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Section 5 – Burmese – Group 2

The stylish Tonkinese, or ‘Tonk’ to his friends, has a strong, elegant body with long slender legs and an expressive tail. Its beautiful head is a medium wedge with large, shapely ears and almond-shaped eyes in sparkling gem colours of aquamarine, topaz or sapphire. It has short close-lying fur. The males are large and noble; the females are smaller and exquisitely feminine.

Records of Tonkinese go back several hundred years to the rare Cat Book Poems of Thailand. They have often been confused with cats that we now call Burmese and Siamese. The three breeds are genetically related and, until the 1970s they were still quite similar in head and body shape; and were being bred together even in to the 1980s. Now, geneticists know that the Tonkinese is unique among cat breeds. Tonkinese share their coat-pattern genes with their Burmese and Siamese cousins; the Tonkinese pattern falling midway between them.

When Tonkinese are bred together they can produce the three coat-patterns – Burmese Colour Restriction (BCR), Tonkinese Colour Restriction (TCR) and the Colourpointed Pattern (CPP). The TCR is the definitive Tonkinese coat-pattern having rich body colour that gently merges with darker points (most easily seen in Brown and Blue Tonks), cats with this pattern have aquamarine coloured eyes. The BCR is more evenly coloured and has gold/green eyes. The CPP is very pale bodied with strongly coloured points and clear blue eyes. All three coat-patterns are valued and used in Tonkinese breeding.


Feline historians and geneticists know that today’s Tonkinese is a reconstruction from the bloodlines of cats brought to the West in the late 1800s. Early breeders of cats that were imported from Malaysia noticed some with greenish-blue eyes and darker bodies than the ‘Royal’ Siamese; these cats were recognised by the Siamese Cat Club who, in 1901 proclaimed that their function was “to encourage the breeding of pure Siamese, both Royals and Chocolates”  (not to be confused with chocolate-points). At the time the ‘Royal’ was more exotic looking and favoured by breeders.  Nevertheless there are a many Chocolate entries in the Siamese CC, National CC and Cat Fanciers Federation (UK) pedigree registers; show catalogues into the late 1920s had classes for the Chocolates.

Many of the Siamese and Burmese foundation cats were actually Tonkinese, including Wong Mau – the ancestress of the Burmese breed, developed in the 1930s in the USA. As with the Royal Siamese the distinctly rich coat of the Burmese was favoured by breeders over the more subtle Tonkinese – so the ‘Chocolate’ seemed to disappear. They were still being bred, but usually registered as either Burmese or Siamese.

Then in the late 1950s North American breeders looked more closely at these subtle-coated cats with their  extraordinary aquamarine coloured eyes – several breeders worked together to develop breeding lines with them. The result was that the Tonkinese was officially recognised (again) as a distinct breed – in Canada (1965, when the name Tonkinese originated), USA (1972) and UK (1983 with the CA, 1991 with the GCCF). They are now also recognised in most European countries, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. Upwards of 30 countries have postage stamps featuring the breed.

Appearance and Colours

The alert, well-toned Tonkinese is a medium sized cat that is neither cobby nor svelte and heavier than it looks. Males weigh from 8 to 12 lbs and females range from 6 to 8 lbs. This breed has no extreme features – it is an elegant cat-shaped cat. The Tonkinese coat is short and close-lying; the texture is fine, soft and silky. In the UK Tonkinese have a wonderful range of colours and patterns – Brown, Blue, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Lilac and Fawn plus Caramel, Red, Cream and Apricot. There are also Tabbies and Tortoiseshells in these colours. Furthermore, these are present in each of the three coat-patterns (BCR, TCR and CPP)!


Gregarious by nature, a properly-socialised Tonkinese is an outgoing, confident cat who will make its presence felt; a strong, active and spirited cat who’ll give each family member a chance to love and serve them. They do not mind being housecats as long as they have a companion and plenty to amuse them. They generally get on well with children (provided the children have been properly taught to respect animals), other cats and cat-friendly dogs. They are happy to socialise with most people, even strangers. They’ll touch you or talk to you they may even play ‘fetch’. Although they love to be with people, they do need feline company and they get on well with most types of cat, but particularly with other active, intelligent cats.


A Tonkinese does not need special grooming as the short coat is relatively self-maintaining – but they do enjoy the attention that grooming brings. Keep the coat at its best by grooming with a rubber brush, or clean gardening gloves with the rubber bumps, once a week to remove any loose, dead hair. They are generally satisfied with a well balanced diet and occasional treats.


Average life expectancy is 15 years but Tonkinese, like their Burmese and Siamese cousins, are long lived and ages of nineteen and twenty are quite common. The Tonkinese has no specific health problems.

Further Reading

‘Tonkinese Cats – A History’, by L Vousden

‘Tonkinese Cats At Home’, by L Vousden

‘Tonkinese Cats in Colour’, by L Vousden