The Maine Coon is known in the cat fancy as a "gentle giant", much like the Great Dane is known in the dog fancy by that same nickname. This is an extroverted, outgoing, sociable breed, with a loving nature, a kind disposition and a keen intellect. Most Maine Coons are highly trainable and can easily be taught to walk on a harness and leash. They are affectionate, playful animals that typically get along extremely well with children, other cats and even dogs.
Maine Coons want to be near their people not only for companionship, but also so that they can actively participate in whatever household activities are under way. Maine Coons have been described as dogs in cats clothing. Given the breed’s working origins, they do love to explore and tend to be more adventurous than other longhaired domestic breeds. They probably are best suited to rural environments, as they especially thrive in blended indoor-and-outdoor living situations and do not take well to prolonged periods of confinement.
Maine Coons are excellent hunters. They probably accompanied sailors on shipping vessels to keep them free from mice, rats and other rodents, before the days of rodenticides made this largely unnecessary. This may account for their particular habit of curling up in tight places or odd positions that might appear uncomfortable but apparently keep them safe, secure and out from underfoot. Maine Coons seem to grab the opportunity to catch a cat nap whenever and wherever they can. Maine Coons are also known to use their front paws to pick up food, sticks or other interesting objects and can sit for hours watching and playing with drips of water coming from the tap. They are exceptional climbers, as well.
The Maine Coon is American's native longhaired cat, probably dating back to the late 1700s, if not earlier. Some have suggested that this breed descended from crosses of semi-feral domestic cats and wild raccoons, although this is not scientifically possible. Another legend is that the Maine Coon descends from cats sent by Marie Antoinette to Maine for safety, while she planned her escape from the perils of the French Revolution. Realistically, the ancestors of the Maine Coon probably came to America from Asia and Europe during the 18th century, and probably contain some Angora blood. It may be that the Maine Coon simply evolved from domestic cats that accompanied the early Pilgrims on their voyages from Great Britain.
New England cat fanciers began entering their Maine Coons in local cat shows and county fairs during the 1860s. A Maine Coon reportedly won Best in Show at the first major cat show in North America, which was held at Madison Square Garden in 1895.
The Maine Coon lost some of its early popularity around the turn of the century, with the importation and arrival of fancier, more fashionable breeds, such as the Persian and the Siamese. The breed made a slow but steady comeback starting in the 1950s. In 1953, the Central Maine Coon Cat Club was formed to promote the breed. A small group of dedicated breeders helped the Maine Coon regain its stature in the cat fancy, and by 1976 all North American purebred cat registries had accepted the breed for full championship status. The International Society for the Preservation of the Maine Coon was formed in 1976 as well.
Originally referred to in Europe as the American Forest Cat, this breed was first seen outside of North America in the mid-1970s, reportedly in West Germany. England acquired its first Maine Coons in the mid-1980s. Today, the Maine Coon is second only to the Persian in popularity among purebred cat fanciers in the United States. It has a strong following worldwide. The breed is an agile, skilled hunter that has long been held in high regard for its mousing talents.
Maine Coons are not particularly prolific breeders. They tend to have small, infrequent litters – sometimes with only one or two kittens at a time. Maine Coons are slow to mature, typically not reaching full maturity until they are 3 or 4 years of age. Apparently, some curly-coated, or “rexed,” kittens have popped up in otherwise purebred Maine Coon litters in the United Kingdom, indicating that somewhere along the line a curly-coated cat was introduced into the Maine Coon pedigree. Responsible breeders are making a concerted effort to eliminate that curly-coated gene from their bloodlines. Maine Coons are predisposed to developing a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is more common in middle-aged to older males. Maine Coons may also have an increased risk of developing hip dsyplasia.