The Maine Coon, known for its intelligence and playful nature is one of the oldest natural breeds of cat in North America. As one of the largest breeds of domestic cat, it is often called the “gentle giant”.
The North American Maine Coon originated in New England, where it was one of the few breeds of cat that survived the harsh New England winters. As only the strongest cats survived, the Maine Coon developed into a rugged, large cat with a thick coat and frame through natural selection.
There are several stories surrounding the origin of the breed and its name. One of these stories relates that a domestic cat interbred with a raccoon resulting in the Maine Coon. This however is impossible and impractical as are most of the tales behind the origin. Most breeders today believe that shorthaired domestic cats and overseas longhaired cats mated and formed the breed. They are similar to the Norwegian Forest Cat and to the Siberian, however this may be because of convergent evolution, because of the fact that they share similar environments.
The average weight of a male Maine Coon is 13-20 pounds for males and around half of that for females. The largest can weigh up to 25 pounds and grow to over 40 inches long. Maine Coons grow to full size quite a bit slower than most cats, not reaching their full size until 4 or 5 years of age.
The most common color and pattern in the breed is brown with tabby markings. Maine Coons are recognized in all colors, including tortoiseshell, except for chocolate, lavender, ticked tabby, and Siamese pattern. Eye color also varies widely. All patterns may have green, green-gold, or gold. Blue eyes, or one blue eye with one gold eye, are possible in white coat cats. There is typically a distinct “M” shape on the forehead of most Maine Coons.
Maine Coons have generally very soft medium-long, dense fur, with longer hair, or a ruff, on their chests similar to the mane of a lion. Their fur consists of two layers – an undercoat and an additional layer of longer guard hairs, which gives the breed their key physical feature. It generally needs to be brushed only once a week because they do a fairly good job of grooming themselves. They also have tufts of hair between their toes and long hair on the backs of their legs to help keep them warm. Their heads are angular and square with large wide-set ears, and their tails can be extremely bushy.
Dexterity is a distinguishing trait of Maine Coons. They are very intelligent and playful and have a tendency to use their front paws extensively. They have been known to easily learn to pick up small objects and to use their paws for eating and drinking. They also can learn to open cabinet doors, turn on faucets and flush toilets. They frequently engage in mischievous behavior when they are bored, disturbing things with their useful paws.
A plus side to their intelligence is that they are easily trained. Fetch is a common favorite game for a Maine Coon. They can learn to come when called, and even to go on walks with the family dog.
Maine Coons are very susceptible to heart disease, hip dysplasia and kidney disease. Gum disease is also common in Maine Coons. Despite being prone to these problems, they tend to be very tough, healthy animals that live long lives, some living to be over twenty years of age.