What’s a Maine Coon?
“The dogs of the cat world.” That’s the nickname Maine Coons have earned because they enjoy the company of people. Also called “gentle giants,” Maine Coons are big, gentle, intelligent, good-natured goofs who remain kittenish throughout their lives.
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Sound & looks
Maine Coons have a variety of meows, chirps and trills at their disposal. When they meow, they often have a soft, tiny voice that is incongruous with their large size.
Maine Coons usually have muscular, broad chests and long rectangular bodies with long, flowing, silky fur, often with a front ruff. Males average 15-17 pounds, with some reaching 25 pounds or more, and females average 12 pounds. They may not reach full size until they are about four years old. Maine Coons come in just about every cat color and pattern (about 75 altogether) — solid, tabby, red or orange, cream, white, buff, black, silver, brown, multi-colored, tortoiseshell or calico.
Eyes are large, round, expressive, wide set and slightly oblique. The most common eye colors are green, gold, green-gold, or copper. White or bi-color Maine Coons sometimes have blue eyes. Paws are large, round, and tufted. Ears are large, tufted. The tail is long and generally fluffy. They have over-sized paws and some original Maine Coons were polydactyl (had extra toes). Their descendants can also be polydactyl, although polydactyl Maine Coons are no longer common.
There are many legends about the origins of the Maine Coon. One of the wildest ones is that they are the product of interbreeding between the American bobcat and domestic cats brought to North America on sailing ships that came to the Northeastern seaboard. This legend may have originated because Maine Coons have tufted ears and feet like the bobcat. Another fantastic origin story is that Maine Coons came from interbreeding between domestic cats and raccoons. Brown tabby Maine Coons, which occur most commonly in nature, may have looked like raccoons to early Americans. Also, the Maine Coon chirp or trill may sound a bit like the cry of a young raccoon. It is genetically impossible for domestic cats to breed with raccoons or bobcats, but these legends provide for some amusing conversation.
Other legends are the stuff of historical romance. One tale has it that Captain Samuel Clough brought them over as part of an unsuccessful plot to smuggle Marie Antoinette out of France during the revolution. Captain Clough’s ship was loaded with the Queen’s luxurious personal items, including six of her favorite pet Angora cats. Marie was seized before she boarded, but Captain Clough escaped, taking the Queen’s six cats to Maine where they bred with native cats to produce the Maine Coon.
Another sea captain figures in a different origin legend. An English sea captain named Charles Coon sailed up and down the New England coast with a host of cats aboard his ship. Predominant among them were long-haired Persians and Angoras, popular in England at the time. Capt. Coons cats accompanied him when he went ashore, and when long-haired kittens started showing up in local litters, people would say the mother cat had gotten “one of Coon’s cats.”
It is possible that Maine Coons are descended from Norwegian Skogkatts brought over by the Vikings in the 11th century. Known as Norwegian Forest cats today, the Skogkatt came out of the Scandinavian forests and was domesticated within the last 4,000 years. They bear a close resemblance to Maine Coons, with their long fur and tufted ears and paws. Like Maine Coons, Norwegian Forest cats are very people-oriented cats.
Another plausible tale is that Maine Coons developed from cross-breeding between short- and long-haired cats brought to America by early settlers. Harsh New England winters and nature’s own breeding program ultimately produced cats with long coats and tufts of fur on their feet that enabled them to walk on snow and survive through the winter.
Maine Coons were originally prized as skilled mousers on New England farms. During the 1860s, farmers started showing their Maine Coon cats at the Skowhegan Fair. Maine Coons were also listed in a show held in Boston in January 1878. In fact, a Maine Coon named Cosey was chosen as Best Cat at the first major cat show in this country at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1895.
Because Maine Coons are well known for their loving nature, kind disposition and great intelligence, they have long been a popular and sought after companion.