Thought to be descendants of the Norwegian Forest Cat, these long-haired cats are famous for being the largest domestic cat breed in the world.
But, where do Maine Coon cats come from? Keep reading to find out why these gentle giants have a history shrouded in mystery.
Maine Coon cats originate in Wiscasset, Maine where this rugged cat developed distinctive features, such as a bushy tail and a semi-water-resistant coat to survive the harsh winters. Recognized as one of the oldest natural breeds in the United States, this long-haired cat breed is thought to be a descendant of the Norwegian Forest Cat.
Find out how these former ship cats arrived in Maine, and if the folktales suggesting these large cats are related to Queen Marie Antoinette are true.
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Where Do Maine Coon Cats Come From?
Whilst the origins of the Maine Coon at breed are steeped in mystery and intrigue, it is generally accepted that these long-haired cats originate in North America.
Thought to be direct descendants of Norwegian Forest Cats, history tells varying legends of how these longhaired cats first arrived in Maine.
The following three Maine Coon myths claim to explain how the Maine Coon cat breed came to be a native of the state of Maine.
1. Maine Coons Are Part-Raccoon
One of the most popular Maine Coon myths is that these large cats are part raccoons and the result of a semi-wild domestic cat mating with a raccoon.
This myth rose to popularity because the Maine Coon and Raccoon are visually similar and have the following distinctive features:
- Long Bushy Tail
- Water-Resistant Coat
- Thick Fur
- Brown Tabby Colorings
- Black Ring On Tail
- Massive Size
- Semi-Prehensile Paws
- Love Of Water
- Great Climbers
The Raccoon cat myth initially gained support because both Maine Coons and Raccoons have semi-prehensile paws that help them hold onto their meals.
Some Maine Coon cats were also found to have an unusual black ring around their tails, like raccoons do.
Despite the undeniable similarities between these two species, scientists have now discredited this myth stating it is biologically impossible.
Furthermore, while some Maine Coons and Raccoons do share a similar brown tabby coloring, the Maine Coons thick coat actually comes in 75 different colors.
For more information on why this myth gained so much traction, read my article: Are Maine Coons Part Raccoon?
If you’re wondering what Maine Coons are actually related to, read this guide.
2. Viking Ship Cat Myth
The premise of this myth is that Maine Coon descend from the Norwegian Skogkatt or Norwegian Forest Cats kept aboard Viking Ships.
The Norwegian Skogkatt and its counterparts, the Swedish Rugkatt and Danish Racekatte all evolved in harsh climates, and are physically similar to the Maine Coon.
The Vikings found these longhaired cats to be effective mousers able to protect their stock, so liked to travel the seas with these large felines.
According to The International Cat Association (TICA), many Maine Coon breeders think Maine cats evolved when local short-haired cats bred with these long-haired cats from overseas, whilst the boats were moored up on land.
3. Marie Antoinette Myth
The final myth claims there is a link between purebred Maine Coon cats and royalty!
History tells us that during the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette (former Queen of France) fled France on a ship captained by Captain Charles Coon.
Not willing to abandon her six Turkish Angora cats in France, she arranged for her pet cats to be loaded onto the ship with her.
Marie Antoinette’s attempt to escape proved fruitless and she was executed in 1793. However, Captain Samuel Clough kept his promise and released the cats when his ship docked at Wiscasset, Maine.
It is thought these six long-haired cats went on to mate with short-haired local domestic cats residing in Maine, thereby producing the Maine Coon cat breed.
History Of Maine Coon Cats
If we track the Maine Coon history, the timeline looks as follows:
Maine Coon cats first came to the attention of the wider public in the 1860s, when they started appearing at local agricultural fairs in New England, USA.
A black and white Maine Coon named Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines was the first cat of this breed to be documented in 1861.
In the 1870s the Maine Coon was accepted as an official cat breed.
It was not until the first North American cat show took place on 8th May 1985, at Madison Square Garden, New York City, however, that the breed’s popularity soared.
According to the Maine Coon Cat Club, the ‘Best In Show’ award went to Cosey, a female Maine Coon brown tabby owned by Mrs. Fred Brown.
Despite their rise to fame across multiple cat shows, Maine Coon cats nearly became extinct in the early 1900s when many Persian cats were exported to the USA from England.
Whilst the Persian’s popularity flourished, the Maine Coon disappeared from cat shows for almost 60 years.
1940s – 1950s
The Whittemore Cattery was founded, but Mrs. Whittemore decided not to register her Maine Coon kittens until requested to do so by Dr Eugene Eminhizer.
The Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) stated that America’s oldest show cat, the Maine Coon, was EXTINCT!!
This was untrue though, as a few dedicated and passionate breeders kept the breed alive, documenting their parentage and details, whilst keeping them as pets.
A few Whittemore cats appeared in pedigree shows, including
- Princess Sue Of Whittemore – White Female
- Smokie Joe Of Whittemore – Black Male
What Two Breeds Make A Maine Coon Cat?
Maine Coons are descendants of local short-haired cats living in Maine, that bred with long-haired Scandinavian cats brought to North America by Vikings (Norsemen).
Other folktales claim to know the history of the Maine Coon cat breed, and how this large cat breed first came into existence.
Raccoons & Bobcats
One discredited theory suggests Maine Coons are part raccoons, resulting from either a Maine Coon and raccoon mating or a Bobcat and raccoon mating.
Another Maine Coon myth is that these large cats have links to Marie Antoinette, the former Queen of France’s Turkish Angora cats!
Siberian & Norwegian Forest Cats
Alternatively, could the Maine Coon be a direct descendant of the long-haired Siberian cat breed or the Norwegian Forest Cat?
Are Maine Coons A Natural Breed?
Maine Coon cats are a naturally occurring cat breed that originates in Maine, United States.
These former wild cats evolved to survive the harsh winter climate of Maine, physically developing these features to keep them warm in the bitter cold climate:
- Ear Tufts
- Paw Tufts
- Wide Paws
- Long Bushy Tail
The Maine Coons wide paws help differentiate them from other domestic cats since their extra paw width enables them to walk over the snow more easily.
These purebred cats evolved naturally rather than being selectively bred by breeders, making them more hardy and healthy felines prone to developing fewer health issues.
The health problems these beautiful cats are prone to are:
- Spinal Muscular Atrophy
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
- Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)
- Hip Dysplasia
Do Maine Coon Cats Come From Maine?
Maine Coons originated in the 18th Century, in Maine, United States, and are the official ‘State Cat Of Maine’. These cats are native to Maine.
Although it is not known how they first arrived in this North American state, theorists suggest this cat breeds lineage is linked to the ship cats kept aboard Viking ship.
These ship cats had longhair and were released on land when the Norsemen docked in Maine.
British Maine Coon
The Maine Coon cat breed first came to Britain during the mid-1980s.
American breeders delayed sending Maine Coon cats to Britain because they were concerned their treasured cats wouldn’t be treated well, due to British Quarantine Laws.
Over the years there has been much debate regards the Maine Coon’s origins. So, where do Maine Coon cats come from?
Whilst the history of the Maine Coon cat will always remain a mystery, cat experts agree these large cats are not the result of a hybrid between a semi-wild cat and a raccoon.
Instead, it is more likely that Maine Coons are descendants of the Norwegian Forest Cat, also known for its big build, massive size, and long hair.
Wherever they come from, these sometimes polydactyl cats make great family pets.