Meet the Tonkinese: The “Perma-Kitten” With a Heart of Gold


What has a mink coat, a super-loving disposition, and a kittenish attitude well into his elder years? It’s the Tonkinese! This Oriental breed is more “middle of the road” in his build than his Siamese cousins, but he still sports the pointed colors and striking eyes of his ancestors.


The first record of the cat we know as the Tonkinese was Dr. Joseph Thompson’s feline pal Wong Mau, a walnut-colored cat he imported in 1930. In the 1960s, breeders crossed Burmese and Siamese cats to achieve a cat with a distinctly Oriental look but without the extreme features and loud voice of the Siamese. The Canadian Cat Association recognized the Tonk, as the breed is more familiarly known, in 1971. The International Cat Association recognized the breed in 1979, and the Cat Fanciers’ Association accepted it for championship status in 1984.


The Tonkinese comes in four base colors — platinum, champagne, natural and blue — and three coat patterns. Cats with pointed patterns look a lot like Siamese cats, with blue eyes and a high contrast between the colors on the extremities and the center of the body. The mink pattern has lower contrast and aqua-colored eyes. The solid pattern has very little contrast between the body and extremities, and green or yellow eyes. The Tonk is a medium-size cat who is surprisingly heavy and muscular, weighing between six and 12 pounds.

Health and longevity

A typical Tonk can live 10 to 16 years, or possibly more with good care. They do tend to be quite prone to dental disease, so get your Tonkinese used to having her teeth brushed while she’s still a kitten. Other potential health concerns for Tonks include asthma, congenital heart defects, and amyloidosis, a disease in which a type of protein called amyloid is deposited in body organs, particularly the liver.

What it’s like to live with a Tonkinese

Before you bring your Tonkinese home, make sure you’ve got plenty of toys and furniture for her to climb and explore. She’s an energetic, highly intelligent and outgoing kitty who loves to play, and with her winsome disposition she’s bound to win over even the most reluctant family members. She’ll get along great with your other pets, including dogs and other cats, as well as any children who grace your home. They live to love, and once you make friends with a Tonk, you’ve got a pal for life.

While Tonks are talkative, they’re not quite as chatty as their Siamese cousins. But when they do talk, they don’t just stop with a meow or a chirp; they tell a complete story. Their voices are softer and more melodic than the typical Siamese, too.

Tonks prefer not to be left alone, and they can get into mischief if they get bored and lonely. For that reason, some breeders suggest that your Tonkinese should have a feline roommate of about the same age.

Tonkinese trivia bits

  • The Tonkinese is almost identical to a breed described in The Cat-Book of Siam, written during Thailand’s Ayudha Period (1358-1767).
  • The breed’s progenitor, Wong Mau, was originally thought to be a solid-colored Siamese cat.
  • The breed was originally called the Tonkanese, which apparently is a reference to the musical South Pacific. The island of Tonka was supposed to be a place where no one discriminated against “half breeds.”

Do you live with a Tonkinese? Share your comments on the breed and your photos of your Tonkinese kitty in the comments!

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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