The Tonkinese breed is supposedly named because, like the Burmese and Siamese cats, their genetic heritage is in Southeast Asia. Tonkin is an old name for one part of what is now Vietnam. However, the name is actually a variant on its original name, “Tonkanese,” used by Canadian breeders as a reference to the island in the musical South Pacific where discrimination against half-breeds does not exist. The origins of this breed are, like many others, shrouded in mystery. While it is indeed a recent cross between the Burmese and Siamese breeds, cats resembling the Tonkinese breed have said to have appeared in the 1800s. These were the so-called Chocolate Burmese cats of that era. One account says that the first Tonkinese cat existed in the 1930s and was cross-bred with a Siamese one. Tonkinese cats are commonly called “Tonks.”
Tonkinese cats are known to be muscular cats, thus appearing heavier than they actually are. They are distinguished by their oval-shaped paws and a wedge-shaped head, resembling a Siamese cat. Tonkinese cats appear in three major color patterns, namely mink, solid, and pointed. Mink Tonkinese cats are the ones often seen in shows. Much like the Siamese cat, Tonkinese cats grow darker in color as they age. Typically, depending on whether the cats come from so-called closed-book or hybrid litters, there can be up to six Tonkinese kittens in a litter.
Of course, closed-book litters, as a result of inbreeding can have much less kittens, and can be much smaller. (A closed-book litter refers to that originating from a cat registered with a closed-book cat registry.) Cross-breeding Tonkinese cats of similar or different characteristics will likely bring out different combinations of mink, solid, and pointed kittens. Tonkinese cats are unusually intelligent and inquisitive (very much like another Burmese mutation, the Singapura), and are affectionate around people. They are playful but not hyperactive.
It is suggested that Tonkinese cats should be kept active while their owners are not around, preferably leaving them with toys or even other cats. They are not fond of living alone without attention, and if Tonkinese cats are left outside, they can get lost or stolen. Like some other breeds of cat such as the Siberian, they are good for “dog people” who are otherwise not used to cats. As Tonkinese cats are Siamese cross-breeds, common health issues with Siamese can arise. Tonkinese kittens are particularly prone to colds, for example, but it is not dangerous. They are also prone to gingivitis, thus requiring that their teeth be brushed. Tonkinese cats like being brushed, and some owners recommend it as a good way of bonding between owner and cat.
The Tonkinese cat, while dating back to the 1800s by some accounts, is no stranger to controversy. As some of its features naturally emerge, some Burmese and Siamese cat breeders have tried in the past to breed out the Tonkinese cats’ unique characteristics. Some even question whether such a cross-breed is itself necessary. However, owners who prefer an active yet laid-back cat find that a Tonkinese cat is well worth up one’s alley.