The Maine Coon
The Maine Coon is the largest domestic breed of cat and is among the oldest natural breeds in North America, where it is native to the state of Maine and is the official state cat. The Maine Coon is also known as the American Longhair and is a distinctive looking cat with an easily recognisable physical appearance and valuable hunting skills.
Silver Tabby Maine Coon
No one is completely sure where the Maine Coon came from but there are some colourful myths that have become associated with it. One of them tells the story of the six Turkish Angoras owned by Marie Antoinette. The Queen of France sent her cats with her other prized possession on the ship of Captain Samuel Clough when she realised her execution was coming to escape to the US and while she didn’t make it, her cats did. These cats reached the shores of Wiscasset, Maine where they bred with the nature cats and the Maine Coon breed was born.
The generally accepted theory is that the ancestors of the Maine Coon travelled across from Europe either with the Vikings in the 11th century or with English seafarers. Some think these ships cats crossed with wildcats such as the bobcat, explaining the tuft of hair on the ears often seen on the breed. Others think the Viking connection due to the breed’s similarity to the Norwegian Forest Cat.
Kitten Maine Coon
While the history of the breed is a bit vague, the show history is better documented. The first written mention of the Maine Coon came in 1861 along with a photo showing a black and white cat named Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines. In the late 1860s, farmers in Maine talked about their cats and held a Maine State Champion Coon Cat contest at the Skowhegan Fair.
By 1895, a dozen Maine Coons were entered into a show in Boston and in the same year, the first North American cat show was held in Madison Square Gardens in New York City. A female Maine Coon took part in the show called Cosey and she won both a silver collar and medal and was named the Best in Show. That silver collar is now held in the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s central office.
By the early 20th century, the breed’s popularity was in decline following the introduction of other longhaired breeds such as the Persian. The last time a Maine Coon won a national cat show for 40 years was in 1911 in Portland, Oregon. In fact, the decline in numbers became so severe that in the 1950s, the Maine Coon was said to be extinct but this proved to be premature.
The Central Maine Cat Club (CMCC) was set up in the early 1950s by Alta Smith and Ruby Dyer with the aim of increasing the popularity of the breed and for eleven years, they held shows and photo exhibitions as well as being the first to create a breed standard for the cat.
The 1970s saw an increase in the breed numbers once more and in 1985, the Maine Coon was named the official State Cat of Maine. Today, the breed is strongly in third place as the most popular breed of pedigree cat across the US after the Persian and the Exotic.
Sharing their home
What other animal do you think a cat best shares their home with?
Maine Coons are the largest of the breeds of domestic cats with males weighing from 15-25lb while females from 10-15lb. Their height can vary from 10-16inches and length up to 48inches including a tail that easily reaches 14inches in length.
The body shape of these cats is solid and muscular, which is needed to support so large a frame. They have a broad chest and a rectangular body with a long and tapering tail that is heavily furred. Due to their size, these cats are slow to mature taking three to five years to reach their adult size, whereas smaller cats are normally matured at twelve months.
Maine Coons are longhaired cats as a rule, though some medium length coats are found. Texture varies with colour but is usually soft and silky with the fur on the head and shoulders shorter compared to longer fur on the stomach flanks. Some of them even have a ruffle of fur around the neck reminiscent of a lion. Yet compared to a lot of longhair breeds, they don’t need much grooming due to a light density undercoat.
There is no set colour for a Maine Coon but some colours do indicate hybridisation with other breeds. Chocolate, lavender or point patterns indicates a cross with Siamese and these cats aren’t accepted for showing. Eye colours vary with coat including blue eyes on white cats.
The Maine Coon is a cat well adapted to its home state. They have dense, water-resistant fur that is even longer on their underside and rear to give them extra protection when sitting or walking on wet surfaces or on snow. Their bushy tail doesn’t sink into snow and can be curled around their body for extra warmth and their large paws are a little like snowshoes.
medium width, slightly longer in length with squareness of muzzle and high cheekbones
proportionate with slight concavity when viewed in profile, smooth and free of bumps or humps
large, well tufted and wide at base with a tapered point; set one ear’s width apart at the base
large, expressive and well-set, oval in shape
muscular and broad chested, well balance rectangular
Legs and Feet
wide set legs, medium length and proportionate with forelegs straight and back legs straight when viewed from behind. Five toes at front, four at back
long and wide at base then tapering
heavy and shaggy with shorter hair on the shoulders and longer on stomach and britches with a desirable front ruff. The texture should be silky and fall smoothly
Living with Maine Coons
Brown Tabby Maine Coon
Living with a Maine Coon
These cats are often called gentle giants who are easy to train due to above-average intelligence. They are very loyal to their families but are cautious with strangers and are very independent cats. While not lap-cats they enjoy attention and remain playful all their lives as well as being good around both children and other animals.
A fascination for water is common to the breed with some believing this is due to their ancestry as ships cats. They are also very vocal with a range of different vocalisations including holding conversations with people talking to them.
Maine Coons are usually healthy cats with an average lifespan given by some sources as 12.5 years. The most common health problems is feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which is a common heart disease to all breeds of cat regardless of pedigree or not. Middle aged or older male cats are the most likely to develop the condition that can result in heart failure, paralysis of the hind legs and sudden death.
Due to their size, hip dysplasia is another potential health problem. This causes an abnormality of the hip joint resulting in lameness and arthritis, though is less pronounced than when occurring in dogs.
The first thing to remember when considering adopting a Maine Coon is that they are larger than other breeds of cat so will need more room. If you have a one bedroom apartment, they are likely not the right breed for you. But if you have space, then they will make a loving and charming member of the household who are a little independent and a lot affectionate with all members of the family.
More cat links
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Website for the Cat Fanciers Association