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Tonkinese are a medium-sized cat breed distinguished by points as with Siamese and Birman breeds. They are lively, friendly, often talkative cats, with gregarious personalities, and can live indoors if given enough exercise. They are commonly referred to as 'Tonks'. As with many cat breeds, the exact history of the Tonkinese varies to some degree depending on the historian.
Tonkinese cats are the result of a recent crossbreeding between the Siamese and Burmese cat breeds, although some assert that Tonkinese-like cats have existed since at least the early 19th century, and the founding cat of the Burmese breed was probably a mink hybrid-colored cat named "Wong Mau," a small walnut colored cat imported to California by Dr. Joseph Cheesman Thompson in 1930. Some claim that the appearance of the breed is closer to the original appearance of the Siamese, before Siamese breeders developed today's triangular head and very leggy body. The name is not related to the Tonkin region of Indochina, or to the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. When the breed was first established in Canada, the breed name was actually spelled "Tonkanese," which was a reference to the island in the musical South Pacific where "half-breeds" suffered no discrimination. The mistaken idea that the name was a geographical reference paralleling the Siamese and Burmese breed names resulted in a gradual switch to the current spelling, under which the breed was recognized by the US registering associations. The Tonkinese cat is a perfect combonation of the Burmese and the Siamese cats for they share different attributes from the Burmese and Siamese and display both of their behaviours. They are sometimes vocal like the Siamese as some may tell.
The Tonkinese has a winsome personality, not surprising since the Burmese and Siamese are prized for their temperaments. Faithful followers say the Tonkinese has the best of both breeds. Its voice is milder in tone than the Siamese. Its distinctive meow is often likened to a duck's quack. This meow can be particularly annoying when they are trying to seek attention. The Tonkinese craves, and returns, affection and companionship. It has an unflagging enthusiasm for life and life's pleasures, and loves interactive toys such as human fingers and the tails of its cat companions. It makes every close encounter a game.
Tonkinese are commonly trim and muscular cats. They are typically heavier than they appear to be, due to their very muscular bodies. They have a distinctive oval-shaped paw, and a modified wedge-shaped head, with large ears set towards the outside of their head. They are unusually intelligent, curious, affectionate with people, and interested in them. Tonkinese cats are playful cats, but not hyperactive, although they can be mischievous if they become lonesome or bored. Some interesting toys and a cat tree, or, better yet, another Asian cat such as a Tonkinese, Oriental, Burmese, Siamese, or Snowshoe can keep them busy when they're lonely. Unlike most breeds of cat, they are reported to sometimes engage in fetching, and they can often be found perched on the highest object in the house as they love jumping heights. They have a great personality and get along with children and other pets. Children usually enjoy playing with pets but most commonly cats so the Tonkinese is just the right cat.
Tonkinese cats weigh 6-20 lbs or even more.
They are more like Burmese in temperament than Siamese, that is, less high-strung and demanding. Their voices are also less piercing (or raucous, depending on taste) in most cases than the Siamese, but most Tonkinese do like a good chat. Most observers feel they combine the more attractive features of both ancestor breeds.
Tonkinese come in four colors and exhibit a wide variety of patterns. The three main patterns are mink, solid and pointed. Solid is essentially a Burmese coat pattern; pointed a Siamese pattern. Mink is a unique Tonkinese pattern, with shaded "points" like the Siamese, with the body coloured in a shade harmonising with the point colour. Mink is intermediate between Burmese and Siamese, with less abrupt contrast between body and legs than Siamese. The mink variety is considered most desirable for the show ring in cat fancier associations. The most commonly accepted colors are: platinum, champagne, blue, and natural, although European associations also accept red, cream, caramel, apricot and tortoiseshell. Typically, solid Tonkinese cats have gold or blue- green eyes, cats with the pointed pattern are blue-eyed, and the mink cats have a shade of aquamarine. A great deal of subtle variation exists in colors and patterns, and Tonkinese body color darkens with age to some degree in all patterns. Cats kept in colder climates will typically be darker in their mink or point shading, like their Siamese cousins.
Breeding two mink Tonkinese cats does not usually yield a full litter of mink pattern Tonkinese kittens, as the mink pattern is the result of having one gene for the Burmese solid pattern and one for the Siamese pointed pattern. The most likely frequency pattern will be in such a mating one solid kitten, one pointed kitten, and two mink kittens. All three coat patterns will continue to exist and none can be bred out.
Those kittens not fitting the breed standards perfectly are termed 'pet quality' and are usually sold as companion pets, and for less money, since they can not be exhibited. They still have the same Tonkinese charm and personality. The genetics of the coat coloring and its interaction with eye coloring is complex and fascinating, though perhaps not the main attraction for Tonk fans.
Tonkinese registered in associations with closed breed books may produce smaller litters of three or four kittens on average as a result of increasing inbreeding, but those registered where new blood can still be added to the breed tend to the larger litters that come with hybrid vigor, usually having five, six, or more kittens. Kittens from closed breed book litters tend to be smaller in size. Colors and patterns in any litter depend both on statistical chance and the color genetics and patterns of the parents. Breeding between two mink-patterned cats will, on average, produce half mink kittens and one quarter each pointed and solid kittens. A pointed and a solid bred together will always produce all mink patterned kittens. A pointed bred to a mink will produce half pointed and half mink kittens, and a solid bred to a mink will produce half solid and half mink kittens.
In 2001, the Tonkinese were moved from hybrid classification to an established breed.