One of the oldest natural breeds in North America, the Maine coon is second only to the Persian in popularity. This made-in-America breed is prized for his large size, sweet personality and silky all-weather coat. Considering the breed’s intelligence and clown-like antics, it’s no wonder that this cat ranks No. 2 among America’s top favorites.
History and Origin of Maine Coone Cats
Maine coons have been on this continent since colonial days. They probably came over from Europe with the first settlers of the New World, since cats were often kept on sailing ships to control rodent populations. While there exists no actual evidence of where and when they arrived, some entertaining myths surround the breed’s arrival. One such tale claims that Maine coons are descendants of longhaired cats owned by Marie Antoinette. According to the story, Captain Clough smuggled the queen’s cats and other belongings to America in preparation of the Queen’s rescue from her rendezvous with the guillotine. Unfortunately, he was only successful in rescuing her cats.
However they arrived, Maine coons carved their place in the New England countryside alongside the early colonists. Given Maine’s severe winters, those initial years were hard on both felines and humans. Only the strongest and most adaptable cats survived. Through natural selection, the Maine coon developed into a large, rugged cat with his water-resistant coat and hardy constitution.
The Maine coon was an early favorite in the emerging American cat fancy in the late 1800s. In the early 1900s, however, cat fanciers of the era abandoned Maine coons for Persians, Angoras and other exotic imports. By 1950, the breed had all but vanished. Fortunately, a small group of breeders kept the breed alive.
Appearance of Maine Coons
One of the largest domestic breeds, male Maine coons weigh in at 12 to 18 pounds, while the “petite” females range from 10 to 14 pounds. The heavy, water-resistant coat, shorter on the shoulders and longer on the stomach and britches, makes the cat appear even larger.
Since the Maine coon is the result of “survival of the fittest” adaptation, the breed is muscular and broad-chested with substantial, muscular legs and large, well-tufted paws suitable for walking in Maine’s winter woods. Slow to develop, the Maine coon takes 3 to 4 years to reach full size and weight.
Although brown tabby is the most common color and pattern, Maine coons come in many color schemes. In fact, all colors and patterns are accepted except chocolate, lavender, the Siamese pointed pattern and any of these combinations with white.
Maine Coon Cat’s Personality
With their large, powerful, muscular bodies and powerful jaws, it’s a good thing Maine coons are gentle giants. They are, in fact, jumbo-sized packages of love and devotion. Sweet and good-natured, Maine coons are completely loyal to their beloved humans. They generally bond with one person or family and are forever devoted to those favored few.
The only thing small about Maine coons are their voices. It’s hilarious to hear tiny high-pitched squeaks coming out of Paul Bunyan-sized bodies. Like most cats, Maine coons spend much of their time snoozing, but when in action they are agile and lightning fast. Since their ancestors made their living as mousers, they are zealous hunters and enjoy playing with catnip mice and other prey. They particularly enjoy interactive toys in which their humans take part. Fetch is a favorite game.
As befits former seafarers, Maine coons are fascinated by water. They enjoy dabbling their feet in their water bowls, drinking from running faucets and walking around the still-wet shower or bathtub. This fascination doesn’t extend to bath time, however.
Grooming a Maine Coon
Since the Maine coon’s coat has a silky, all-weather texture and is water resistant, the fur doesn’t mat as easily as a Persian’s would. Regular grooming is still needed, however. To keep the Maine coon looking sharp, comb two or three times a week with a good quality steel comb. During the fall, when they shed their summer coats, and spring, when they shed their heavier winter coats, additional grooming is usually needed.
Maine coons are generally very healthy because of their working cat origins. However, some are prone to hip dysplasia and a very serious heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Be sure to question your breeder about these conditions.
Because Maine coons are so popular, there are some disreputable backyard breeders. Before you buy, check out the breeder with the cat associations and with the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association.