so for a tonkinese. To ensure lasting happiness and well-being, it is therefore advisable for owners to provide other feline company.

Due to the high risk of a traumatic episode arising (notably, a road accident, poisoning or abduction), and to prevent heartache and/or astronomical vet bills, most owners prefer to keep their tonkinese cats permanently indoors. However, periodic visits to the garden under supervision will, of course, prove highly popular and stimulating, but be warned! It is quite common for owners to be constantly harrassed by their tonkinese, often with meaningful stares and forlorn cries, and what started as a treat soon develops into a full-blown 'right'.

'Cat proofing' your garden is a necessary pre-condition to simulate a 'born-free' experience. However, this can be a rather expensive project, even proving a futile task in the face of a determined, adventurous climber.

Tonkinese kittens are natural-born acrobats, and can often be found riding around on your shoulders. Such acrobatics are best demonstrated through playful human interaction with toys and games. For instance, a plastic, flexible rod with, say, a toy snake or mouse attached to one end of a piece of cord is ideal for 'showing off' these acrobatic skills.

Finally, expect to share your bed with your tonks. They do not like being locked out of anywhere, especially the bedroom. Unless you don't value your expensive carpet, it is best to resign yourself to their company whilst in slumber. Apart from the soft mattress itself (and, of course radiators), tops of wardrobes are particularly attractive places for tonkinese to gather and sleep.

Black Cats

Brief History

It was in the far east that distinct breeds of cat were first recorded, most notably in Siam (Thailand) around 400 AD. A belief common in both Burma and Siam was that, when a great personage died, such as a king or queen, their soul transferred itself to the body of a cat, where it remained until it died a natural death. Only then could the royal member's soul enter paradise. It was also customary for the royal member's favourite cat to be entombed alive with him/her. The tomb had a small opening for the cat, through which it escaped, carrying the soul of the recently deceased. The cat was then reverently escorted to the temple, where it lived the rest of its life in gracious ease, cared for by the local monks. The practice of giving a home to and caring for the welfare of temple cats continues to the present day.

The history and breeding of Tonkinese, Burmese and Siamese are inextricably interlinked, though the Burmese and Siamese are generally referred to as the tonkinese's parent breeds. However, a painting by American artist William Morris Hunt (1824-79) entitled Girl with a Cat suggests that the tonkinese have been in the West for at least 100 years; arguably, even longer.

Not only has the tonkinese a very similar body type to the original Siamese breed but has played a crucial role in founding the Burmese breed both in the USA and UK. In 1930, a chocolate Siamese (a tonkinese named Wong Mau was taken to california, where the Burmese breed was developed.

While still considered a new breed, the tonkinese is not a hybrid as some people mistakenly assumed. Being of the same bloodlines as Siamese and Burmese breeds, today's Tonkinese are believed to be a reconstruction of the chocolate Siamese cat imported to England in the early 1900s.

Incidentally, you may be wondering how the name Tonkinese originated. It was chosen because of the Bay of Tonkin in the South China Sea, lying on latitude 20 degrees, which runs between Burma and Thailand.

Gaining Recognition

The breed was first recognised in Canada in 1965. In 1972, the breed was granted recognition by the now defunct Independent Cat Federation (ICF) of the USA, whereas, it was not until 1991 that UK's Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) granted Preliminary recognition3, being allocated the breed number 74. At the time of writing, the breed has progressed to Provisional status4, one level below full Championship status5.

Globally, tonkinese cats have come a long way in such a short time, and, besides Canada and the USA, the breed is now recognised in other parts of Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The UK's Tonkinese Breed Club, founded in April 1991, has the distinction of being the only organisation in the world to have held shows specifically for the breed. The tonkinese cat continues to flourish, and its popularity and success on the "show bench" ensures its longevity.

Further Information

There are a bugeoning number of websites on tonkinese cats, many of which are a pleasure to visit. To become better acquainted with these enchanting cats, as well as the activities of the UK's Tonkinese Breed Club and for other relevant links, I recommend, as a first port of call, clicking here . Thanks are due to Linda Vousden (Club Secretary) whose authoritative, informative and well-illustrated book entitled Tonkinese Cats is the first of its kind.

1This can vary between £200 to £250 sterling.2A cat from the mating of a tonkinese to a tonkinese, a tonkinese variant, a burmese or a siamese whose coat pattern is either solid or pointed in appearance, irrespective of colour.3This equates with Assessment status, the cat being judged against a "standard of points" which describes the ideal type of tonkinese.4Intermediate Certificate level is when cats of one breed are judged against each other in individual classes (i.e. kitten, neuter and adult - each subdivided into male and female classes). When the IC is awarded for best male and female, then the two winners are judged against each other to reach the Best-in-Breed.5The penultimate status. The cat needs to win three Championship Certificates (CCs) to become a Champion. The cat then qualifies to enter Grand Championship classes.

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