July 31, 2013 PetGuide
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  • Height: 8-10 inches
  • Weight: 6-12 lb
  • Lifespan: 12-18 years
  • Physique: Dense and muscular
  • Best Suited For: Families with children or singles with other pets
  • Temperament: Active, curious, lively, intelligent, playful, and interactive
  • Comparable Breeds: Ocicat, Sphynx

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The Tonkinese is the result of crossbreeding a Burmese and a Siamese. Cats with the Tonkinese look and traits have been identified since the 19th century. The likely founder of the line was a small walnut colored cat imported to California by Dr. Joseph C. Thompson in 1930. The breed’s name does not refer to the Tonkin region of Indochina, or to the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam. The original spelling of the name “Tonkanese” was a reference to the island in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “South Pacific.” The spelling was modified to standardize it with the other Oriental breeds. Most people regard Tonks as the perfect combination of the most beloved traits of the Burmese and Siamese foundation breeds, which explains their great popularity as family pets.

The Tonkinese has a reputation for being a feline innovator.

tonkinese-1The Tonkinese has a reputation for being a feline innovator. They come up with all sorts of games and “projects” involving their toys and their humans on a daily basis. They not only will happily play fetch, but they enjoy hide-and-seek and tag as well. The kittens tend to be almost manic in their enthusiasm, and that sense of fun and hijinks remains with the Tonkinese throughout its life. The more intellectual stimulation you can provide for these cats the better, and climbing posts are a must. Your Tonk will greet you and any visitors at the door, often offering to give the grand tour. They cannot imagine that they would not be included in everything going on in the house, and they happily interact with children and other animals. A Tonk does not like to be ignored or be on its own. Two Tonks are the perfect companions if you can stand having a feline executive committee in charge of your household. Rarely do these cats talk in single meows. They’re given to expressing themselves in whole sentences, or even paragraphs! Be warned that these cats are far too trusting for their own good and should be kept strictly indoors.

The Tonkinese is a medium-sized cat with a gorgeous, well-muscled build. Dense and compact, you’ll be surprised by the heft of these cats the first time you pick one up. Their legs and feet are slim and fine, and are well balanced against a body that, while not svelte, is also not cobby. The hind legs are slightly longer. Overall, the Tonkinese is easily confused with the Siamese, although their faces are rounder, with less prominent features. They have high swept, upright ears, and lovely blue eyes that are expressive and trusting.

tonkinese-2There are 12 accepted colors and patterns for the breed. The base colors or points are Platinum, Champagne, Natural, and Blue. The coat patterns are Pointed, Mink, and Solid.

The Tonkinese is an easy cat to groom thanks to its sleek, short coat. A rubber brush will easily remove loose hair, and the occasional bath will take care of the rest.

Photo credit: foto-ann/Shutterstock

Comparable Breeds

Go to Ocicat


  • Height: 9-11 inches
  • Weight: 6-15 lb
  • Lifespan: 12-14 years
  • Physique: Medium to large breed
  • Best Suited For: Families with children and other pets. Does not like to be alone.
  • Temperament: Friendly, sociable, vocal. Very people oriented. Needs lots of attention.
  • Comparable Breeds: Oriental
Go to Sphynx


  • Height: 8-10 inches
  • Weight: 10-12 lb
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years
  • Physique: Lean, oversized ears
  • Best Suited For: Active households with children or other pets.
  • Temperament: Curious, playful, mischievous, and intelligent
  • Comparable Breeds: Oriental, York Chocolate