There are many theories about the origins of the Maine Coon, a gentle giant that has become one of the most popular cat breeds in North America.
Many people mistakenly believe that the Maine Coon cat resulted from crossbreeding between raccoons or bobcats and domestic cats. The raccoon myth, a genetic impossibility, arose due to the Maine Coon’s fluffy ringed tail and its tendency to lift food with its front paws and play with water. The bobcat theory was put forth because the Maine Coon often has tufts on the tips of its ears, similar to those of the bobcat, but a bobcat would be more inclined to snack on a domestic cat than breed with it.
There is also the popular legend of Captain Coon, a seaman who was believed to have brought long-haired Scandinavian felines along on his travels. According to this folktale, Captain Coon’s furry traveling companions jumped ship in the United States, where they mated with the local feral cat population to give rise to the Maine Coon breed.
Another theory of the Maine Coon’s origins holds that Queen Marie Antoinette of France put her six Angora cats on a ship shortly before she was executed. When the ship reached America, her royal pets mated with local shorthairs, resulting in the Maine Coon. While this story is appealing, there is no proof to support it, and there are more plausible theories regarding the cat’s origins.
History of the Maine Coon Cat
Many believe that the ancestors of the Maine Coon were brought to North America by Viking pirates between 900 and 1200 AD. This is the most likely scenario, as the Maine Coon closely resembles the Norwegian Forest Cat, although it’s also possible that the cats arrived on the ships of English seafarers. The long-haired cats left behind by the ships would have established feral colonies, interbreeding with local short-haired cats, and later been re-domesticated by European settlers.
The Maine Coon achieved great popularity in the late 1800s, with the first on record in 1861, a cat with the unlikely name of Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines. However, this big, hearty cat lost ground to fancier breeds as the affluent began to dominate the cat shows. The upper classes were more impressed by fancy Persians and exotic breeds such as the Siamese. As a result, the Maine Coon nearly became extinct in the early 1900s, but the cats had a cult following, and this small group of fans rallied to organize Maine Coon shows. The Maine Coon gained new admirers and by the 1970s, the breed had made a full comeback.
Maine Coon Appearance
The Maine Coon’s ringed tail and large tufted ears give it a wild appearance. Maine Coons have a characteristically heavy, water-resistant coat, with longer fur around the chest, belly, and feet for protection against the elements.
The Maine Coon has high cheekbones, large ears, a broad muscular body, wide-set legs, large paws, and a fluffy tail. Maine Coons are available in a broad array of colours and patterns.
Although many people believe that Maine Coons can typically grow to 30 pounds, only an obese Maine Coon would be likely to reach this weight. Male Maine Coons usually range from 13-18 pounds, and their female counterparts are smaller at 9-12. Late bloomers, Maine Coons don’t reach their full size until they are 3-5 years of age.
Personality of the Maine Coon Cat
Maine Coons are quite variable in temperament, but there are a few traits possessed by most members of the breed. Maine Coons are by nature stoic and quiet. They may appear aloof or indifferent as they can be slow to trust, but Maine Coons are also quite affectionate with those they have befriended. Among their favourite humans, they tend to be good-natured and a little goofy.
Most Maine Coons are relatively calm, gentle, and less likely to tear up the house than some of the more active breeds. Maine Coons are not particularly inclined to be lap cats (though there are always exceptions to the rule), but they are very people-oriented and like to be close to their favourite humans, often following them around. They are also more inclined to accept other pets (such as dogs) than some other breeds of cat, as long as the introductions are handled properly.
Maine Coons tend to be relatively quiet, but they are prone to making chirping or trilling sounds. When they do meow, their voices are surprisingly tiny. Another unique aspect of the Maine Coon breed is that many Maine Coons will stand upright on their rear legs to get a better view from time to time. Maine Coons are also one of the cat breeds more likely to take to leash training.
Maine Coon Health and Grooming
The Maine Coon tends to be a tough, hardy cat, large and physically strong. Maine Coons are slightly more prone to hip dysplasia and feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy than other breeds, though reputable breeders will screen for these disorders.
As a long-haired breed, Maine Coons require regular grooming. However, unlike Persians, which need daily care, Maine Coons only need to be groomed about once a week.
Adopting Maine Coon Kittens or Cats
Visit the Maine Coon Fanciers’ Association website for a list of Maine Coon breeders that subscribe to a code of ethics. Pet quality purebred Maine Coons range in cost from $400-$1,000 US, and show quality cats are even more expensive. To save money and provide a loving home for a Maine Coon in need, see the Maine Coon Rescues list.
- Greene, Abigail. (1997). Guide to Owning a Maine Coon Cat. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, in association with T.F.H. Publications Inc.
- Simpson, Mike; Simpson, Trish; Cunningham, Laura; Diaz, Jean Marie; Genvese, JoAnn; Johnston, Valerie; Libershal, Dave; Starbuck, Orca; Tinney, Betsy; & Williams, Eric. (2003). “The Maine Coon: Cat Breed FAQ.” Fanciers.com.