One of the oldest natural breeds in North America, the Maine Coon is generally regarded as a native of the state of Maine (in fact, the Maine Coon is the official Maine State Cat). A number of attractive legends surround its origin. A wide-spread (though biologically impossible) belief is that it originated from matings between semi-wild, domestic cats and raccoons. This myth, bolstered by the bushy tail and the most common coloring (a raccoon-like brown tabby) led to the adoption of the name 'Maine Coon. Another popular theory is that the Maine sprang from the six pet cats which Marie Antoinette sent to Wiscasset, Maine when she was planning to escape from France during the French Revolution. Most breeders today believe that the breed originated in matings between pre-existing shorthaired domestic cats and overseas longhairs (perhaps Angora types introduced by New England seamen, or longhairs brought to America by the Vikings).
First recorded in cat literature in 1861 with a mention of a black and white cat named 'Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines,' Maine Coons were popular competitors at early cat shows in Boston and New York. A brown tabby female named 'Cosie' won Best Cat at the 1895 Madison Square Garden Show.
While Maine Coons are highly people-oriented cats, they are not overly-dependent. They do not constantly pester you for attention, but prefer to "hang out" with their owners, investigating whatever activity you're involved in and "helping" when they can. Most are not lap cats but Maine Coons will stay close by you, follow you from room to room and wait outside a closed door for you to emerge. A Maine Coon will be your companion, your buddy, your pal, but rarely your baby.
Maine Coons are relaxed and easy-going in just about everything they do. They generally get along well with kids and dogs, as well as other cats. They are not as vertically-oriented as some other breeds, preferring to chase objects on the ground. Many Maine Coons will play "fetch" with their owners. Maine Coons develop slowly, and don't achieve their full size until they are three to five years old. Their dispositions remain kittenish throughout their lives; they are big, gentle, good-natured goofs. Maine Coons rarely meow, instead most have a soft chirp or trill in a tiny voice doesn't fit their size!
The important features of the Maine Coon are the head and body shape, and the texture and 'shag' of the coat. Maine Coons evolved by adapting to a harsh Northeast climate. Its semi-longhair glossy coat is heavy and water-resistant, longer on the ruff, stomach and britches and shorter on the back and neck. The coat falls smoothly, and is almost maintenance-free: a weekly combing is all that is usually required to keep it in top condition. Maine Coons have very long, bushy tails.
One of their most distinctive features is their eyes, which are large, oval to nearly round, expressive, and set at a slightly oblique angle.
Maine Coons are seen in nearly all traditional colors and patterns. The most common color and pattern is the brown classic or mackerel tabby but Maine Coons are also seen in solid pattern (white, black, blue and red), tortoiseshell pattern (black, blue), tabby pattern (classic or mackerel - brown, blue, red, cream), silver pattern (black-silver, blue-silver, red-silver, cream-silver). All colors (save white) and all patterns may have white markings (known as particolor). Eye color ranges from gold to green. Blue and odd-eyes are permissible in whites and/or particolors.
Maine Coons male cats, at maturity, can average 13-18 lbs. Maine Coon female cats average 9-13 lbs. Overall, the Maine Coon should appear as a large, natural yet uncommonly attractive cat.
Health Issues Common to Maine Coon
All pedigreed cats have some sort of health problem, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Any breeder who claims that her breed has no health or genetic problems is either lying or is not knowledgeable about the breed. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on kittens, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her kittens are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons.
Maine Coons have some hereditary health issues that can be of concern, especially if you aren't cautious about who you buy from. They include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, hip dysplasia and spinal muscular atrophy.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common form of heart disease in cats, and it has been diagnosed in Maine Coons. It causes enlargement (hypertrophy) of the heart muscle. You may have heard that it is caused by poor nutrition, but that isn't true; the disease is hereditary. If your veterinarian detects a heart murmur in your Maine Coon, an echocardiogram conducted by a veterinary cardiologist can confirm whether he has HCM.
Researchers have identified the genetic mutation that causes the development of HCM in the Maine Coon and have developed a genetic test that allows breeders to screen cats before breeding them. Cats identified with HCM should be removed from breeding programs. Avoid breeders who claim to have HCM-free lines. No one can guarantee that their cats will never develop HCM.
Hip dysplasia is a hereditary defect of the hip socket. It can be mild, causing little or no pain, or it can eventually lead to severe lameness. Maine Coons with hip dysplasia may move slowly or avoid jumping. Depending on the severity of the condition, weight loss, medication or surgery can help to relieve pain. Maine Coons who will be bred should have their hips x-rayed and graded by a veterinary orthopedic specialist at 2 years of age. Ask the breeder to show evidence that a Maine Coon kitten's parents have hips that have been rated as fair, good or excellent.
Spinal muscular atrophy is caused by the death of spinal cord neurons that activate skeletal muscles of the trunk and limbs, leading to muscle weakness and degeneration. Kittens with SMA walk with swaying rear ends and have difficulty jumping. The disease doesn't cause pain and the cats can live an otherwise normal life. A DNA test to identify carriers or to diagnose possibly affected kittens is now available through Michigan State University.
Pet Insurance for the Maine Coon
Pet insurance for purebred cats costs more than for mixed breed cats. This is because a purebred cat is more likely than a mixed breed cat to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace cat insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which purebred cats are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your cat is when he's a healthy kitten. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.