What is a Maine Coon Cat?

The Maine Coon is a natural breed of cat native to North America. These cats are beautiful, big, furry, easygoing, companionable, and intelligent. A generous armful.


America's only natural breed of domestic cat is the descendant of ships' cats who arrived in Maine over several centuries beginning with the early fishermen and traders. They lived on the edge of coastal settlements in barns and other outbuildings. Cats from ports all over Europe were shaped by Maine's climate, especially its long harsh winters, into the Shag, the cats who in the hands of cat breeders became known as the Maine Coon Cat. The Shag can still be found in Maine as pets, farm cats, and feral cats. There are smaller populations in the Atlantic coastal regions of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

There are many stories of the Maine Coon Cat origins for which there is no evidence, either fossil, genetic, or human record.
(1) One such tale has Skogkatts arriving with the Vikings and interbreeding with small native wildcats—there were no such native cats, and recent genetic studies have found no affiliation between Skogkatt descendants and Maine Coon Cats.
(2) A similar tale has European domestic cats interbreeding with Maine bobcats—while this has been done by modern breeders in a few isolated events, there is no genetic evidence of the bobcat in the Maine Coon Cat.
(3) Another tale has Marie Antoinette's pet Turkish Angoras shipped to Maine (without her) and begetting ancestors of the Shag—if they did arrive (in 1793) they would have been met by European cats already in place and have added their genes to the pool.
(4) The silliest tale is that the cats have raccoon ancestors as evidenced by the similarity in tails—actually this is absurd because raccoons and cats cannot interbreed, even if they wanted to (and raccoons are notoriously vicious).

Recent genetic studies have found affiliations of the Maine Coon Cat with British Shorthairs, Ragdolls, Russian Blues, and American Shorthairs.

The origin of the domestic cat is also being revealed by genetic research.

At the inception of the Maine Coon Cat as a recognized breed, individual cats were accepted as "foundation cats" based on their appearance. Two such famous cats, who began the Heido Ho lineage, were found by Connie Condit: Andy Katt was found in Maryland and Bridget Katt was found in Florida. Their grandson Heidi Ho Sonkey Bill was born in 1978 and is the ancestor of a great many existing Maine Coons, including mine.

The Maine Coon Cat was adopted by the Maine Legislature as the state cat on September 19, 1985.


The appearance of the Maine Coon Cat reflects their adaptation to the cold and snow of Maine winters. Their body is rectangular and generally large; 20-pound cats are common, 25-pound cats are rare. Their coat is thick, multi-layered, shaggy, short on the back, and long on the belly and britches. Their hair is fine. They have a neck ruff. Their tail is long, thick, and flowing. They have lynx tips on their ears and hair tufts between their toes. They have long whiskers. The traditional eye color is green-gold.

There are solid colored cats: black, white, gray ("blue"), black and white, blue and white, and calico. There are tortoiseshell colored cats where black and red are brindled. There are tabbied cats: brown, orange ("red"), gray ("blue"), cream, silver, and tabbied tortoiseshell ("torbie"). Tabby cats may have white areas, especially on their paws, chin, and belly.

A breed standard is a written description of an ideal cat that guides breeders and judges in their evaluation of individual cats. It is a goal and it is subjective. The breed standards for TICA, CFA, and MCBFA (see Registries) are basically the same, although they are worded differently. We quote the TICA standard here because that is the one by which our cats were judged.

HEAD Medium size; broad, modified wedge; square muzzle. Firm chin, in line with nose and upper lip. Profile is gentle concave slope. High, prominent cheekbones; distinct stop can be felt under cheekbones.

EYES Large, slightly oval, wide-set. Any shade of green and/or gold. Blue and odd-eyes accepted on whites.

EARS Large, tall ears, wide at base. Bases no more than an ear's width apart. Furnishings and lynx tips.

BODY Large, long, rectangular body. Broad chest. Substantial boning and musculature. Medium long neck.

LEGS AND FEET Legs medium in length; large, round feet, well-tufted.

TAIL Wide at base and tapering to tip. At least as long as the body from shoulders to base of tail. Full, long, flowing fur with a slight undercoat.

COAT Uneven length; shorter over the shoulders, becoming gradually longer down the back and side, with long, full shaggy britches and belly fur. Frontal ruff.


There is a lot of variation by individual cat, not, as supposed, by sex—each cat is an individual! Breeders generally aim for gentle cats because a nasty 20-pound cat can be dangerous.

We find that Maine Coons are generally intelligent, loving, friendly, companionable, energetic, athletic, fun-loving, adventurous, and clever. They can easily jump five feet in the air. One of our cats once jumped from the floor to the top of the kitchen cabinets. Blondie is adept at opening drawers and cabinet doors. Captain Courageous opened every door during the short period of time during which our home had door levers instead of door knobs. Miss Spice used to jump to the top rail (one inch wide) of my pencil post bed and walk around it, sometimes in the dark. At certain times of the day the cats rocket around the house, imperiling all breakables. Well, not quite, because all breakables have been already broken or put safely away.

Cats typically adopt certain "practices". Blondie is a "bath cat" that appears next to the tub at the end of my bath. She also gets in my lap towards the end of breakfast when I put a cup of tea on the table. And she likes to crouch on my chest (and be petted) before I get up from bed in the morning. Captain Courageous likes to lick the coconut oil off my body when I've just got into bed. He also likes to taste test the meat when I've started to cut it up for the cats' dinner. And he likes to keep me company when I'm working on the computer; he usually sits in front of the monitor.

Maine Coons generally have soft, small voices and speak in chirps and trills. Miss Spice always chirped before jumping.

Maine Coons take awhile to grow up—about four years. But they are always kittens at heart—alert, lively, and engaged.

Maine Coons shed, and all that lovely fine hair floats about the house and gets everywhere. "At our house, cat hair is a condiment." I am constantly removing cat hair from my clothes.


A cat breed is defined by a set of traits, especially appearance. A cat breed is a classification of domestic cats lower than a subspecies. A cat is considered to be of a certain cat breed if it is truly reflects the traits that define that breed. Two cats of the same breed will accurately reproduce the traits of that breed in their offspring.


Cat breeds come into existence through one of three ways: (1) naturally through environmental conditions, (2) natural mutations, and (3) cross-breeding. The first and second ways develop natural breeds.

A natural breed is a breed of cat which occurred naturally and is not the result of deliberate human-controlled crossings between other breeds. The breed is usually a result of geographical and environmental conditions. Natural breeds can also be hybrids and mutations.

The basic stock of domestic cats are natural breeds: Persian, Siamese, Russian Blue, Turkish Angora, Turkish Van, Norwegian Forest Cat, Siberian, Singapura, Chartreux, Korat, Egyptian Mau, Birman (Sacred Cat of Burma), Japanese Bobtail, and Maine Coon Cat. This list is not meant to be all inclusive.


The domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus was found (in 2007) through genetic testing to share a common ancestor with Felis silvestris lybica, the North African Wildcat and the Near Eastern Wildcat. Furthermore there are five separate lineages (ancestors and their descendants) indicating that domestication happened five separate times. These lineages began in the Fertile Crescent more than 10,000 years ago!


A cat whose ancestry is registered officially is called a purebred cat. Purebred cats are bred only from members of a recognized breed over many generations. A pedigree is a register recording a line of ancestors. A registry is (1) an official record book and (2) an organization that maintains official pedigrees. These organizations ensure that only qualified cats are registered as belonging to a given breed; cats are qualified by virtue of being able to prove their parentage.

Purebred kittens offer the reassurance of being able to accurately predict their grown-up looks and behavior: They will become what their parents are.


Not all Maine Coons are purebred cats. Because the Maine Coon is a natural breed, there are still wild populations of them in and near Maine. And there are domesticated descendants of those cats. I expect most of the latter reside in and near Maine. So if you are in Maine and see a cat that looks like a Maine Coon, it may well be one. However, if you live in California, as I do, and see a nonpedigreed cat that looks like a Maine Coon, it most likely is not.

I often hear people say they have a cat that must be a Maine Coon because it looks and acts like one, or that someone told them was a Maine Coon mix. This is highly unlikely. Stay with me for a minute to hear my reasons. The domestic cat has within its gene pool all the characteristics you have seen in various cats, and then some. Long hair, short hair, straight ears, folded ears, short square bodies, long tubular bodies, lynx tips, no lynx tips, etc. The characteristics that are consistently found in Maine Coons are what define the breed, however they are not the only cats to have those characteristics. So lynx tips do not a Maine Coon make. Nor does a shaggy coat. Nor does a fondness for water or speaking in cheeps and trills.

Furthermore, reputable breeders do not allow their cats to breed with non-Maine Coons. Neither do they allow their kitten buyers to do this. Yes, it probably does happen, but not with the frequency that I hear those comments.

Revision: 12-30-2013.