Last updated: February 18, 2017
The Maine Coon is a cat that stands out – big, bold and beautiful; it is known not only for its size but also its majestic coat and an impressive tail. Partly made famous for playing Mrs. Norris in the Harry Potter films, the Maine Coon makes a great pet due to its playful and affectionate nature. It really is a cat to be proud of!
There is nothing more majestic than a Maine Coon cat in full coat. Unlike the flamboyant Persian, this is an elegant cat that is not only beautiful but is also completely adapted to do the job it was originally designed for.
This is a cat that can survive in the tough outdoor wilderness of North Eastern America. Males can weigh up to a staggering 20lb, making it one of the largest cat breeds. Its shaggy coat is reminiscent of that of a collie dog, with a waterproof topcoat providing protection from the elements and a soft undercoat for warmth. Air trapped between the layers provides vital insulation for a cat designed to be out hunting vermin on the farms that it inhabits.
Tuffs of hair in the ears help protect this sensitive area, with longer fur on the belly and back of the legs also providing additional protection. A ruff of longer fur also envelopes the neck although this is generally longer on males than females. Large, well-furred feet enable them to move effectively in the snow by spreading the weight of the body across a larger surface area. Like many traditional cat breeds, their large eyes are there to help them spot prey. A square muzzle enables them to hunt effectively. The defining characteristic of the Maine Coon is its tail. This should be at least as long as the cat itself and is designed to be wrapped around the cats body, again for warmth. Indeed, it is so distinctive that the Maine Coon is often described as a tail with a cat attached!
The Maine Coons coat is seasonal, being thicker in the winter to provide warmth. As such, much of it is molted out in the summer to prevent over-heating. Saying this, they can struggle in areas that are very warm all year around. Grooming is easily manageable, with the coat requiring far less care than the more exotic Persian. A once a week comb to remove any matts (especially from hard to reach areas such as between the back legs and armpits) should keep your Coon looking fabulous.
Being such a large breed, the Maine Coon is slow to mature and as such does not reach adulthood until at least 3-4 years. Maine Coons come in a staggering 75 color combinations although more unusual varieties such as Siamese points, chocolate and lilac are not allowed.
The Maine coon is the traditional all-American cat and takes its name from the state of Maine where it was originally bred -Indeed, it remains their official ‘state cat’. Its background is steeped in mystery and intrigue thus making sorting out fact from fiction a little complicated. However, one thing that can be disregarded is the ancient belief that the Maine coon evolved from a cross between wild cats, domestic cats and raccoons. While this would account for the fluffy tail, it is biologically impossible! Yet it persisted long enough for the coon part of the name to stick.
This tough working cat became well known for its mousing prowess; there were even competitions to determine who had the best ‘Coon cat’. They soon made their way onto the show bench, yet in the early days, there was no breed standard. How they were judged against each other remains a mystery.
One of the earliest recorded Maine coons was Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines from 1861. He was a big, imposing black and white cat that was owned by a lady called Mrs. Pierce. In 1903, a book written by Mrs. Pierce states how her family owned several of these big cats from Maine and that they were a common sight at early cat shows. Indeed, they often went best in show.
Fast forward several years and the Persian had come to America. This puffed up fur ball soon became the number one cat on the show scene and the Maine coon got left behind. It disappeared so dramatically that the Cat Fanciers Association declared the Maine Coon to be extinct in 1959!
Luckily this was not the case, with a few dedicated breeders fighting to keep the breed going. One savior of the breed was Mrs. Ethelyn Whittemore who kept and bred Maine Coons for several generations. Not only did she help keep the breed going, but she also kept comprehensive records regarding parentage and progeny – Whittemore Maine Coons provided the founding stock for many other Maine Coon studs.
Finally by 1953, a central Maine Coon Cat Club was founded. They started holding shows and created a standard to judge them against. The club went from strength to strength, with over one hundred entries by its 5th show. Sadly however the club disbanded in 1963 when nobody was available to take over the running of the club; yet in 1968 a newly formed Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association stepped in to fill the breach. It continued to go from strength to strength, being accepted by the biggest cat club the CFA in 1976. Now it is the second most popular breed in the US, just behind the Persian.
The Maine Coon is a relatively healthy breed as it is free from physical exaggeration i.e. the flat face seen in the Persian. This is helped by its popularity; with the large gene pool aiding genetic diversity which reduces the chances of recessive characteristics coming to the fore.
However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when buying a Maine Coon and to ask your new cats breeder about. One such condition is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most common cause of heart disease seen in adult cats. Here the left chamber of the heart is thickened, meaning it has to work extra hard to effectively pump blood around the body. It can be hard to spot initial symptoms as many cats do not show signs until they reach adulthood, which is late for large cats such as Maine Coons. If the disease is very severe it can result in the spontaneous death of adult cats.
Due to its frequent late diagnosis, and despite its genetic markers, it can be incredibly difficult to breed out. Both male and female Maine Coons may have produced multiple kittens before the disease is spotted. There is now a screening test available that can spot these genetic markers so make sure the parents of any kittens you buy have been tested and have the relevant results paperwork.
Hip dysplasia is another condition common in large, heavy boned breeds such as the Maine Coon. Well-known in dogs, hip dysplasia is the malformation of the ball and socket joint. It causes pain which results in lameness and extreme cases can again require surgery. The condition is hereditary, yet while screening of parents has been long established in many dog breeds it is less common in cats. Speak to your breeder about whether or not they screen adults before breeding from them and if not, ensure you see relatives and other progeny to ensure that they are walking correctly with no sign of stiffness or lameness.
Finally, Maine Coons can occasionally be struck down by spinal muscular atrophy . It results in the destruction of neurons in the spinal cord which controls the skeletal muscles. It leads to muscle weakness appearing in the limbs, with affected kittens having difficulty walking and jumping. One saving grace of the disease is that the cat isn’t in pain and they can still lead a manageable, yet disabled life. Testing is again available to identify carriers before breeding.
Despite their large size, the Maine Coon is known as the clown of the cat world. It is a big, gentle giant which makes an affectionate pet. They love being around people, being curious to see what is going on and often getting under their owner’s feet! A Maine Coon is happy getting lots of fuss from their owner, they have also been called ‘dog like’ due to their determination to interact with their human owners.
Water is another thing the Maine coon loves, a trait it shares with a few other breeds such as the Turkish van. They will do their best to help with the washing up and play with the hose if the mood takes them!
Yet despite being so large, the Maine coon is a real softie. Playful and affectionate, they easily work their way into your hearts and become great family pets. One rather unique feature of such a large cat is its meow, which is virtually non-existent! Instead, they will ‘chirp’ for attention which is very unique to the breed. The only downside to the Maine Coon? One will probably not be enough!
Maine coons are adaptable, being good indoor or outdoor cats. They can be trained to accept a harness and leash if introduced from a young age, which is beneficial should you need to keep them indoors most of the time due to outside hazards. Saying this, they are also adept at training their owners – so be prepared to have to pamper their every need!
Maine Coons are also very intelligent. Clicker training your Coon to perform tricks on command is easily achievable if you bribe them with a tasty treat. They can sit, lie down and even high five!
Buying and Caring cost analysis
The Maine Coon is popular enough to be an affordable option should you be looking for a pedigree cat. Pet quality kittens will cost less than show quality kittens, but breeders may have ex-show champions looking for retirement homes if you would consider an adult. Expect to pay between $500-$1000 for a kitten depending on whether or not it can be bred from (many breeders place restrictions on whether or not the kittens can be bred from), is show quality or just a pet.
A good breeder will not let their kittens go until they have reached at least 12 weeks of age, by which time they should have received the basic vaccinations required. When you collect your kitten, ensure you receive all the relevant paperwork to transfer ownership and for any vaccinations they have had.
The initial cost will be the main expense when purchasing a Maine Coon. If you are not breeding from your Maine Coon then neutering is essential for both a health and behavioral viewpoint. An unneutered male will spray urine to mark their territory in addition to having a strong urge to roam to find females. An unsprayed female will attract males from miles around and be keen to escape to meet them – the breeding urge works both ways! They are also at risk of pyometra, where they pick up an infection in the uterus after being in season. Factor in around $50-$70 for a male to be castrated and $70-$110 for a female to be spayed. Other initial costs that may be incurred with your Maine Coon would be if they require extra vaccinations not covered by your kitten’s breeder; however this is generally only needed if your Maine Coon is going to have outside access.
After this, they cost slightly more to keep than a normal cat simply due to their size. Cats are obligate carnivores and as such do best on a high-quality diet. They cannot be vegetarian or vegan. Feed them a good quality commercial diet that meets their nutritional needs for their particular life stage; for instance feed kittens a kitten diet, adults an adult diet etc.
Worming needs to be done every three months if you have an outside cat but can be reduced to every 6 months if they stay indoors. Flea treatments should be done monthly, overall budget around $150 per year to cover these costs. Additional expenses may include cat litter (if needed), toys, treats, and cattery stays if you plan on boarding them when you are away. Finally, pet insurance is highly recommended for peace of mind. Allow between $14-$26 a month depending on what provider you use. Always read the small print to ensure that illnesses have lifetime cover and that your excess does not shoot up when your cat becomes elderly.