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Maine Coon: Facts, Origin & History

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By Nicole Cosgrove

white maine coon kitten

The Maine Coon is one of the oldest natural cat breeds in North America, so you’ve probably seen their beautiful fluffy faces. Unlike some cat breeds that have documented histories going back for thousands of years, the history of this breed is a little less clear.

There’s plenty to discover, though! How did the Maine Coon go from a breed that was declared extinct to one of the most popular cat breeds worldwide? Here, you can find out everything that you need to know about the origin and history of the mighty Maine Coon.

The Earliest Records of Maine Coon in History

There are plenty of verbal legends as to how exactly the Maine Coon breed came to be, including that their ancestors survived an escape attempt as Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, attempted to leave on a ship to America. While she didn’t make the journey, her cats did, apparently. It’s said that they were either Siberian Forest Cats or Turkish Angoras and bred with local short-haired cats to become the forefathers of the breed. Another story suggests that they came to the Americas with Vikings.

Yet another legend tells the tale that local cats bred with raccoons to form the Maine Coon breed. That, of course, is a genetic impossibility! Some people also say that they originated from domestic cats crossed with bobcats.

The first written mention of the Maine Coon breed was in “The Book of the Cat,” written in 1861 and published in 1903.

In 1895, Maine Coon cats were entered into the first cat show held in North America. A brown tabby called Cosey was named Best in Show. She won a silver collar and medal. The medal can still be found in the offices of the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) to this day.

Adorable Maine Coon getting dinner
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

How Maine Coon Gained Popularity

Maine Coons were initially kept as barn cats to keep populations of rodents down on farms and homesteads, New England farmers in the late 19th century used to hold competitions to crown the “Maine State Champion Coon Cat.”

The breed soon became popular at cat shows. When more long-haired breeds started to be exhibited, including the Persian, the popularity of the Maine Coon began to decrease. They were rarely mentioned in cat show entries after 1911.

The decline was so serious that the Maine Coon was even declared extinct in the 1950s, although some cat historians state that this was exaggerated. The Central Maine Cat Club was formed in the 1950s with the goal of maintaining the breed and increasing their popularity. This club created the first official breed standard for the Maine Coon.

From humble beginnings to popular cats and then to the verge of extinction, the Maine Coon is now firmly back in the heart of the nation. In 2020, they ranked in third place for the CFA’s most popular breeds.


Formal Recognition of Maine Coon

One of the first breed clubs to formally recognize the Maine Coon was the Independent Cat Federation, which published its breed standard in 1969.

While the Maine Coon breed has been around for a long time, they were denied provisional breed status by the CFA three times. As a result, the Maine Coon Cat Club was formed in 1973. The CFA finally accepted the Maine Coon as a provisional breed in 1975. By 1976, they had been accepted for championship status.

The International Cat Association was founded in 1979, with the Maine Coon breed being one of the first cat breeds to be accepted by them.

By 1985, they were declared the official state cat of Maine.

maine coon inside teepee tent
Image Credit: kimberrywood, Shutterstock

Top 8 Unique Facts About Maine Coon

1. The Maine Coon is recognized as the longest cat breed by the Guinness Book of World Records.

The current record holder is a Maine Coon cat from Italy named Barivel. He measures 3 feet, 11.2 inches long!


2. They’re one of the largest domestic cat breeds.

They can reach weights of up to 25 pounds.


3. Some Maine Coon cats are polydactyl.

Which means they have an extra toe on each paw. This is accepted in the breed standard of most organizations, including TICA. Polydactyl is an inherited trait and may give Maine Coons an advantage when walking on deep snow because it makes their paws even larger to help spread their weight.


4. This breed is perfectly adapted for cold weather.

They are water-resistant and incredibly thick double coat. Fur tufts between their paw pads help keep their toes cozy, and those excessively furry ears are designed to trap as much heat as possible. That huge bushy tail can also wrap around their bodies to keep them warm.

grey maine coon beside window_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

5. They are known as “gentle giants.”

Maine Coons have a sweet and gentle nature that makes them great choices as family cats. They’re loyal and affectionate with their families and retain a playful sense of fun throughout their whole lives.


6. Maine Coons are one of the only domestic cat breeds known for their love of water.

It’s thought that this might stem from their origins as ship’s cats, but the truth is that it probably stems more from their playful and inquisitive nature.


7. The first cloned cat was a Maine Coon named Little Nicky.

He was born in 2004 and created from the DNA of Nicky, a Maine Coon cat that died in 2003.


8. Maine Coons are quite vocal and can often be found talking to their owners.

They’re not loud or demanding, but they will chirp and trill when they want to catch your attention. Talk to a Maine Coon and they’ll talk back!

orange maine coon
Image Credit: Mami Miyashima, Pixabay

Does Maine Coon Make a Good Pet?

The Maine Coon breed is an excellent choice for an all-around family cat. They’re affectionate but not overly demanding. They’re loyal to their owners, and while they will happily interact with strangers, they won’t pay them too much attention. Their playful, intelligent, and bold nature makes them the perfect companion for both kids and dogs.

If you’re looking for a cat with mousing abilities, the Maine Coon will be happy to keep a farm or barn clear of any rodents. They do prefer to live inside with their families, though! They’re low maintenance despite that thick coat. A weekly brush is all that they need to stay in great condition.

Their outgoing and inquisitive nature means they love learning tricks, going for walks on a harness, or even accompanying you on a road trip! Even as purebred cats, they’re generally healthy and don’t tend to suffer from too many health problems. They are slow to mature, so care needs to be taken to feed them a high-quality kitten food for longer than some other breeds.

orange maine coon_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

Conclusion

Life with a Maine Coon is never dull! These kind and affectionate cats love to have fun, and they’ll always be making you smile with their antics. A true American breed through and through, Maine Coons might look large but they’re incredibly gentle and kind. They love to hang out with their owners but are equally happy to snooze the day away if you’re at work.

Get to know the Maine Coon breed, and you might find yourself declaring them “Best in Show,” just like the judges at those first cat shows did!


Featured Image Credit: Happy monkey, Shutterstock

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