Get to Know the Maine Coon: A Gentle Giant Bred by Nature


In Maine, where I recently moved from, pretty much every longhaired cat in a shelter was referred to as a Maine Coon or a Maine Coon mix, a fact that would make most breeders clench their lips in dismay. But the Maine Coon did originate from that very state, and the odds are very good that any longhaired cat from there has at least some Maine Coon blood in him.

A Maine Coon cat outside.

Origins of the Maine Coon

Although there are a number of stories about how the Maine Coon came to be, including a ridiculous and biologically impossible tale of a mating between a cat and a raccoon, the breed actually originated by nature’s own evolution. Whether the Maine Coon arrived with Viking explorers in the first century or with British colonists in the 1600s is not known, but what is known is that over the generations, the breed developed into a strong and hardy cat designed to cope with harsh New England winters.

The Maine Coon was a huge hit at early cat shows. In fact, a Maine Coon named Cosey won the Best Cat title at the Madison Square Garden Cat Show held in May of 1895, the first major cat show ever held in the U.S. The breed almost died out after the introduction of other longhaired breeds such as the Persian, but some breeders worked long and hard to preserve the Maine Coon, and the breed was accepted for Cat Fanciers’ Association championship status in 1976.

A Maine Coon cat outside in the snow.

Appearance of a Maine Coon

The Maine Coon is a large and sturdy cat equipped with a coat of shaggy fur of three different lengths. She has a long and gloriously fluffy tail and tufts of fur at the ends of her ears to protect her delicate skin from cold New England winters. The Maine Coon has tufts of fur between her toes, so that even though she’s large and heavy for a cat, she can easily walk on top of snow. The Maine Coon is among the largest of the cat breeds. Females can weigh between nine and 13 pounds, and males can weigh up to 20.

The most commonly recognized color pattern for Maine Coons is brown classic tabby, but they come in every fur color and pattern imaginable. Many Maine Coons from New England are polydactyls, although this is a disqualification for showing.

Health and longevity in Maine Coons

The Maine Coon tends to have a lifespan ranging from 12 to 15 years. However, the breed is prone to two serious illnesses. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is more common in Maine Coons than in any other breed or in the non-purebred cat population as a whole. The breed’s large size has also made the Maine Coon unusually susceptible to hip dysplasia, an abnormality in the hip socket, which can lead to crippling lameness.

A Maine Coon cat asleep.

What it’s like to live with a Maine Coon

Your Maine Coon will follow you everywhere you go, observe everything you’re doing, and “help” in any way she sees fit. Although she probably won’t be a lap cat, she will enjoy hanging out with you, content to sit next to you while you go about your business.

The Maine Coon is a very smart cat and needs to have plenty of intellectual stimulation. Without it, she may become bored and develop bad habits. Maine Coons tend to have a fascination with water: They may dip their paws or toys in their water dish and may even enjoy being bathed.

Maine Coons’ coats are remarkably low-maintenance: Because of the texture of their fur, they don’t mat as easily as other longhaired breeds like the Persian, but they should still get a good brushing about once a week. They retain a kittenish disposition throughout their lives and are known to be gentle, giant goofballs.

A Maine Coon cat lounging on a bed.

Maine Coon trivia bits

  • According to the Laura Ingalls Wilder website Beyond Little House, Pa sang a song featuring a Maine Coon cat called Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, which was probably a takeoff on Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, a song that was popular in the mid-1800s.
  • The Guinness World Record for “longest cat” belongs to a Maine Coon cat named Stewie, who measured 48.5 inches (123 cm) from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.
  • Maine Coons don’t reach their full size until they’re three to five years old.

Do you have a Maine Coon? What is it like to live with him or her? Please share your thoughts and Maine Coon photos in the comments.

Read more on cat breeds:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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