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Getting to Know the Tonkinese

By Mary Mosshammer
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

The Tonkinese cat blends the best features of its ancestors into one beautiful, medium-sized cat that proudly wears three coat patterns, each of which comes in four colors. It can display the densely colored coat of its Burmese predecessor, with sparkling yellow-green eyes setting off the deep brown that Tonkinese breeders call natural, a blue that is reminiscent of slate, champagne that rivals a fine milk chocolate, and platinum that looks for all the world like the precious metal.

Its Siamese ancestors have contributed their pointed coat pattern, complete with glittering deep blue eyes. The contrast of richly colored ears, mask, leggings and tail with the almost white-to-warm ivory of the body paints a startling picture. In between, these two extremes of contrast are the "mink" patterned Tonkinese with incredible aqua eyes that stand out in the world of cats. The natural mink blends the deep brown of the ears, mask, leggings and tail almost imperceptibly into the corresponding lighter shade of brown of the body color. The blue mink is equally beautiful with the gentle shading into the body color from deep slate blue points. Milk or darker chocolate combines with the golden color of a fine champagne in the Mink of the same name. The platinum mink is a picture of platinum or fine pewter on its points, shading gently into a body color that is a glowing, paler version. Kittens will be lighter in color than adults as it takes from 16 to 24 months for the full development of color in the Tonkinese.

The Tonkinese is a cat whose body is medium in size, not cobby like the Burmese, nor long and svelte like the Siamese. They are remarkably dense and muscular and are surprisingly heavy. The head is slightly longer than wide, a modified wedge in shape, with gently planed cheekbones. The muzzle is slightly rounded, as long as it is wide, and there is a slight whisker break that is gently curved following the line of the wedge. The ears are oval tipped and broad at the base, and when viewed from the front they appear to be as much on the side of the head as on the top. Viewed from the side, the tip of the chin aligns with the nose, in the same vertical plane. There is a gentle rise from the tip of the nose to a stop (a slight change of direction) at eye level leading to a gently rounded forehead. The eye shape is much like an almond, slightly flatter on top than on the bottom. The size should appear to fit with the size of the head, not too large or too small. The overall appearance of the Tonkinese is one of balance: everything fits together well. The cat is true poetry in motion.

Their Personality


These cats are intelligent and gregarious. They have a sense of humor. They are firmly convinced that humans were put on earth to love them. This colorful personality of the Tonkinese makes them ideal companions. They will take possession of your lap and shoulder, and they will supervise your activities. They are warm and loving, highly intelligent, with an incredible memory and senses that are akin to radar. They are very strong willed, and their humans are wise to use persistent persuasion in training them. Essential in every home run by a Tonkinese is a collection of spray bottles filled with water, strategically placed. After once making the point, for instance, that rearranging the mantle is not allowed, just picking up the squirt bottle reinforces the lesson. It is at this point that Tonks treat their humans to the best "Who, me?" in the cat fancy. They are naturals at inventing and playing games, using favorite toys to play fetch, and delighting in games of tag with each other. Of course hide and seek is a favorite game, played equally well with humans and other Tonks. They become your door greeter and will happily entertain your guests. They are equally adept at supervising repairmen. Enthusiastic owners have described them as part puppy (following their owner around the house), part monkey (their acrobatics, leaping and climbing abilities are legend.), and they can sound like an elephant running through your house when they choose. Their affectionate ways are impossible to ignore, they quickly take over and run your home and your life, and they endear themselves to family and friends forever.

Owners of Tonkinese find themselves imitators of Dr. Doolittle, for these cats carry on conversations with their sentences and paragraphs. Awakening from a nap, they will seek the whereabouts of their humans by "talking" in an unmistakable tone of "where are you?" Their voices are very pleasant, and the intonations unmistakable. No guesswork here.

Caring for a Tonkinese

Caring for Tonkinese is as simple and easy as feeding a well-balanced feline diet, clipping their nails weekly and using a rubber brush to groom them. When someone purchases a Tonk kitten or adult, the breeder will inform the new owner what diet is being fed, and when a change should be made. For instance, a kitten may be fed a specific growth food (such as a kitten diet) until it reaches a certain age, then a gradual change to adult food. The nutrition needs of kittens are very different from that of adults.

Clipping of nails is something every kitten or cat is accustomed to; if started at a very young age. Providing an interesting scratching post or cat tree, and insisting they use it, is imperative. Tonks love high places, so a well-placed tall cat tree with scratching surfaces (sisal is a favorite) and interesting platforms and cubbyholes helps to solve problems of boredom and scratching inappropriate surfaces. Placed near a window, perhaps with a bird feeder or bright windsock within view, it can occupy a Tonk for hours. Grooming with a rubber brush (the feline equivalent of a curry brush) on a routine basis will help keep seasonal shedding to a minimum, as well as become a bonding exercise between you and your cat.

Except in the case of the show cat, bathing is seldom necessary; the Tonks are very fastidious, and bathe themselves often. The flat side of the rubber brush helps keep the sheen on their coat.

The Tonkinese, as with all pedigreed breeds, is an indoor-only cat. A thorough inspection of your home prior to your Tonk's arrival will help insure he remains indoors. Making certain that window screens and doors are secure can help keep him safely inside. "Cat proofing" your home, much as you would for a visiting two-year old human on the loose, is bound to save you frustration. Knick-knacks and breakables put behind glass doors can be enjoyed without the danger of being broken or moved by an intrepid Tonk. Plants, particularly those poisonous to cats, should be moved outside, to another room where your Tonk is not allowed (they really don't have to take over the entire house), or hung up high where they cannot be reached by a Tonk. Rotating different toys every so often helps keep them occupied when you have other things to do besides playing with them. Humans who work outside the home find that two Tonks will keep each other company, particularly in the case of kittens, as well as lessen the mischief one bored Tonk can get into.

Breed History

Although relatively new to modern cat show competition, this is the same breed depicted in The Cat-Book Poems of Siam during the Ayudha Period (1358-1767), and imported to England in the early 1800s as "Chocolate Siamese." In the United States, both Tonkinese and Burmese can trace their beginnings back to Wong Mau, a small walnut colored cat imported to California by Dr. Joseph Thompson in 1930. There were a few fanciers who bred Tonkinese in the early years, but the first selective breeding program is generally attributed to a New York fancier. In Canada, in the middle 1960s, recognition was achieved, and the Tonkinese was granted Championship Status there in 1971. During this time, an American breeder approached several American associations for registration. The Canadian and American breeders worked to publicize the breed, wrote standards for the Tonkinese, and corresponded with other fanciers. An American breeder went on a televised game show, which reached a nationwide audience, and the floodgates were opened. Interested fanciers from across the country joined the small group of Tonkinese breeders. This relatively small group of Tonkinese fanciers applied to the Cat Fanciers' Association for recognition and registration was granted in 1978.

In 1979, the Tonkinese Breed Association was organized and affiliated with CFA specifically to work to advance the Tonkinese in CFA. Provisional status for Tonkinese was effective with the beginning of the show year on May 1, 1982. By 1984, they had purred their way through several years and four presentations to the Board of Directors of CFA, finally achieving their Championship goal. Beginning May 1, 1984, the Tonkinese began competing in Championship classes in CFA. Tonkinese cats know they belong. In the beginning, only the "mink" coat patterned Tonkinese could compete at CFA shows. Beginning with the 2002 show season, all three Tonkinese coat patterns compete in the show ring, showing off the full range of point-to-body contrast. Since 1984 there have been many grand champions, grand premiers, and the ultimate CFA title for a breeding cat: distinguished merit. The Tonkinese in CFA have produced national and regional winning cats.

The Tonkinese wears a rainbow of colors, but no matter which color or coat pattern a purchaser may choose, they may be assured they are joining an enthusiastic fan club of admirers of Tonkinese: the personality is unbeatable. A purchaser with children should seek out a Tonkinese breeder whose cats have been raised around children. Tonkinese that have been retired from breeding programs (usually five years of age or under), and have been altered, can and do lead wonderful lives with their humans. They travel in motor homes, as content to run a home on wheels as one that is stationary. Since human laps are a favorite place for Tonkinese, less physically active or older humans are wonderful owners. This breed is not for people who want a couch potato, or who object to a purring fur piece around their neck or on their shoulders. For those humans who relish an active purring feline friend, Tonkinese are ideal. Humans who are owned by Tonks will happily tell everyone that they embarked on the most joyful experience of their lives the day a Tonkinese came into that life.

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