Tipping scales at almost 20 lbs., the Maine Coon is said to be one of the heaviest cat breeds out there. This strong, athletic cat of valuable hunting skills is gentle-mannered, friendly and highly intelligent. Such a unique combination of features led to their affectionate nickname “the gentle giant”. Because their paws are often white in color, they are also called “the snowshoe cats”. Ladies and gents, please meet one of the world’s oldest natural cat breeds – the Maine Coon cats
The Maine Coon is a large domestic cat breed of a distinctive appearance. Male Coons usually weigh from 13 to 18 lbs. (5.9 to 8.2 kg) and females from 8 to 12 lbs. (3.6 to 5.4 kg). Their body is robust and muscled and chest are broad. They have thick, long, double-coated fur with prominent, lion-like ruff along the chest. The fur is denser on the stomach and rear regions. They have characterizing long tufts on their ears and toes and a bushy, racoon-like tail. All of these features are their adaptations to rough, cold environmental conditions.
The soft, waterproof fur helps them maintain their body heat while their bushy tail serves as a cushion when sitting down or a scarf when it’s windy. Their large (often polydactyl) paws help them walk through snow. The Snowshoe cats come in a variety of coat patterns and colors, but lilac and chocolate variants are not allowed for pedigree. The most common pattern is brown tabby. Their eyes are almond-shaped and come in all colors as well. Heterochromia in Maine Coons which have any coat color other than white is not allowed for pedigree.
The origin of the Maine Coon remains unfamiliar, but there are many speculations, theories and meowgical myths on how the breed was born. One of such tales suggests that these elegant, long-haired cats accompanied the Vikings from Europe to America. Another story involves Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, before the French Revolution.
The story has it that before her execution in 1793, she attempted to escape France with her most prized possessions, including her six Turkish Angora cats. While she never made it to the US as planned, her cats safely arrived to Wiscasset, Maine, where they allegedly crossed with other cats leading to the development of the modern breed of Maine Coon.
A different folk tale involves Captain Charles Coon, an English sailor who kept long-haired cats on his ships. Whenever he would arrive to New England, his cats would exit the ship and breed with the local cats. The local people referred to the new-born kittens as “Coon’s cats”.
There is also a myth which explains that the Maine Coon is descended from cats and racoons. The myth is based on the common, brown tabby color of the cat and the bushy, tail of the racoon. A similar idea involves cross-breeding of domestic cats and wild bobcats – which is an effort to explain the characteristic tufts on the ears of the Coon cats.
Meowgic aside, today it is most commonly accepted that the Maine Coon descended from the crossbreeding of longhaired cats brought to the US by European sailors and shorthaired local cats.
Often referred to as the “gentle giant”, the Maine Coon is adored for its gentle, playful dog-like nature. They are friendly, loyal, obedient, but never clingy. They are highly intelligent and gentle-mannered which makes them very trainable. They often learn many tricks, walk on the leash and are known to be one of the few “water-loving cats”. Because of their wonderful personality, they get along very well with kids and other pets.
Health and care
Maine Coons are at higher risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – the most common heart condition among the cats of all breeds. HCM can be caused by several genetic mutations. In Maine Coon cats a mutation in the myosin-binding protein C gene has been identified and it occurs in 33% of cats of this breed (Longer M et al, 2013)(Borgeat K et al, 2014).
This mutation is autosomal dominant. 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. Another genetic mutation specific for Main Coons is known as the Hemingway mutation – a trait which can result in an extra toe (or two!). This is commonly referred to as polydactylism – a very common feature among these cats. Large paws in general could be an adaptation to snowy conditions, as it helps the cats walk through snow.
And did you know?
1. The longest whiskers of all cats belong to a Maine Coon. The World’s longest domestic cat whiskers measured at 19 cm belong to Missi, a Maine Coon belonging to the pet hooman Kaija Kyllonen from Finland.
2. The World’s longest cat was a Maine Coon. The World’s longest cat, measured at 48.5in when fully stretched out, was Stewie, a Maine Coon who belonged to Robin Hendrickson from Nevada, US. Sadly, Stewie passed away in 2013.
3. Maine Coons won America’s first popular juried cat exhibit. One of the first well known cat shows in America was held in 1985 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The winner of the event’s “Best Cat” award was a brown tabby Maine Coon named Cosey.
As a result, for a long time afterwards, Maine Coons were one of the most desired breeds in the United States until the fame of Persian cats. The silver collar and medal Cosey won are still on display at the Cat Fanciers Association headquarters in Alliance, Ohio.
4. They were once almost extinct. In the 1950s, when the Persian breed became widely popular in the country, the cat fanciers almost completely stopped breeding the lovely Maine Coons. This led to such reduction of the breed population, that some sources claim they almost went extinct.
In efforts to save the breed from disappearing, the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association was formed in 1968 which worked hard to rescue the breed.
5. Today they are the 3rd most popular breed in the States. The official state cat of Maine is not only beloved by its state. According to the VetStreet data analysis, the Maine Coon is the 3rd most popular breed in the US, right after the Siamese and Persians cats.
6. A Maine Coon starred in the famous Harry Potter movies. As many of the 90s kids will remember, Argus Filch, the cranky old man who seems to delight in the misery of the Hogwarts students, was a major cat-lover. He is rarely ever seen without his faithful cat, Mrs. Norris, with whom he seems to have a telepathic connection. Mrs. Norris was played by three different kitties, one of which was a female Maine Coon named Pebbles.
While Pebbles wasn’t very successful in complex training like the other cat actors, she was excellent at walking across the set and stopping on command. Whenever we saw Mrs. Norris pacing the halls of Hogwarts, we were watching the beautiful Pebbles. How marvelous!
The snowshoe kitties are loyal, friendly and brave. The odd combination of their robust physical features and kind, gentle personality has won the hearts of many cat lovers out there. These “gentle giants” are one of the most popular breeds and for all the right reasons. Do you have a Maine Coon or a cat that resembles these loving kitties? Share with us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!
1. Longeri M, Ferrari P, Knafelz P, et al. Myosin- binding protein C DNA variants in domestic cats (A31P, A74T, R820W) and their association with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. J Vet Intern Med. 2013;27(2):275-285.
2. Borgeat K, Casamian-Sorrosal D, Helps C, et al. Association of the myosin binding protein C3 mutation (MYBPC3 R820W) with cardiac death in a survey of 236 ragdoll cats. J Vet Cardiol. 2014;16(2): 73-80.