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Who’s That Cat? The Maine Coon: Gentle Giant, U.S. Native

The breed isn't known for being a lap cat but can have the energy and loyalty of a retriever.

Kim Campbell Thornton  |  Feb 1st 2017


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our January/February 2017 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

This furry “cat of size” takes his name from the tall tale that he’s the result of a love match between a cat and a raccoon. Brown tabby fur and ringtail notwithstanding, the Maine Coon is indeed all cat — a very large armful of cat. Nicknamed the “gentle giant,” the Maine Coon is right up there with Siberians, Norwegian Forest Cats, and Ragdolls as one of the largest of pedigreed felines. The “gentle” part comes from his famously laid-back personality.

Dr. Sarah Miller, a veterinarian, has two Maine Coons, chosen because she knew they would get along not only with her three daughters but also her aging Golden Retriever.

“They let the girls cover them up in baby blankets, and one ‘spoons’ with Lucy, our old Golden,” she said. “They are hilarious.”

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Maine Coon photo by Shutterstock

Living with a Maine Coon

Maine Coons are the retrievers of the cat world, Miller said. They enjoy chasing toys and will bring them back to you. If you need pest control, the Maine Coon’s “barn cat” ancestry can make him your new best friend.

A Maine Coon will follow you around and offer assistance if he thinks you need it, but he’s not an in-your-face kind of cat. He’s not always a lap sitter, but he may enjoy “holding paws” with you.

He can climb if he wants to, but for the most part the Maine Coon prefers to keep four on the floor. He’s a curious cat and can take well to learning to walk on a leash. Don’t be surprised if he enjoys playing in water, although that doesn’t always translate to enjoyment of a bath.

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Maine Coon photo by Shutterstock

You should know

The muscular, big-boned Maine Coon typically weighs nine to 18 pounds (males are larger). It takes three to five years before the cat achieves full physical maturity, but he tends to retain his kittenlike demeanor for life.

Given good care and nutrition, a Maine Coon can live 12 to 15 years, with some living well into their late teens.

Don’t get a Maine Coon if regular grooming isn’t on your to-do list. While their coat is easier to care for than some other longhaired breeds, Maine Coons are individuals and can mat, tangle, and hack up hairballs with the best of them.

Health problems to which the Maine Coon can be predisposed are hip dysplasia and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most common form of feline heart disease.

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Maine Coon photo by Shutterstock

History

We don’t actually know how the Maine Coon came to be.

One of the more romantic stories is that he descends from six Turkish Angora belonging to Marie Antoinette, who had hoped to escape to the New World with her pets. They made it; she didn’t. Another story claims that the cats belonged to a seafarer named Captain Charles Coon. Whenever he made port in Maine, his cats would make nice with the local lovelies and then head back to sea.

What is true is that the Maine Coon was the first longhaired cat native to the United States. The cats were found primarily in New England before gaining national recognition after a female brown tabby named Cosey was chosen “Best Cat” at the country’s first big cat show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1895.

After the big win, Maine Coons were the cat’s pajamas, but with the introduction of other longhaired breeds, they eventually sank into obscurity. Fortunately, dedicated breeders brought them back from the brink, and they achieved recognition from the Cat Fanciers’ Association in 1976.

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Maine Coon photo by Shutterstock

Fun Facts

While the most popular pattern is brown tabby, Maine Coons come in a large palette of solid colors and tabby and tortoiseshell patterns. What you won’t find are pointed or ticked patterns or colors like lavender or chocolate.

A Maine Coon’s large, expressive eyes can be green, gold, greenish-gold, or copper. White cats or cats with white may have blue or odd eyes.

Maine Coons resemble Norwegian Forest Cats — large size, big paws, thick coat, tufted ears and toes — because both faced similar selection pressure from a harsh, cold climate, but Maine Coons tend to have a shaggier coat and a larger body.

Did you know?

The Maine Coon is the official state cat of Maine, given that honor in 1985.

About the author: Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning writer in Southern California. Her subjects include pet care, health and behavior, and wildlife and marine life conservation.