Cat Breed Origins


This month, one of our favorite magazines/websites, Mental Floss, published an article on the origins of nine popular cat breeds. Here are a couple of them — for the complete article on cat breed origins, click here.

Maine Coon

I once lived next door to a family who had a 17-year-old epileptic Maine Coon named Voracious. Although they made sure the cat’s physical needs were met, they pretty much ignored him. And so, for the last year of his life he crashed my crib quite frequently. The first time I welcomed him inside my house was during a violent thunderstorm. The rain was coming down in sheets and I heard what sounded like a baby on my front porch. I opened the door, and Voracious ran in. Over the course of the next few months I groomed him to remove mats, and eventually even got him to purr. He was a gentle giant of a cat and he captured my heart.

Like the Sphynx, the Maine Coon is an affectionate breed. They are intelligent and get along well with cats and dogs. Here’s how they originated:

The official state cat of Maine probably got its start in Maine long ago, so the name is partially accurate. The coon part is hard to swallow, though. Thanks to the breeds raccoon-like coloring and fluffy tails, cat fanciers formerly thought they arose from cross breeding between wild cats and raccoons. Great story, but its biologically impossible.

Thats not the only folktale around the Maine coons origin, though. One myth tells that when Marie Antoinette became nervous during the French Revolution, she sent a ship full of her belongings, including her six favorite Angora cats, to the United States in anticipation of escaping France. Obviously the guillotine kept her from making the trip, but legend has it that her cats arrived on this side of the pond and got down to breeding with the locals. Again, the story probably isnt true; most breeders think the Maine coon emerged when native American shorthaired cats bred with long-haired breeds brought over from Europe.


Sphynx cats get a lot of attention when glimpsed in public; people just want to reach out and touch them to see how they feel. If you’ve never interacted with a Sphynx, it’s a treat. The skin is like warm peach fuzz. They are very social and affectionate cats (as I learned when I met Catster Mochy [Raypod‘s flatmate] in New York: She planted herself on my chest and slathered me with kisses) and tend to be hardy. They are not low-maintence, however, and require frequent baths and grooming. Here’s the origin of the breed:

They may have an Egyptian name, but the Sphynx breeds come from a place with a decidedly chillier climate: Toronto. In 1966 a black and white Toronto cat had a hairless kitten that its owners named Prune. They then bred Prune to a series of other cats in an attempt to create more hairless kittens, and although the recessive hairless gene made this a tricky business, eventually some more hairless kittens turned up. After these kittens were crossed with Devon Rex, the Sphynx breed really took off. The name came about when breeders realized their little hairless cats looked like tiny copies of the Sphynx.

Devon Rex

Those of you who know Daisy the Curly Cat (is there anyone who doesn’t?) are familiar with the Devon Rex. The Cat Fancier’s Association describes the Devon Rex’s personality as a cross between a cat, a monkey, and “Dennis the Menace.” Here is the origin of the breed:

This playful breed is relatively young; the first specimens emerged in 1960 in Devon, England. At that time a feral tomcat lived in an abandoned tin mine outside of Buckfastleigh, and he sired a litter with Miss Beryl Coxs adopted stray. The kittens had striking faces, giant ears, and curly coats, and Cox worked to propagate more of the new breed, which was dubbed Devon Rex.

For more cat breed origins, check out Mental Floss.

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