The Maine Coon is one of the largest breeds of domestic cat, known for its high intelligence and playfulness as well as its distinctive physical appearance. The breed is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America specifically native to the state of Maine (where it is the official State Cat). This cat is known as "Maine Coon", "coon-cat", "Maine Cat" or (colloquially) "the gentle giant."
The Maine Coon is a natural cat breed
that originated in Maine. A journal article was published about the
coon-cat of the late 1800s stating: "... all of them come from
Maine, simply for the reason that the breed is peculiar as yet to that
State." "Coon-cats have been recognized as a distinct breed in
Maine for so long that the memory of the oldest inhabitant runs back to
their beginning." "You will find them in almost any village in
that part of the world."
The origin of the breed (and its name)
has several, often fantastic, folklore surrounding it - all coming from
Mainers' story-telling and dry sense of humor. One tale comes from this
journal account of actual story-telling in 1901 by the down east locals.
A related story is that the cat was
named after a ship's captain named Coon who was responsible for the cat
reaching Maine shores. This story comes from a Mainer named Molly Haley
(prior to 1820) as her oral history of the catís name that
was published in this 1986 Maine newspaper article.
A cabin boy named Tom Coon, from which the `coon` cat purportedly gets its name, worked aboard the sailing vessel Glen Laurie. One of his jobs when ashore was to collect cats, which were then used to rid the sailing vessel of wharf rats. On one of these rat-catcher expeditions, Tom smuggled in a beautiful longhair. The safe harbor for both the first coon and her subsequent litter was the Tarbox farm at Biddeford Pool, where the Glen Laurie anchored to take on supplies at the Cutts store at the Pool. When the cabin boy became a captain, he continued to bring the exotic long-hairs to the farm during his ocean voyages." (Documentation of a whaling Captain Coon and his ocean-going family exists in the Maine State Library.)
Another story is a legend from an island dwelling mainer that the breed sprang from pet cats that Marie Antoinette sent to Wiscasset, Maine when she was planning to escape from France during the French Revolution. This story is told in "The Legend of Rosalind of Squam Island".
Nevertheless, most breeders today believe that the breed originated in matings between perhaps pre-existing shorthaired domestic cats and overseas longhairs, perhaps Angora types introduced by New England seamen, or perhaps longhairs brought to America by the Vikings. Maine Coons are similar in appearance to both the Norwegian Forest Cat and to the Siberian.
Maine Coons are very large and energetic cats, sometimes weighing up to around 11-12 kilograms (25 pounds); the average weight is 6 to 9 kilograms (13-20 pounds) for adult males and less (7-11 pounds) for females. Male Maine Coons may grow to a length in excess of 1 meter (40 inches); as of 2006, the longest cat on record is a male Maine Coon measuring 122cm (48 inches) in length. Growth to full size often takes longer than for most cats, with Maine Coons usually reaching full size at age four or five.
The most common color/pattern in the breed is brown with tabby markings. Maine Coons are recognized in all colors, including tortoiseshell, except for chocolate, lavender, ticked tabby, and the point-restricted ("Siamese") pattern. Eye color also varies widely. All patterns may have green, green-gold, or gold. Blue eyes, or one blue eye with one gold eye, are possible in white coat cats. Some share similar facial markings, for example, a distinct "M" shape on the forehead.
Maine Coons have medium-long, dense
fur, with longer hair, or a ruff, on their chests similar to the
mane of a lion (which is why the breed is sometimes humorously called
the "Mane Coon"). Their fur consists of two layers - an
undercoat and an additional layer of longer guard hairs, which gives the
breed their key physical feature. The fur is generally very soft. Maine
Coons have long hair on the backs of their legs (called pantaloons or
britches) and between their toes which helps to keep them warm in the
cold. They also have bushy plumed tails and broad, angular heads,
squared-off muzzles and wide-set ears topped with tufts of fur (known as
'Lynx-tips'). Their tails can be so bushy that the Maine Coon has earned
the nickname the 'tail with a cat attached to it'.
There have always been a lot of
polydactyl Maine Coons. While the Maine Coon may be polydactyl (having
one or more extra toes on their paws), this trait, enjoyed by many, is
not yet available in show cats - only in pet cats. This trait is finding
a world-wide resurgence and is increasingly popular, as it seems to
some, that the polydactyl Maine Coon exhibits even more dexterity and
intelligence than the normal-footed. They are nick-named "snowshoe
cat" because they can walk through snow more easily, but most often
though, they are simply called polys.
In a mating of heterozygous parents the kittens are 25% normal-footed, 50% heterozygous for polydactyly, 25% homozygous for polydactyly on average.
Maine Coons are a breed distinguished by high intelligence, dexterity, and playfulness. They have a tendency to use their front paws extensively (often curling the paw round to pick objects up) and as a consequence will easily learn to open cabinet doors, turn on water faucets, flush toilets, or pick up small objects. Some Maine Coons will eat, or even drink, from their paws, rather than from the bowl itself.
Due to their above-average intelligence, Maine Coons are known to be one of the easiest cat breeds to train. Maine Coons are noted for their ability to trill their meows, which sounds like a combination of a purr and a meow, and they tend to make this sound when happy or startled. When they do meow, it tends to be very high in pitch, in comparison to other breeds. They are noted for rarely eating alone, preferring to eat in the company of other cats or humans. Maine Coons are not known to be "lap cats" but of course, this may depend on the individual cat and some may prefer laps.
Some Maine Coons enjoy playing with,
but not usually in, water. They may dip toys in their water bowls before
playing with them, or just tip the water bowl over. They may also skim
their paws across the surface of their water bowl or dunk their paw in
and drink water from their paws.
Maine Coons are as a generality, very healthy and hardy. They thrive on better brands of cat foods and sometimes adding fish oils to the diet helps keep their coat and skin in top health,they are often quite picky. Maine Coon breeders have worked hard over many years to produce hardy, healthy and beautiful kittens. Almost all knowledgeable Maine Coon breeders are able to avoid health problems because of significant new advances in veterinary medical testing in recent years. Past problems did include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, hip dysplasia, for a brief time: polycystic kidney disease (continues to be rare), and typical feline conditions such as gum inflammation or luxating patellas (are non-breed specific, and may occur in any feline.)
Mutation in the gene that codes for cardiac myosin binding protein C has been shown to cause Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in one particular genetic line of the Maine Coon cat population. Because this line is very popular with show-hobby breeders, approximately one third of Maine Coon cats tested for the mutation have tested positive, and have been removed from the breeding population, although this population sampling is most likely biased, because the high percentage of cats tested were related to that particular line. Breeders now use the latest DNA sampling methods to improve the breed and ensure its excellent future. Many healthy and hardy Maine Coon lines now exist and the future of the breed is extremely bright.
Until 1988, taurine deficiency was a common cause of dilated cardiomyopathy in all cats, including Maine Coons. Since the pet food industry started adding more taurine to cat food in the late 1980s, this kind of cardiomyopathy is rare. Taurine-related cardiomyopathy can be cured with the addition of the nutrient to the diet, but genetic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy causes a permanent thickening of the left ventricle and is not curable.
As with all breeds, well outcrossed pedigrees that are outcrossed in the early generations and outcrossed further in later generations are important to vitality, disposition, and longevity.
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