Known for their semi-long coats and affectionate nature, the Maine Coon is one of the most popular and most loved cats in America, today. From the origins of this beautiful cat right through to caring for your new family member, we delved into the world of one of the most loyal cats to bring you the full Maine Coon guide.
History of the Maine Coon Cat
The origins of the Maine Coon cat are largely debated, though it is generally accepted that the cat is an old breed that was bred in the United States. It is theorized that the cats came over with seafarers during the colonization of America. The long-haired cats then mated with local shorthaired breeds, which resulted in larger cats that were much more robust. They also kept the semi-longhair coats and bushy tails, which can easily remind onlookers of a raccoon’s tail.
Because the pairings between the locals and migrant cars were random, we now have the pleasure of being able to see the Maine Coon in a variety of coat patterns and colors, though all types and patterns are able to withstand Maine’s cold winter temperatures. Their natural ability as mousers, which likely comes from their time on board the ships meant that they were encouraged and kept on farmlands to rid local areas of mice and rats. Of course, these large cats were soon recognized for their beauty, loyalty and affectionate nature, which won over the hearts of the locals who then chose to neuter and spay their Coons, before keeping them as pets. This has ensured that the numbers of this breed are still relatively low compared to many other common types of feline.
Other tales around the origin of the Maine Coon include domestic cats breeding with raccoons, which is unlikely but possible, over a prolonged period of time. Meanwhile, some argue that Marie Antionette brought over her Turkish Angora cats while fleeing the country, which then bred with the domestic cats of America. Finally, one of the oldest hypotheses is that, during the exploration of Norsemen in the 11th century, sailors brought over Norwegian Forest cats which eventually developed over time to become the Maine Coon we know and love.
Despite the debates over the origins of the Maine Coon, it is generally agreed that these cats are a welcome addition to the US, as well as how they originated in Maine. While the “Coon” part could be due to Captain Charles Coon, the raccoon crossbreeding or simply the fact that their lovely, bushy tales remind folk of raccoons. No matter what, we can all concur that these really are lovely little felines to have around the home.
The first written work mentioning this iconic cat is in Frances Simpson’s The Book of the Cat (1903), which includes an entire chapter about the breed. Frances himself owned several Maine Coons- though he referred to them as “Maines”- and noted that they often hung around the ports in the area, looking for their dinner.
The Maines were regularly entered into a local fair from the 1860’s, with farmers given awards for the best Maine Coon cat and this eventually developed into Maine Coons being entered into national shows in the late 1800’s. Unfortunately, after a long time reigning in the top breeds during the 1900’s, the breed declined in popularity due to the introduction of other long-haired breeds. The decline was, in fact, so severe that the breed was considered extinct (although this was considered a drastic measure which may not have been entirely necessary).
Luckily, not long after this bad news, the Central Maine Cat Club was created, which nurtured the existing cats and once again increased the popularity of the Maines. It was this club that introduced the standards which are still held to this day, in order to correctly maintain the breed over time. Still, it was until the mid-1970’s that the Cat Fancier’s Association finally registered the cat as a recognized breed. Today, the Maine Coon stands as the third-most popular cat in the US and is the official state cat of Maine.
Quick Facts About the Maine Coon Cat
With such a rich history, it’s not hard to see why there are so many stories and interesting facts surrounding the ever-popular Maine Coon. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the more fascinating facts about this beautiful feline, below.
- They certainly don’t do small
Maine Coons are all about being “slow and steady”- these cats can take up to five years to grow to their full potential and don’t they just grow! Reaching up to 12kg (or 26lbs), most Maine Coons tend to tip the scales at around 8kg (17lbs, roughly) and can often grow to around a meter in length! They’re also known for their incredibly long, bushy tails. In fact, one of the breed standards is that their tail reaches to their shoulders, in terms of length, when being pushed over the back.
- Their origins are mostly unknown
As mentioned above, there are certainly some interesting tales when discussing the origins of the Maine Coon. Some believe they came across the ocean with the Vikings, while others associate them with Marie Antionette, or even Captain Coon, who may have been the reason for their name. Of course, there’s no way to be sure of where the Maine Coon originated from, other than they are believed to have traveled from Europe and mated with the local, domestic cats.
- They’re very vocal
In fact, Maine Coon owners often mention that it feels like they’re having a full-blown conversation with their kitties! Maines often chirrup, trill, miaow, and purr, along with many other different sounds that don’t yet have a specific name. This wide vocabulary tends to make for some interesting moments between pets and their owners.
- Many Maine Coons have polydactylism
Polydactylism, for those who haven’t caught a few of the viral photos going around the web, is when someone or something is born with more fingers than is usual in the genetic makeup. In other words, cats that are polydactyl have extra toes! Apparently, up to 40% of the original Maine Coons were polydactyl, though this number has declined over time, possibly due to the lack of inbreeding as numbers were controlled through neutering and spaying.
It has also been suggested that the reason for their extra toes were to help them walk through the snow, initially. As their need to climb through cold climates has declined, so has the number of Maine Coons with polydactylism.
Unfortunately, the CFA and regular breeders also decided that this rare genetic format is considered undesirable and, as such, will not accept any Coons that have polydactylism. This has also led to a decline in numbers in polydactyl cats.
- The Maine Coon was the first cat to be cloned, commercially
When a Maine Coon called “Little Nicky” died in 2004, at the ripe old age of 17, her owner was so distraught that she paid $50,000 to a company to have her beloved cat cloned. Nicky’s DNA was placed into an egg cell, which was then implanted into a surrogate mother who gave birth to the clone. It has been reported that the owner was very happy with the results since the new kitten had similar markings to the original and supposedly even had the same temperament and personality. That said, the company that produced these results have since ceased trading due to financial difficulties and their controversial line of work.
- They’re super-friendly
The gentle giants of the cat world, the Maine Coon is often referred to as a dog owner’s cat, due to their friendliness, willingness to be around family and easy-to-train intelligence. They love interacting with humans, playing fetch and some have even been known to walk on a leash. If you ever felt stuck between wanting the independence of a cat and the loyalty of a dog, the Maine Coon is likely to be the best cat breed for you.
- Maine Coons are total water babies
Unlike most cats, the Maine Coons are known for loving water. Most cat owners of this breed quickly learn to keep their bathroom door shut when it’s time for a long soak- otherwise, they’ll end up with an uninvited guest. It’s theorized that the reasons for this are that their dense fur and incredible capability to swim means that they have no reason to fear water, like some cats who struggle with swimming. As such, Maine Coons have a reputation for playing with their water and enjoying a gentle swim in any water that’s deep enough.
- They are adaptable and versatile
We’ve already spoken about how the Maine Coon is great with water, but did you know that they’re also built to handle cold and snow-laden landscapes? Their thick, shaggy fur is near-waterproof and wide paws are great for striding across the snow. Perfect for Maine and the Northern US states, these cats have been known to shake their fur free of water, in the same manner as dogs after a dip.
- Maine Coons don’t have a specific coloring
Unlike many cat breeds in the CFA, the Maine Coon can come in a variety of colors, including those with tabby markings, ginger, black and white, and many other combinations. In fact, the CFA themselves accept up to 75 different colors of Maine Coon! The main standards for inclusion with the Cat Fancier’s Association include tufted ears, a solid build, and a “fully proportionate” body- meaning that no part of the cat should stand out above the rest.2
Things You Should Know
Like most pedigree breeds, the Maine Coon suffers from some genetic disorders which vary from cat-to-cat. While most Maine Coons are happy and healthy, two known issues within the breed are:
- Feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)
This causes the muscles in the walls of the heart to thicken, which leads to issues with circulation and decreasing the efficiency of the heart. The causes are unknown but can be found in pedigree breeds. Medication can help prolong the lifespan of your cat but unfortunately, there is no known cure for HCM at the moment.
- Hip dysplasia
This occurs when the ball of the hip, based at the top of the cat’s legs, does not securely fit into the joint which can be found around the pelvis. Dysplasia is somewhat rare in cats, though it can occur from time-to-time with some breeds. Depending on how much the dysplasia has progressed, your cat may be able to be treated as an outpatient or require surgery. Thus, it is extremely important to see a vet as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms such as decreased activity, lameness or decreased range in motion around the hip area.
- Polycystic kidneys
This is the where the kidneys develop multiple, small cysts that can cause renal failure (unable to filter waste from the bloodstream). The symptoms of polycystic kidneys often don’t show up until this progressive disease has become very dangerous. If you notice your cat is suffering from a loss of appetite, excessive urination, weight loss or vomiting it is essential that you get them to a vet immediately to help them combat this illness.
- Spinal Muscular Atrophy
This is a skeletal disorder which affects the limbs and spine of the sufferer. Over time, the trunk and limbs atrophy and become weaker. Though there are some ways to manage this illness and prolong the lifespan of your cat, it is unfortunately untreatable.
Most reputable breeders will have tested their cats for these diseases before breeding and should offer you evidence of such examinations. There are also some tests available for kittens, for peace of mind, which check the blood and general DNA of the feline in order to suggest their likelihood of becoming ill. Of course, all pets- just like all children- may end up falling ill through nobodies fault and this should be factored in when considering your next addition to the family.
The Maine Coon is a large cat and, as such, you can expect to require a large amount of food to sate their appetite! It is important to keep to the same routine the breeder has begun, when looking into your cat’s feeding habits, in order to ensure there are no stomach upsets following adoption. Should you decide to change the diet of your cat, or change the routine they have set out, it’s important to make these changes over a longer period of time, adding in different foods gradually or following a similar pattern to the original, so as not to confuse your cat or cause them to have a poorly tum. If you follow these steps but find that your feline friend is still struggling with their digestive system, it is a good idea to contact your vet to rule out any sinister reasons behind this.
Older Maine Coons, like all senior cats, are much fussier than their younger counterparts. If you’re struggling to entertain your cat’s taste buds, try feeding them smaller amounts, more regularly throughout the day. The fresh food will smell and taste more appealing to your older cats and will, therefore, be much more likely to be eaten. Again, if you notice your cat losing weight or struggling with their food, ask your vet for a check-up, to see if there is anything else causing this.
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As with all animals, Maine Coons require love, attention, fresh food and water, and a genuine interest in adding them to your family. Coons can sometimes become a little matted, as their long fur and adventurous nature tends to lead them into some rather sticky situations (sometimes quite literally!)- more details about grooming your Maine Coon are given, below.
You’ll also need to keep their litter box clean to the point of being nearly sterile- most cats are fussy about where they go to the toilet and Maine Coons are no different. Don’t place their litter tray near any food, as this is a sure-fire way to stop them from using their litter since cats won’t go to the toilet anywhere that their food is expected to be. Similarly, they won’t eat their food if their litter tray is too close.
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Naturally, cats who live indoors tend to have a longer lifespan (up to 15 years, compared to 9 years for outdoor cats). This is because the outdoors holds many threats to cats including cars, dogs, and coyotes, and being stolen by those who want to take your beautiful pet for themselves. Don’t forget to microchip your cat, in case they get lost. Finally, if you do decide to let your cat explore the outdoors, be sure to have them vaccinated and don’t neglect to get their booster shots done, every year.
The Maine Coon is known for their beautiful, long, shaggy fur and this means that they will need more grooming than their short-haired counterparts. It’s a good idea to groom your cat from a young age so that they get used to the brush and water. As mentioned above, most Maine Coons don’t mind water- but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily want to get a proper soak in the bath! If they aren’t keen, try to use only a shallow bath, with warm (but not boiling) water, which should help ease them into the experience. Never wash any pets face and ears- not only will you end up with a very unhappy pet, you could also cause some severe damage.
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You’ll see the most benefit from your grooming routines if you brush them twice a week. This will help distribute the oils around their fur and maintain that gorgeous coat. Remember to be gentler around their stomach area- if you’re struggling to free some knots in their fur, try using a baby wipe, as this can sometimes help loosen any tangles. You should also be on the lookout for any leftover poo on their tail (hey, it happens! There are definitely some downfalls to having such a bushy tail) and be sure to remove it straight away if you spot any. If you spot them, pick up a range of different brushes that are suitable for the different types of fur around the back, stomach, hindquarters, tail, and ears- this can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
Don’t forget to brush their teeth in order to maintain their healthy teeth and gums, and give their nails a trim every few weeks- which is particularly important if they are indoor cats. If you notice any discharge around the eyes, gently wipe this away with a damp, warm cloth.
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Maine Coons are famously loyal, friendly and fantastically family-friendly pets. Known as gentle giants and lions with the heart of a lamb, these lovable creatures love to chat away to their owners and can be very playful. Owners of Maine Coons mention being able to play fetch with their cats, or even being able to take them out on a leash!
Due to their amiable nature, these cats are perfect for almost any family. That said, like all animals, they require a lot of attention and love, and they thrive in an environment where they are properly cared for. They can be seen as quite needy, although a cat that receives a lot of attention will usually feel comfortable to come for a cuddle or walk away when they feel like it. Some Coon owners struggle with their cat’s need to be around them, often complaining that their cat follows them around like a shadow. Of course, this is to be expected with most cats- although they pretend to be rather aloof about their affection towards their owners!
These felines are fantastic to be around and should be treated with love and respect at all times- indeed, Maine Coons thrive in an environment that challenges their physical ability as well as their mental ability.
- Laurie L. Dove, Maine Coon Cats: Gentle Giants of the Feline World, HowStuffWorks
- Maine Coon, VCA Hospitals