Maine Coon: America’s Oldest Known Native Breed of Cat

By Jean Clement

Little did I know when I adopted the gangly, short-haired ‘trouble maker’ in the litter of adorable, long-haired ‘calendar’ kittens that I actually was getting a Maine Coon.  Once I learned more about the breed, I realized her long legs, large eyes and ears, and the longest tail I’ve ever seen on a young cat are physical characteristics of Maine Coons.

Missy didn’t have the large body to match her extremities.  However, that soon changed.  She was akin to a human teenager in the midst a growth spurt.  By her first birthday, Missy’s fur was getting longer and her body was filling out…and filling out…until she eventually reached a robust 21 pounds.

The Maine Coon is known to be a strong, rugged and healthy cat.  This is due to survival of the fittest over two centuries of bitter-cold and snowy New England winters.  The Maine Coon is America’s oldest, natural, longhaired breed and one of the largest breeds.

Lore would have you believe that Maine Coons derived from the mating of a wild raccoon and domestic cat.  That’s not genetically possible.  Most breeders today believe the breed originated in matings between local shorthaired cats and longhaired cats, perhaps Angoras, introduced by New England seamen returning to what is now the state of Maine, or longhairs brought to America by the Vikings.  (It wasn’t until 1985 that the breed officially became the state cat of Maine.)

Maturity is reached at about four years of age.  Females typically weigh 10 to 15 pounds and males 15 to 25 pounds.  However, from the Maine Coons I’ve seen in person and in photos, there definitely are some plus-sized models out there.  Missy isn’t an anomaly.

Even the hardy Maine Coon isn’t immune to ailments.  The most common inherited health problems are hip dysplasia, which can produce lameness and arthritis in a severely affected cat, and cardiomyopathy, which can produce anything from a minor heart murmur to severe heart trouble.

Maine Coons are handsome cats that can have coats of many colors and patterns: solid, bi-color, tabby, calico, tortoiseshell, smokes and more.

While we love Maine Coons as housecats, their coats developed for outdoor wear, as protection from wet and snow.  The fur is silky, heavy and water-resistant.  It’s longer on the ruff, stomach and britches, and shorter on the back and neck to guard against tangling in underbrush.  The coat is relatively maintenance-free, although the thick longer fur needs regular combing to keep it from matting.

A Maine Coon’s body is long and muscular with a broad chest.  The long, bushy tail evolved to provide a wrap to protect the cat from cold when it curls up to sleep.

The legs are medium in length and muscular.  (They need to be to carry that body!)  The paws are large with tuffs of fur between the pads which act as snowshoes for walking on ice and snow.  The front paws have five toes, the back have four toes.

The large eyes…the better to see with…are wide set, slightly slanted and expressive.

The large ears…the better to hear with…are heavily furred with tufts on the inside and on the tips for protection from the cold.  The ears have an unusually wide range of motion.  It’s interesting to watch them turn like receivers scanning the skies for UFOs.

Maine Coons are described as agile, brave and tough.  Well, two out of three ain’t bad, I figure.  I swear the term scaredy cat was coined for Missy.  Make a sudden noise or movement near her and instantly she’s off the floor, straight up.  The doorbell rings and she’s gone!  To the farthest corner of the closet farthest from the front door.

If only Missy knew her size and the power she could wield, she’d give my cat-chasing dog a good whack across the nose and teach him a lesson.  (I’ve read Maine Coons are suppose to like dogs. Ha!  Not this one, or maybe not this dog.)  A peaceful existence for all is my dream.

On the other hand, when I want Missy to do something she doesn’t want to do, such as go into the cat carrier, that 21-pound docile, cuddly, big ball of fur becomes a 50-pound screeching, hissing wild cat!  She certainly isn’t afraid to give ME a whack!

Today, the Maine Coon is the second most popular breed behind the Persian.  That’s not surprising.  They make excellent family cats.  They’re good-natured, affectionate, intelligent and playful.  They do well indoors but also like to be outside doing what cats do best, besides sleep: hunt.

While I don’t advocate allowing pet cats to roam outside – I’ve learned the hard way why that’s not good – I do let Missy out into the fenced back yard, under supervision.

Missy fancies herself catching bugs and birds, but “in your dreams,” I say, since she’s rather vertically challenged – typical of the breed.  This doesn’t mean she can’t jump on a bed or desk, by the way…and clear out everything in her landing path.  She just has to think about it, and plan the trajectory.  Bugs and birds won’t wait that long.

Never one to seek out the sun, indoors or out, because of her insulating fur, she’s content to explore the entire back yard, then settle down in a cool spot to keep an eye on her little world.

I certainly have become a fan of Maine Coon cats and now know why they’re so popular.  Ironically, it took moving from New England to California for me to be introduced to the breed.

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