Tonkinese cat. Photo copyright Helmi Flick.

The pictures below are thumbnails. Please click on any one to see a larger version.


This attractive cat breed is a deliberate (human created) cross between a Traditional or Classic Siamese Cat and a Burmese cat. The Traditional Siamese is also called an “Applehead”. The head of a Traditional Siamese is apple shaped compared to the “wedgie”, wedge shaped Modern Siamese. Some think the Modern Siamese is more true to the original Siamese and some think the opposite. Siamese cat history tells me the true Siamese cat is the traditional.

The early history of the cat breeds is often vague. In my opinion, Tonkinese cats are all about coat color and coat pattern and how they interact. Lets look at the two terms first as they are not self explanatory. Coat color means the color of the extremities of the cat (the “points”). Coat pattern means the relationship of the base color to the color of the points. There are 4 coat colors and 3 coat patterns (see table below), making 12 combinations.

The Origin

The origin is a little hazy. You will find, therefore, variations to a similar theme. It is believed that there were Tonkinese Cats in the 1800s but at the time they were considered, apparently to be Siamese Cats (Traditional Siamese cats as we now call them). It is said that the first Tonkinese cat was imported into America in 1930. The cat was a mink hybrid called “Wong Mau”. This cat was also the founding cat of the Burmese breed (notice the overlap in breeds). This is the way I see the history of Tonkinese Cats:

1800sTonkinese believed to exist – probably an overlap between Burmese, Siamese and Tonkinese
1930Wong Mau – first known Tonkinese. I presume this is established through a distinct genetic code?
Early 1900s to 1950Tonkinese characteristics bred out of Siamese and Burmese leaving 2 distinct breeds
1950s to 1970sSiamese and Burmese are merged again to form the Tonkinese

It is interesting to note that the Tonkinese characteristics were breed out of the Siamese and Burmese. It would seem (and these are my thoughts only) that there was an overlap in the three similar breeds, Siamese, Burmese and Tonkinese (perhaps they were all variations of the same breed).

This may have occurred naturally or by breeders breeding one with the other. A decision was made to make the breeds more distinct. Then to re-create the Tonkinese. There appears to have been some controversy on this “strategy” (if it in fact was discussed in that way). The decisions would have been made by cat breeders with the co-operation ultimately of the major Cat Registries.

Tonkinese cat. Photo copyright Helmi Flick


This is the important bit. I wonder if the terminology could have been a bit be clearer? I have introduced it above. Here is a chart, which may or may not help.

Coat color (the color of the extremities)
  1. natural or sable
  2. champagne
  3. blue
  4. platinum
Coat pattern (i.e. relationship of coat color to extremities)Pointed – strong contrast between body and points like the SiameseMink – medium contrast between body and points – Tonk characteristicSolid – weak contrast almost solid like the Burmese
Commentthe Mink coat pattern is the only pattern that can be shown as it is distinct from the coat patterns of the other 2 breeds
Eyesfrom blue to green/gold

The point to note is this. The color appearance of these three breeds (Siamese, Burmese and Tonkinese) is about (a) the base color and its density (how dark or light it is or to put it another way how solid or dilute the color is) (b) the pointing, meaning the color of the extreme “points” of the cat such as ears, end of tail etc. and (c) the contrast between the two elements (this is referred to as the “coat pattern” see the chart above).

The contrast between the base color and the points is a notable feature of all three breeds. The Siamese has high contrast and the Burmese has low contrast. Tonkinese Cats are in between with a wide spread of color and contrast combinations (12 as mentioned above). This, in my opinion, is what gives the breed its appeal. Other than the Tonkinese character.


As expected the Tonkinese cat’s character falls in between the 2 parent cats. The Siamese is a little highly strung and demanding the Burmese less so. The Tonk leans towards the Burmese character. Perhaps the justification for the Tonkinese cat is that she combines the best of both parent breeds. One last point. The points are the same for Siamese, Burmese and Tonkinese. The terminology varies slightly. This may help to clarify:

  • Burmese body color (“coat pattern”)- the names of the patterns, it seems, vary depending on the cat registry. The biggest registry, the CFA recognise these colors: sable (natural), champagne, blue and platinum.
  • Siamese and Burmese – the point colors are the same for these breeds. For the Siamese cat the 4 point colors are: seal, chocolate, blue and lilac. These colors on a Burmese cat are: brown or sable (the USA version of brown), chocolate or champagne (the USA version or chocolate), blue and lilac.


If you are interested in buying and are seaching for breeders, a Tonkinese breeder world list might interest you. This is meant to be a comprehensive list.



Special mention:

Tonkinese in Italy – Valeria Genesini – Corso Porta Mare, 89 – I-44100 Ferrara – Italy


  • CFA
  • Cat Fanciers
  • Wikipedia

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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