The Maine Coon is a breed of domestic cat with a distinctive physical appearance and valuable hunting skills. It is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America, specifically native to the state of Maine, where it is the official State Cat.
Although the Maine Coon's exact origins and date of introduction to the United States are unknown, many theories have been proposed. The breed was popular in cat shows in the late 19th century, but its existence became threatened when long-haired breeds from overseas were introduced in the early 20th century. The Maine Coon has since made a comeback and is now one of the most popular cat breeds in the world.
The Maine Coon is noted for its large bone structure, rectangular body shape, and long, flowing coat. The breed can be seen in a variety of colors and is known for its intelligence and gentle personality. Health problems, such as feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and hip dysplasia, are seen in the breed, but screening methods can help to reduce the frequency of these problems.
The ancestral origins of the Maine Coon are unknown. There are only theories and folk tales. One such folk tale involves Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who was executed in 1793. The story goes that before her death, Antoinette attempted to escape France with the help of Captain Samuel Clough. She loaded Clough's ship with her most prized possessions, including six of her favorite Turkish Angora cats. Although she did not make it to the United States, her pets safely reached the shores of Wiscasset, Maine, where they bred with other short-haired breeds and evolved into the modern breed of the Maine Coon.
Another folk tale involves Captain Charles Coon, an English seafarer who kept long-haired cats aboard his ships. Whenever Coon's ship would anchor in New England ports, the felines would exit the ship and mate with the local feral cat population. When long-haired kittens began appearing in the litters of the local cat population, they were referred to as one of "Coon's cats".
A myth which is trait-based, though genetically impossible, is the idea that the modern Maine Coon descended from ancestors of semi-feral domestic cats and raccoons. This myth would account for the common color of the breed (brown tabby) and its bushy tail. Another idea is that the Maine Coon originated between the matings of domestic cats and wild bobcats, which could explain the tufts of hairs that are so commonly seen on the tips of the ears.
The generally-accepted theory among breeders is that the Maine Coon is descended from the pairings of local short-haired domestic cats and long-haired breeds brought overseas by English seafarers (possibly by Captain Charles Coon) or 11th-century Vikings. The connection to the Vikings is seen in the strong resemblance of the Maine Coon to the Norwegian Forest Cat, another breed that is said to be a descendant of cats that traveled with the Vikings.
The first mention of Maine Coons in a literary work was in 1861, when a black-and-white Maine Coon by the name of Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, was written about by co-owner F.R. Pierce, who wrote a chapter about the breed in Frances Simpson's The Book of the Cat (1903) and owned several other Maine Coons. During the late 1860s, farmers located in Maine told stories about their cats and held the "Maine State Champion Coon Cat" contest at the local Skowhegan Fair.
In 1895, a dozen Maine Coons were entered into a show in Boston, USA. On May 8, 1895, the first North American cat show was hosted at Madison Square Garden in New York City. A female Maine Coon brown tabby, named Cosey, was entered into the show. Owned by Mrs. Fred Brown, Cosey won the silver collar and medal and was named Best in Show. The silver collar was purchased by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) Foundation with the help of a donation from the National Capital Cat Show. The collar is housed at the CFA Central Office in the Jean Baker Rose Memorial Library.
In the early 20th century, the Maine Coon's popularity began to decline with the introduction of other long-haired breeds, such as the Persian, which originated in the Middle East. The last recorded win by a Maine Coon in a national cat show for over 40 years was in 1911 at a show in Portland, Oregon. The breed was rarely seen after that. The decline was so severe that the breed was declared extinct in the 1950s, although this declaration was considered to be exaggerated and reported prematurely at the time. The Central Maine Cat Club (CMCC) was created in the early 1950s by Alta Smith and Ruby Dyer in attempts to increase the popularity of the Maine Coon. For 11 years, the CMCC held cat shows and hosted exhibitions of photographs of the breed and is noted for creating the first written breed standards for the Maine Coon.
The Maine Coon was denied provisional breed status, one of the three steps required for a breed not yet recognized by the CFA to be able to compete in championship competitions by the CFA three times, which led to the formation of the Maine Coon Cat Club in 1973. The breed was finally accepted by the CFA under provisional status on May 1, 1975, and was approved for championship status on May 1, 1976. The next couple of decades saw a rise in popularity of the Maine Coon, with championship victories and an increase in national rankings. In 1985, the state of Maine announced that the breed would be named the official State Cat. Today the Maine Coon is the second most popular cat breed, according to the number of kittens registered with the CFA. The Persian is the first.
Maine Coons are one of the largest breeds of domestic cat. Males weigh from 15 to 25 lb (6.8 to 11 kg) with females weighing from 10 to 15 lb (4.5 to 6.8 kg). The height of adults can vary between 10 and 16 in (25 and 41 cm) and they can reach a length of up to 40 in (100 cm), including the tail, which can reach a length of 14 in (36 cm) and is long, tapering, and heavily furred, almost resembling a raccoon's tail. The body is solid and muscular, which is necessary for supporting their own weight, and the chest is broad. Maine Coons possess a rectangular body shape and are slow to physically mature; their full potential size is normally not reached until they are three to five years old, while other cats take about only one year.
In 2010, the Guinness World Records accepted a male purebred Maine Coon named "Stewie" as the "Longest Cat" measuring 48.5 in (123 cm) from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.
The Maine Coon is a longhaired, or medium-haired, cat. The coat is soft and silky, although texture may vary with coat color. The length is shorter on the head and shoulders, and longer on the stomach and flanks with some cats having a lion-like ruff around their neck. Minimal grooming is required for the breed, compared to other long-haired breeds, as their coat is mostly self-maintaining due to a light-density undercoat. The coat is subject to seasonal variation, with the fur being thicker in the winter and thinner during the summer. Maine Coons, due to their large size, have larger claws. There have been cases of Maine Coons using their claws to grip into walls.
Maine Coons can have any colors that other cats have. Colors indicating hybridization, such as chocolate, lavender, the Siamese pointed patterns or the "ticked" patterns, are unaccepted by breed standards. The most common color seen in the breed is brown tabby. All eye colors are accepted under breed standards, with the exception of the occurrence of blue-colored or odd-eyes (i.e., two eyes of different colors) in cats possessing coat colors other than white.
Maine Coons have several physical adaptations for survival in harsh winter climates. Their dense water-resistant fur is longer and shaggier on their underside and rear for extra protection when they are walking or sitting on top of wet surfaces of snow or ice.Their long and bushy raccoon-like tail is resistant to sinking in snow, and can be curled around their face and shoulders for warmth and protection from wind and blowing snow and it can even be curled around their backside like a insulated seat cushion when sitting down on a snow or ice surface. Large paws, and especially the extra-large paws of polydactyl Maine Coons, facilitate walking on snow and are often compared to snowshoes. Long tufts of fur growing between their toes help keep the toes warm and further aid walking on snow by giving the paws additional structure without significant extra weight. Heavily furred ears with extra long tufts of fur growing from inside help keep their ears warm.
Many of the original Maine Coon cats that inhabited the New England area possessed a trait known as polydactylism (having one or more extra toes on the feet). While some sources claim that trait is thought to have occurred in approximately 40% of the Maine Coon population in Maine at one time, little evidence has been given to substantiate this claim. Polydactylism is rarely, if ever, seen in Maine Coons in the show ring since it is unacceptable by competition standards. The gene for polydactylism is a simple autosomal dominant gene, which has shown to pose no threat to the cat's health. The trait was almost eradicated from the breed due to the fact that it was an automatic disqualifier in show rings. Private organizations and breeders were created in order to keep polydactylism in Maine Coons from disappearing.
Maine Coons are known as the "gentle giants" and possess above-average intelligence, making them relatively easy to train. They are known for being loyal to their family and cautious, but not mean, around strangers, but are independent and not clingy. The Maine Coon is generally not known for being a "lap cat" but their gentle disposition makes the breed relaxed around dogs, other cats, and children. They are playful throughout their lives, with males tending to be more clownish and females generally possessing more dignity, yet both are equally affectionate. Many Maine Coons have a fascination with water and some theorize that this personality trait comes from their ancestors, who were aboard ships for much of their lives. Maine Coons are also well known for yowling, chattering, chirping, "talking" (especially "talking back" to their owners), and making other loud vocalizations.
Pet insurance data from Sweden puts the median lifespan of the Maine Coon at >12.5 years. Maine Coons are generally a healthy and hardy breed and have adapted to survive the New England climate. The most severe threat is feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart disease seen in cats, whether pure bred or not. In Maine Coons, it is thought to be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. Middle-aged to older cats as well as males are thought to be predisposed to the disease. HCM is a progressive disease and can result in heart failure, paralysis of the hind legs due to clot embolization originating in the heart, and sudden death. A specific mutation that causes HCM is seen in Maine Coons for which testing services are offered. Of all the Maine Coons tested for the MyBPC mutation at the Veterinary Cardiac Genetics Lab at the College of Veterinary Medicine located at Washington State University, approximately one-third tested positive. Not all cats that tested positive will have clinical signs of the disease and some Maine Coon cats with clinical evidence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy test negative for this mutation, strongly suggesting that a second mutation exists in the breed. Another potential health problem is spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), another genetically inherited disease which causes the loss of the spinal-cord neurons which activate the skeletal muscles of the trunk and limbs. Symptoms are normally seen within 3-4 months of age and result in muscle atrophy, muscle weakness, and a shortened life span. A test is offered to detect the genes responsible for SMA.
Hip dysplasia is an abnormality of the hip joint which can cause crippling lameness and arthritis. The cats most commonly affected with hip dysplasia tend to be males of the larger, big-boned breeds such as Persians and Maine Coons. This is similar to the situation with dogs, but the relatively smaller size and weight of cats frequently results in symptoms that are less pronounced. X-rays submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) between 1974 and 2011 indicates that 24.3% of Maine Coons in the database were dysplastic. The Maine Coon is the only cat breed listed in the database.
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a slowly progressive disease that is possible among Maine Coons and was thought to plague only the Persian and Persian-related breeds. Symptoms typically occur around seven years of age and the effects are incurable. PKD generally leads to renal failure and is genetically inherited, so careful screening and testing are the only ways to prevent the disease from occurring.