The ancestral origins of the Maine Coon are unknown. There are only theories and folk tales. One such folk tale involves Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who was executed in 1793. The story goes that before her death, Antoinette attempted to escape France with the help of Captain Samuel Clough. She loaded Clough's ship with her most prized possessions, including six of her favorite Turkish Angora cats. Although she did not make it to the United States, her pets safely reached the shores of Wiscasset, Maine, where they bred with other short-haired breeds and evolved into the modern breed of the Maine Coon.
The Maine Coon is a breed of domestic cat with a distinctive physical appearance. It is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America, specifically native to the state of Maine, where it is the official State Cat.
Although the Maine Coon's exact origins and date of introduction to the United States are unknown, many theories have been proposed. The breed was popular in cat shows in the late 1800s, but its existence became threatened when long-haired breeds from overseas were introduced in the early 20th century. The Maine Coon has since made a comeback and is now one of the most popular cat breeds in the world.
The Maine Coon is noted for its large bone structure, rectangular body shape, and long, flowing coat. The breed can be seen in a variety of colors and is known for its intelligence and gentle personality. Health problems, such as feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and hip dysplasia, are seen in the breed, but screening methods can help to reduce the frequency of these problems.
Maine Coons are one of the largest breeds of domestic cat. Males weigh anywhere between 15 and 25 lb (6.8 and 11 kg) with females weighing between 10 and 15 lb (4.5 and 6.8 kg). The height of adults can vary between 10 and 16 in (25 and 41 cm) and they can reach a length of up to 40 in (100 cm), including the tail, which can reach lengths of up to 14 in (36 cm) and is long, tapering, and heavily furred, almost resembling a raccoon's tail. The body is solid and muscular, which is necessary for supporting their own weight, and the chest is broad. Maine Coons possess a rectangular body shape and are slow to physically mature; their full potential size is normally not reached until they are around three or four years old.
Maine Coons are generally a healthy and hardy breed and have evolved to survive the New England climate. The most severe threat is feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart disease seen in cats, whether pure bred or not. In Maine Coons, it is thought to be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. Middle-aged to older cats as well as males are thought to be predisposed to the disease. HCM is a progressive disease and can result in heart failure, paralysis of the hind legs due to clot embolization originating in the heart, and sudden death. A specific mutation that causes HCM is seen in Maine Coons for which testing services are offered. Of all the Maine Coons tested for the MyBPC mutation at the Veterinary Cardiac Genetics Lab at the College of Veterinary Medicine located at Washington State University, approximately one-third tested positive. Not all cats that tested positive will have clinical signs of the disease and some Maine Coon cats with clinical evidence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy test negative for this mutation, strongly suggesting that a second mutation exists in the breed. Ultrasound of the throat is thought to be a more reliable method for weeding HCM out of the Maine Coon population.
Maine Coons are known as the "gentle giants" and possess above-average intelligence, making them relatively easy to train. They are known for being loyal to their family and cautious—but not mean—around strangers, but are independent and not clingy. The Maine Coon is generally not known for being a "lap cat" but their gentle disposition makes the breed relaxed around dogs, other cats, and children. They are playful throughout their lives, with males tending to be more clownish and females generally possessing more dignity, yet both are equally affectionate.Many Maine Coons have a fascination with water and some theorize that this personality trait comes from their ancestors, who were aboard ships for much of their lives.
Photos courtesy of Beth Giannosa. Known as her "Bella", this beautiful kitty was adopted from the Michigan Humane Society. "Now she's a pampered country cat, we wait on her paw & tail!" said Beth.