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Maine Coon Cats: The “Gentle Giants”
The Maine Coon is the second most popular breed of domestic cat in America, (The Persian is first). It is one of the oldest breeds in North America, and is the official State Cat of Maine.
The Maine Coon is noted for its large bone structure, and the fact that it can grow to amazing sizes. Males can weigh anywhere from 15 to 25 pounds, and females, 10 to 15 pounds. Their bodies are solid and muscular in order to support the unusual amount of weight, and their chests are broad. Maine Coons are slow to physically mature, in that they do not achieve their full body size until they are three to five years old, unlike "normal" cats, which take about a year. The Guinness Book of World Records has designated a male purebred Maine Coon named Stewie as the "Longest Cat" on record; he measured 48.5 inches from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. That's LARGE, folks!
These cats are long-haired or medium-haired, with a soft and silky coat. The hair is longer on the stomach and flanks and shorter on the head and shoulders, with some cats having a lion-like ruff around their necks. Their coat is mostly self-maintaining, with minimal grooming required, although they do generally enjoy being brushed. Maine Coons come in all colors that other cats do; the brown tabby is the most common color. Colors that indicate hybridization, for example, are chocolate and lavender. The Siamese pointed patterns or the "ticked" pattern are unacceptable by breed standards. All eye colors are acceptable under breed standards.
Important features of the Maine Coon are the head and body shape, and the texture and "shag" of the coat. The head is a little longer than it is wide, producing a gently concave profile with high cheekbones and ears that are large, wide at the base, moderately pointed, and well tufted inside. They are set high up on the head, approximately an ear's width apart. Lynx-like tufting on the top of the ears is a desirable feature. The neck should be medium-long, the torso long, and the chest broad. The tail should be at least as long as the torso. One of their most distinctive features are their eyes, which are large, round, very expressive, and set at a slightly oblique angle.
The genetic origins of the Maine Coon are mysterious and unconfirmed. There are only stories and folktales. One tale is traced back to Marie Antoinette attempting to escape France with six of her favorite Turkish Angora cats. Although she herself did not make it to the U.S, her pets safely reached the Maine shores, where they may have bred with other short-haired breeds and evolved into the modern-day Maine Coon cat.
The generally-accepted theory among breeders is that the Maine Coon is descended from the pairings of local short-haired domestic cats and long-haired breeds brought overseas by English seafarers (possibly by Captain Charles Coon) or 11th-century Vikings. The connection to the Vikings is seen in the strong resemblance of the Maine Coon to that of the Norwegian Forest Cat, another breed that is said to be a descendant of cats that traveled with the Vikings.
First recorded in cat literature in 1861 with a mention of a black and white cat named "Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines," Maine Coons were popular competitors at early cat shows in Boston and New York. A brown tabby female named "Cosie" won Best Cat at the 1895 Madison Square Garden Show.
Maine Coons are unusually well-adapted for surviving harsh winter climates. Nature is not softhearted. It selects the biggest, the brightest, the best fighters, and the best hunters to breed successive generations. I'm told that the heavy, lush, water-resistant coat of the Maine Coon must be felt to be believed.
Their dense water-resistant fur is longer and shaggier on their underside and rear for extra protection when they are walking or sitting on top of wet surfaces of snow or ice. Their long and bushy raccoonlike tail is resistant to sinking in snow, and can be curled around their face and shoulders for warmth and protection from wind and blowing snow and it can even be curled around their backside like an insulated seat cushion when sitting down on a snowy or icy surface.
Planned breeding of Maine Coons are relatively recent. Since planned breeding began, Maine Coon breeders have sought to preserve the Maine Coon's "natural," rugged qualities. The ideal Maine Coon is a strong, large, healthy, agile cat.
Maine Coons are known as "the gentle giants," and possess great intelligence. Thus, they are relatively easy to train. They are cautious, though not unkind, around strangers, and extremely loyal and affectionate to their owners, but are independent and not "clingy" as some cats are. They have a gentle disposition and are very relaxed around dogs, other cats, and children. They are not generally known as "lap cats," but they are always playful, with the males being the clowns and the females retaining more dignity. Maine Coons also love to yowl, chatter, chirp, trill, and talk back to their owners. They have an unusual fascination for water, which may derive from their ancestors who spent so much time aboard ships.
They do not constantly pester you for attention, but usually do want to be "where the action is," and while they may not choose to be in your lap that often, they will probably choose a nearby chair. They like to be involved in whatever is going on, and are likely to follow you from room to room, and wait patiently for you outside a closed door until you emerge.
Health-wise, the only downside to the Maine Coon cat is that this breed, like the "Ragdoll" breed, is subject to developing hypocardiomyopathy, which can produce anything from a minor heart murmur to really serious heart trouble. Cats can be tested, however, for the gene that is likely to cause this, and responsible breeders breed the gene out of their litters. Hip dysplasia may also develop, which will cause lameness. There are no special grooming concerns with the Maine Coon, who is easy to bathe when needed because of their great love of water.
For this article, I interviewed Carol Flores, the owner of "Coonberries Maine Coons." She had great additional information to offer. The first thing she commented on is that the Maine Coon is a very doglike cat, and that people who may not think that they like cats (notably, men) may end up falling in love with a Maine Coon. They are easily leash-trained, can be taught to play fetch, and are totally intrigued by water, as I mentioned above. They will watch the toilet bowl flushing with avid interest, and may even jump in the shower with you!
Another observation from Carol was that while Maine Coons love to sleep in bed with you, they are known for not pestering you while you are sleeping. They are very, very low maintenance cats, which certainly cannot be said of all breeds. Another interesting characteristic Carol has observed is that their ears operate a little like periscopes. If a Maine Coon hears a sound behind it, instead of turning its body, it may somehow rotate just its ears!
Carol also commented, "I would like to mention the longevity of the Maine coons. They are long-lived cats often known to live into their late teens and longer. They are slow to mature and stay kitten-like for many years. This makes for an excellent family pet that can be part of the family for a very long time. I have people often looking for a new Maine coon due to the passing of their beloved family Maine Coon... there are people in their early twenties who tell me about their cat that had been in their lives since they were babies. Maine coons really like people! I am often told how friendly my cats and kittens are, that they seek out human attention and do not shy away or ignore it."
We then discussed the important issue of "polydactalism" – the possession of extra toes. Early Maine Coons were mostly polydactal, so it was an original trait of the breed. (The extra toes make the foot larger and thus more like a snowshoe.) For some reason, this was considered an undesirable quality, and many breeders over the years have carefully bred out this trait. Carol is a breeder who loves polydactalism in her cats, and has started producing litters that have extra toes on all four feet, which is quite unusual.
The reason that most contemporary breeders do not intentionally produce polydactal cats is that all cat associations automatically disqualify these cats from participating in the purebred competitions. Carol said, however, that there is a strong movement forming to get these rules changed, so that polydactal Maine Coons can be shown competitively in the Maine Coon Breed.
When I asked Carol what she most loved about being a breeder of Maine Coons, she said that she is fascinated by the reproductive cycle, from the mom birthing her litter, and being able to watch them develop, until they are ready for their new homes. And that she loves cats with character and individuality.
Maine Coon cats certainly fit the bill!
Carol Flores can be reached by going to her ad " Coonberries Maine Coons ".
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