Is My Cat a Maine Coon?

Copyright © 1998

My cat looks just like a Maine Coon, could it be one? How can I tell?

“I’m certain some purebred cat got lost because my cat has to be purebred”.... or “We were given this wonderful cat and she looks just like the cats in the book , “ etc, etc, ............ or we adopted; it found us; by the roadside, my vet says so........all of those circumstance cats that so many love and own, sometimes resemble Maine Coon cats, and many want to know if there is Maine Coon heritage in their cat.

First, can a real Maine Coon be acquired via Mother nature’s breeding? Yes, but very rarely, and location, location, location, is the determining factor. Naturally bred non-pedigreed Maine Coons can be located in select areas of Maine of course. But they are not plentiful even there. Nearby New England states and Maritime Provinces also have indigenous population of part Maine Coon cats, in rural areas, simply due to the fact that state borders are invisible to wandering “Tom” or romantic “Mrs. Kitty.”

The breed of cat known as the Maine Coon Cat originated in the Maine harborside villages and spread to coastal farm regions. This fact has verification in history dating from the 1800’s.

For this same reason, non-pedigreed, non-registered longhair cats located in various other American states (or countries) are not Maine Coon Cats by definition of the breed, because their ancestors were not from the Maine Coast area originally. Rare exceptions are possible, but these would be in only areas served by the clipper ship or coastal schooner trades from which a small gene pool of transplanted Maine Coon cats might have relocated in the harbors. Such areas might possibly include former seaports, and Great Lakes harbors. But because these industries are long gone, any cats left from those ships have long since diluted their heritage with other ordinary domestic cats. And single family cats which accompany native Maine families relocating elsewhere in the USA would not be sufficient genetically to upgrade any given local population of cats.

The long-discontinued practice of pet shops selling kittens gathered in Maine to customers located in the mid-Atlantic states and larger cities (popular practice 100 years ago) would not be significant to increase frequency of Maine Coons within the local cat population groups, either. But it is a safe assumption that random offspring would survive and propagate in those days of rare spay/neuter, but again their Maine Coon characteristics would be very diluted by local cats by NOW.

So, no; true and pure Maine Coons of no papers are NOT nowadays found outside of Maine or nearby areas! Again, exceptions are extremely rare and are probable only in regions associated with sea trade.

This is important information for foundation breeders in their selections of new cats. One may feed a look-alike cat lobster all of its life and “bless” it with a map of Maine, but that will not make it a true Maine Coon! A non-pedigreed domestic longhair cat found in Europe for example, is not a Maine Coon and never would be for the simple reason that its ancestors are from Europe. Lovely cats though they may be, these ancestors would be Siberian-type, Norwegian Forest-type, or Persian-cross, and domestic long-hairs of no particular definition, and the cat is not a Maine Coon.

After you have identified the location of the origin of your cat, look at the color.

A caller asking about her cat explained that she had painstakingly color-matched her cat’s tabby stripes with a picture from the Internet! This labor of love is not, repeat not, how you tell if your cat if of Maine Coon heritage!

All cats come in the same colors, and color is not what makes a cat a Maine Coon or not. Maine Coons come in all cat colors, EXCEPT THE SIAMESE OR HIMALAYAN PATTERN (on the nose and feet and tail). Any long-hair with this color pattern is not of Maine Coon heritage. Instead, it would be a Siamese or Himalayan cross.

Observe the body of the cat. A Maine Coon will always have an elongated rectangular body. Its back is quite straight and its hips and shoulders are of even height. Your cat is “angora” or part Persian or domestic long-hair if the body is an ordinary rectangle, or if the body is cobby (squarish). If the legs are of uneven height, this may be a sign of Manx or Norwegian Forest Cat heritage.

Observe the coat and fur. A cat showing Maine Coon heritage will have a long-haired, shaggy, uneven coat. It is made up of guard hairs that are glossy and somewhat coarse, and these are longer than the insulating hairs. The insulating hairs will be satiny -soft. Domestic long-hairs have very similar coats, but these are less distinct in the two types of hair in the coat. Part Persian or angoras, or cats of Norwegian Forest Cat heritage have noticeably soft coats. These also mat frequently and easily in outside cats.

The uneven aspect of the Maine Coon’s coat is one of the distinctions of the breed. At the nape of the shoulders, the fur should be very short. This sets off the neck ruff which would be made of long fur all around the neck. Then the body fur gets gradually longer toward the rear of the cat to end in lengthy britches or fur bloomers behind the rear legs. Domestic long-hairs are smooth-coated without this very noticeable variation in coat length to the degree of the Maine Coon. Angoras and part-Persians are also identified by this detail of the evenness of their coats over the shoulder area and by the fineness of their fur.

Note that fur between the toes, ear frills, neck ruffs, and fluffy tails are all part of being a long-haired cat and do not make a cat a Maine Coon, nor does an “M” on the forehead. Any tabby cat will have an “M” as a normal part of its tabby markings.

Look at the head and face. Observe the significant difference in skull shape between a pedigreed American Shorthair and a pedigreed Maine Coon Cat. These are the two native American breeds, and the difference in head shape is obvious. Now, remember that a domestic long-hair is a distant cousin to the American Short-hair. These cats will have a patty-cake roundish head shape, with the simple addition of long coat. In contrast, a cat of Maine Coon heritage will have an angular head shape. The ears are usually more pointed, not rounded, set at particular angles to the nose and Elizabethan ruff.

The head of a Maine Coon cat is recognized by its series of intersecting angles. The ears are set at angles to the nose, the muzzle is squared off, and elongated very slightly, and the profile has a flow like a gentle ski jump. It really becomes recognizable to those familiar with the breed in general, and the subtle differences become obvious, especially in adult cats.

Behavior of a Maine Coon is distinct and recognizable. Received recently in e-mail, a cat owner wrote: “So much to know and learn about my Maine Coon cat that I found as a stray 16 months ago. Even Rascal's vet told us he was a "female long hair tabby"....he got a couple things wrong! I've never had a cat, wasn't even a cat person but my little furry friend changed all that! He is a joy and fits many of the descriptions and is a gift from God to my lonely heart. How he found his way into my landlady's garage will always be a mystery, and am grateful it was my home.”

Real Maine Coons:
In conclusion, if a cat meets all of the descriptions above and is from Maine, or Maritime Provinces, or seacoast area of New Hampshire, it is a Maine Coon.

If a cat meets the description but is from other parts of the USA or Canada, it is a part-Maine Coon. (These should not be used for foundation breeding.) If a cat meets MOST of the description above, it is a domestic long-hair with some Maine Coon in it. No matter how much or how little, a Maine Coon cat will bless its owners in a way that no other cat can.

Usually the people that are interested in the answer to this question have a “free” cat, of a non-pedigreed variety. These are called angoras, domestic longhairs, Persian-crosses, and “part Maine coon,” depending on the cat, and lucky are the owners of the true, Maine Coon Cats!

This copyrighted article was printed by permission in: The Native Maine Coon Cat Association Newsletter; # 1, 1998, p4.


Copyright © 1998 Dirigo. All rights reserved
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