Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tonkinese Cat

Links to large format Helmi Flick images

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Note: All the photographs in this article about Tonkinese Cats are by Helmi Flick and copyright Helmi Flick unless they are amateur photographs.


The Tonkinese Cat looks like a Traditional Siamese Cat (the "Applehead"). This is to be expected as she is a cross between a Burmese cat and a Traditional (and/or Classic) Siamese Cat. In other words the Burmese is mated with a Siamese cat that is not of the extreme (wedgie) face look (Modern Siamese).

The first Tonkinese was imported into America in 1930. They have been around a long time but only achieved CFA Championship status in 1984.

The Tonkinese breed is really about producing a cat with a combination of the similar and lovely coat colors (body colors) of both parent cats. The most important aspect this cat breed is therefore in my opinion the background or body color and the color of points and how they integrate. This is discussed below (see table). If you want know about this cat I would suggest that you study the various combinations of point color (called "coat color") and color density of the coat (i.e. the contrast between coat color and points - called "color pattern").

The cat is medium sized and has all the usual great attributes of a well socialized domestic cat. She has a nice average well balanced body conformation. Important for breeders is a well proportioned aesthetically pleasing body conformation. They are heavier than they look, it is said. Why is that? Comment please.


Today the Tonkinese is a human created breed by mating Siamese and Burmese cats. The long term history of this breed is somewhat confused though. For example, it is believed that the founding Burmese cat was a mink hybrid called "Wong Mau". This cat is also stated to be the first Tonkinese in the 1930s and the ancestor of the Burmese. Some believe that cats thought to be chocolate Siamese in the 1800s were in fact Tonkinese cats . As can be seen there is a great similarity between the Traditional Siamese and the Tonkinese cats.

It seems that the confused history of this breed can be summarised as follows:
1800sTonkinese believed to exist - probably and overlap between Burmese, Siamese and Tonkinese
1930Wong Mau - first known Tonkinese. I presume this is established through a distinct genetic code?
Early 1900s to 1950sTonkinese characteristics bred out of Siamese and Burmese leaving 2 distinct breeds (implying that there was overlap)
1950s to 1970sSiamese and Burmese are merged again to form the Tonkinese

Notable Point

When you read the history of this breed this comes to mind. This is a breed that it closely related to the Siamese and perhaps the Burmese. She may have been a Siamese (see table).
There was a desire to separate the 3 breeds Burmese, Tonkinese and Siamese. This can only be a desire by breeders to expand the number of breeds (i.e. commercial reasons - not criticising as we all need commerce). Interestingly, separation is the opposite to the normal route in developing a breed, which is bringing together 2 different breeds. However once having separated the Tonkinese from the Siamese and Burmese why bring them together again (but see below). Please comment.

The colors

This is a complex area because of the overlap between the 3 breeds and the terminology is in my opinion a little confusing. In general the Burmese has a weak contrast between the body or background color and the extremities (points). The Siamese has good contrast and the Tonkinese cat has a contrast in between. As there are 3 "coat patterns" (see table) and 4 "coat colors", there are 3x4 = 12 combinations.

Coat color (the color of the extremities)
  1. natural or sable
  2. champagne
  3. blue
  4. platinum

Coat pattern (i.e. relationship of coat color to extremities)
Pointed - strong contrast between body and points like the Siamese

Mink - medium contrast
between body and points - Tonk characteristic

Solid - weak contrast almost solid like the Burmese
the Mink coat pattern is the only pattern that can be shown as it is distinct from the coat patterns of the other 2 breeds
from blue to green/gold

The points are the same for Siamese, Burmese and Tonkinese. The terminology varies slightly (to confuse a little more :-)). This may help:

Burmese body color ("coat pattern")- these it seems vary depending on the cat registry. The biggest registry, the CFA recognise these colors: sable (natural), champagne, blue and platinum.

Siamese and Burmese - point colors are the same. For the Siamese cat the 4 point colors are: seal, chocolate, blue and lilac. These colors on a Burmese cat are: brown or sable (the USA version of brown), chocolate or champagne (the USA version or chocolate), blue and lilac.


As expected the Tonkinese cat's character falls in between the 2 parent cats. The Siamese is a little highly strung and demanding the Burmese less so. The Tonk leans towards the Burmese character. Perhaps the justification for the Tonkinese cat is that she combines the best of both parent breeds.


  • CFA
  • Cat Fanciers
  • Wikipedia
See a lot more photographs and further discussion at Pictures of Cats

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