Tonkinese are a medium-sized short-haired breed distinguished by points as with Siamese and Himalayans. They are lively, but are happy apartment cats if have some exercise opportunity. 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 a recent cross between the Siamese and Burmese cat breeds, although some assert that Tonkinese-like cats have existed since at least the early 1800s, and the founding cat of the Burmese breed was probably a mink hybrid-colored cat named "Wong Mau." 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. 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.
Tonkinese cats 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. Tonks 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 Tonkinese, will keep them occupied when you're not around. Unlike most breeds of cat, they are reported to sometimes, or even often, engage in fetching, and they can often be found perched on the highest object in the house.
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 Tonks do like a good chat. Most observers feel they combine the more attractive features of both ancestor breeds.
Tonks exhibit a wide variety of coat colors and patterns. The three main patterns are mink, solid and pointed. 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. Typically, solid Tonkinese cats have gold or 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.
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't 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 traditional larger litters that come with hybrid vigor, usually having five or six kittens and sometimes more. Kittens from closed breed book litters will also 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.