The Maine Coon: Cat Breed FAQ

Image of a Maine Coon Cat.

SGC Coonyham's Santana, a brown classic tabby female Maine Coon.


History

One of the oldest natural breeds in North America, the Maine Coon is generally regarded as a native of the state of Maine (in fact, the Maine Coon is the official Maine State Cat). A number of attractive legends surround its origin. A wide-spread (though biologically impossible) belief is that it originated from matings between semi-wild, domestic cats and raccoons. This myth, bolstered by the bushy tail and the most common coloring (a raccoon-like brown tabby) led to the adoption of the name 'Maine Coon.' (Originally, only brown tabbies were called 'Maine Coon Cats;' cats of other colors were referred to as 'Maine Shags.') Another popular theory is that the Maine sprang from the six pet cats which Marie Antoinette sent to Wiscasset, Maine when she was planning to escape from France during the French Revolution. Most breeders today believe that the breed originated in matings between pre-existing shorthaired domestic cats and overseas longhairs (perhaps Angora types introduced by New England seamen, or longhairs brought to America by the Vikings).

First recorded in cat literature in 1861 with a mention of a black and white cat named 'Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines,' Maine Coons were popular competitors at early cat shows in Boston and New York. A brown tabby female named 'Cosie' won Best Cat at the 1895 Madison Square Garden Show.

Unfortunately, their popularity as show cats declined with the arrival in 1900 of the more flamboyant Persians. Although the Maine Coon remained a favorite cat in New England, the breed did not begin to regain its former widespread popularity until the 1950's when more and more cat fanciers began to take notice of them, show them, and record their pedigrees. In 1968, six breeders formed the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association (MCBFA) to preserve and protect the breed. Today, MCBFA membership numbers over 1000 fanciers and 200 breeders. By 1980, all registries had recognized the Maine Coon, and it was well on its way to regaining its former glory.

Maine Coons were well established more than a century ago as a hardy, handsome breed of domestic cat, well equipped to survive the hostile New England winters. Nature is not soft-hearted. It selects the biggest, the brightest, the best fighters, and the best hunters to breed successive generations. Planned breedings of Maine Coons are relatively recent. Since planned breeding began, Maine Coon breeders have sought to preserve the Maine Coon's "natural," rugged qualities. The ideal Maine Coon is a strong, healthy cat.

Interestingly, the breed closest to the Maine Coon is the Norwegian Forest Cat which, although geographically distant, evolved in much the same climate, and lends credence to the theory that some of the cats responsible for developing the Maine Coon were brought over by the Vikings.

Characteristics

Everything about the Maine Coon points to its adaptation to a harsh climate. Its glossy coat, heavy and water-resistant, is like that of no other breed, and must be felt to be appreciated. It is longer on the ruff, stomach and britches to protect against wet and snow, and shorter on the back and neck to guard against tangling in the underbrush. The coat falls smoothly, and is almost maintenance-free: a weekly combing is all that is usually required to keep it in top condition. The long, bushy tail which the cat wraps around himself when he curls up to sleep can protect him from cold winters. His ears are more heavily furred (both inside and on the tips) than many breeds for protection from the cold, and have a large range of movement. Big, round, tufted feet serve as 'snow shoes.' Their large eyes and ears are also survival traits, serving as they do increase sight and hearing. The relatively long, square muzzle facilitates grasping prey and lapping water from streams and puddles.

Although the Yankee myth of 30-pound cats is just that, a myth (unless the cat is grossly overweight!), these are indeed tall, muscular, big-boned cats; males commonly reach 13 to 18 pounds, with females normally weighing about 9 to 12 pounds. Add to that two or three inches of winter coat, and people will swear that they're looking at one big cat.

Maine Coons develop slowly, and don't achieve their full size until they are three to five years old. Their dispositions remain kittenish throughout their lives; they are big, gentle, good-natured goofs. Even their voices set them apart from other cats; they have a distinctive, chirping trill which they use for everything from courting to cajoling their people into playing with them. (Maine Coons love to play, and many will joyfully retrieve small items.) They rarely meow, and when they do, that soft, tiny voice doesn't fit their size!

Temperament

While Maine Coons are highly people-oriented cats, they are not overly-dependent. They do not constantly pester you for attention, but prefer to "hang out" with their owners, investigating whatever activity you're involved in and "helping" when they can. They are not, as a general rule, known as "lap cats" but as with any personality trait there are a few Maine Coons that prefer laps. Most Maine Coons will stay close by, probably occupying the chair next to yours instead. Maines will follow you from room to room and wait outside a closed door for you to emerge. A Maine Coon will be your companion, your buddy, your pal, but hardly ever your baby.

Maine Coons are relaxed and easy-going in just about everything they do. The males tend to be the clowns while the females retain more dignity, but both remain playful throughout their lives. They generally get along well with kids and dogs, as well as other cats. They are not as vertically-oriented as some other breeds, prefering to chase objects on the ground and grasping them in their large paws -- no doubt instincts developed as professional mousers. Many Maine Coons will play "fetch" with their owners.

Description

The important features of the Maine Coon are the head and body shape, and the texture and 'shag' of the coat. The head is slightly longer than it is wide, presenting a gently concave profile with high cheekbones and ears that are large, wide at the base, moderately pointed, and well tufted inside. They are set well up on the head, approximately an ear's width apart. Lynx-like tufting on the top of the ears is desirable. The neck should be medium-long, the torso long, and the chest broad. The tail should be at least as long as the torso. One of their most distinctive features is their eyes, which are large, round, expressive, and set a a slightly oblique angle. Overall, the Maine Coon should present the appearance of a well-balanced, rectangular cat.

Throughout their history there has been no restriction on the patterns and colors acceptable, with the exception of the pointed Siamese pattern. As a result, a wide range of colors and patterns are bred. Eye colors for all coat colors range through green, gold, and green-gold. Blue eyes and odd eyes, (one blue and one gold eye) are permissible in white cats. There is no requirement in the Maine Coon Standard of Perfection for particular combinations of coat color and eye color.

Maine Coon owners enjoy the breed's characteristic clown-like personality, affectionate nature, amusing habits and tricks, willingness to 'help' with any activity, and easily groomed coat. They make excellent companions for large, active families that also enjoy having dogs and other animals around. Their hardiness and ease of kittening make them a satisfying first breed for the novice breeder. For owners wishing to show, the Maine Coon has reclaimed its original glory in the show ring.

Care and Training

Most breeders recommend a high-quality dry food. Most cats can free feed without becoming overweight. Middle-aged cats (5-10) are most likely to have weight problems which can usually be controlled by switching to a low-calorie food. Many Maine Coons love water. Keep a good supply of clean, fresh water available at all times.

Most Maine Coons can be trained to accept a leash. Maine Coons are creatures of habit and they train easily if they associate the activity with something they want (they train humans easily too!).

Special Medical Problems

Individuals within any breed are fairly closely related, and have many characteristics in common. This includes genetic strengths and weaknesses. Certain genetic health disorders may be more or less of a problem in a particular breed than in other breeds. For example, a breed may have a slightly higher incidence of gum disease than the cat population as a whole, but have a lower incidence of heart disease or liver disease.

Genetic problems generally only affect a tiny minority of the breed as a whole, but since they can be eradicated by careful screening, most reputable breeders try to track such problems, both in their breeding stock and the kittens they produce. By working with a responsible breeder who will speak openly about health issues , you are encouraging sound breeding practices.

In the Maine Coon, the most common inherited health problems are hip dysplasia, which can produce lameness in a severely affected cat, and cardiomyopathy, which can produce anything from a minor heart murmur to severe heart trouble. Any breeder you talk to should be willing to discuss whether they've had any problems with these diseases in their breeding stock, or in kittens they've produced; how much screening they're doing, and why. Proper care of your Maine Coon, including discussion of these health issues, requires developing a good working relationship with your veterinarian .

Frequently Asked Questions

"How big do they get?"

A full-grown female typically weighs between 9-12 pounds and males tend to be in the 13 to 18 pound range.

"Do they need much grooming?"

Maine Coons do not need much grooming and a weekly combing is all that is usually required to keep the coat in top condition.

"But I thought Maine Coons had extra toes...?"

Some "original" Maine Coons were polydactyls (had extra toes). However, modern purebred Maine Coons are rarely polydactyls. This is because all cat associations automatically disqualify polydactyls from competition in the purebred classes. Because of this, most polydactyls were culled from the Maine Coon breed decades ago, and only a few breeders continue to work with them. Since the polydactyl gene is dominant, you can't get a polydactyl kitten unless at least one of the parents is also a polydactyl.

"I think my cat is part Maine Coon. How do I tell?"

The Maine Coon is America's native longhair cat; it evolved naturally in response to the New England climate. Your cat's ancestors might be similar to the cats that founded the Maine Coon breed. However, it's impossible to tell from just looking at your cat if it is related to the Maine Coon or to any other breed. Because the Maine Coon is a natural breed and hasn't been bred to extremes, there are cats all over the world that resemble the Maine Coon. The only way to tell for sure if your cat is a Maine Coon is to look at the pedigree.

"Is that a Maine Coon? I thought all Maine Coons were brown."

Maine Coons come in a wide variety of color combinations. The only colors you won't find are the Siamese-type colors.

Recognition

Breed Association

The Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association (MCBFA), founded in 1968, is the international breed association.

If you would like to join the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association and receive the quarterly magazine, The Scratch Sheet, please send dues, as outlined below, to the MCBFA Fancier Secretary:
Liz Flynn
208 Kings Chapel Road
Augusta GA 30907-3730

U.S.: $20.00/one year; $35.00/two years; $50.00/three years.
Canada: $15.00 + $6.00 postage/annually.
All Other Countries: $15.00 + $16.00 postage/annually.

If you are actively breeding Maine Coons, you may join the Breeder Division for $25.00 (includes subscription to The Scratch Sheet and a copy of MCBFA's book on caring for and breeding your Maine Coon cats). For information, please contact the Provisional Breeder Member Secretary, Joan Gaudet, at 504-689-4535, or at lafittecat@aol.com.

Finding a Maine Coon Breeder

There are many Maine Coon breeders throughout the world. One way to find a local Maine Coon breeder is to visit a local cat show. Some breeders have waiting lists for their kittens, but most will happily refer you to another breeder if they are not able to help you. There are also breeder listings in the breeder advertisement sections of Cats and Cat Fancy magazines, and the annual publication Cats USA.

Lists of Maine Coon breeders are also available online. Breeders of all breeds of cats may be found through the Fanciers breeder listing page

Breeders who are members of the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association agree to a specific code of breeder ethics. MCBFA maintains an online list of breeder members.

References

MCBFA also publishes two excellent books relating to the Maine Coon: Caring For, Breeding, and Showing Your Maine Coon Cat ($8.00) and Genetics For The Maine Coon Cat Breeder ($5.00). These prices include shipping and handling. Orders for these books should be mailed to the editor, Trish Simpson, 10149 Oakwood Chase Court, Oakton VA 22124. (Please make check or money order in U.S. funds payable to MCBFA.)

The best book about Maine Coons is probably That Yankee Cat, The Maine Coon by Marilis Hornidge, now into a third edition. It is available from Tilbury House Publishers (tilbury@tilburyhouse.com), 132 Water Street, Gardiner, Maine 04345. Phone is 800 582 1899 for orders. The cost is $14.95 plus $4 (for the first book; $.50 for each additional) shipping if ordered from the publisher. ISBN: 0-88448-088-7. Lots of breed stories and history, good sections on genetics and home medical care. The pictures are plentiful.

The other Maine Coon book is This Is The Maine Coon Cat by Sharyn P. Bass. Contact T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 211 West Sylvania Ave., Neptune City, NJ 07753. ISBN 0-87666-867-8. It has a 1983 copyright. This book is more oriented to showing and breeding Maine Coons. Less history than in the other book but some color pictures. Show information is geared towards CFA and generally useful but some stuff is out of date. Good sections on pet care and medical advice. A good chapter on birthing but no genetics.

Authors and Credits

The sections on History, Characteristics, Description, Breed Associations, and the first paragraph of References is courtesy of the MCBFA from their flyer "The Maine Coon - America's Native Longhair", by Mike & Trish Simpson (Cheeptrills Cattery).

Other Authors and editors:

This FAQ is Copyright © 1994-2003 by Laura Cunningham, Jean Marie Diaz, JoAnn Genovese, Valerie Johnston, Dave Libershal, Orca Starbuck, Betsy Tinney, and Eric Williams. Please contact the authors if you wish to reprint this document in whole or in part. You may link to this document as long as you properly credit its origin.

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