Monday, April 25, 2011

Cat Breed Facts: Maine Coon Cat

The Maine Coon Cat is a naturally occurring breed whose origins have become a part of American legend. Some still believe that the Maine Coon Cat is the result of a mating between raccoons and cats local to New England. There are those who think that the Maine Coon is a descendant of the cats that had been sent to the United States from France by Marie Antoinette. Various cat fanciers also subscribe to the theory that a sea named Coon introduced both Persian and Angora cats to New England and these cats bred freely with existing shorthairs.

The raccoon legend notwithstanding, the true origins of the Maine Coon Cat are likely a combination of many theories. It is certain that early settlers brought the ancestors of the Maine Coon to America. These cats bred freely, creating a breed that is strong, intelligent, and prolific. It is unlikely that these cats were more popular in Maine than anywhere else. Instead, it is reasonable to assume that the breed was first promoted in Maine, hence the addition of ‘Maine’ to ‘Coon Cat.’

The Development of the Maine Coon Cat

Maine Coon Cats began appearing in official shows as early as the 1860s. They were very popular and frequent winners. In fact, in the 1985 Madison Square Garden Show, a brown tabby Maine Coon Cat owned by E.N. Baker was accorded the honor of best cat. However, as cat shows became more sophisticated and imported cats gained popularity, the Maine Coon started to fade from shows, and eventually disappeared altogether.

Despite this, the Maine Coon Cat continued to be a popular outcross for Persians in North America. In the early days of cat fancy in the United States, registries accepted cats of unknown parentage as long as they conformed to the standard of the breed. Since Persians were, at that time, very similar in type to the Maine Coon, any solid color Coon Cat was quite acceptable in Persian breeding programs. The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) allows longhairs to be simply Persian or Angora ‘type’ and not necessarily of a particular breed.

During the years when the Maine Coon Cat was in disfavor, proponents of the breed attempted to regain recognition for the breed. These attempts were thwarted not only by the snobbery of other breeders, but by the inability of the Coon Cat fanciers to develop a consistent Breed Standard. There were also those who insisted that Maine Coon Cats did not possess desirable conformation and that the many colors of the breed could not be controlled through selective breeding. In the minds of many, this meant that a true Standard could not be developed.

Throughout the decades, the idea that the Maine Coon Cat was simply a longhaired version of the American Shorthair was hotly debated. Eventually, it was determined that Maine Coon Cats had to be their own breed. They were larger and longer than the American Shorthair, but had different a different texture and coat quality than the Persian or Angora. In short, there were enough unique qualities to the Maine Coon Cat to recognize it as a distinct and beautiful breed.

Some Breed Standards for the Maine Coon Cat

The Standards for the Maine Coon Cat, as with many other breeds, are quite strict. It is easy to have a cat that is penalized or even disqualified, so those interested in choosing a show or breeding kitten should do so with care.

General: The Maine Coon Cat was once a working cat, and so is solid, rugged, and able to endure a harsh climate. They have a smooth and shaggy coat, an amiable disposition, and are incredibly adaptable.

Head: Medium in length and width, the head of the Maine Coon Cat generally has a squareness to the muzzle. Cheekbones should be high, the chin should be firm, and the nose should be medium long but slightly concave when viewed in profile.

Ears: The ears of the Coon Cat are large and wide at the base, but taper to appear pointed. The tufted tips of the ears make them seem larger than they are.

Eyes: Eyes should be large and expressive. Acceptable eye colors include shades of green or gold, though white cats may have blue eyes or even be odd-eyed. CFA accepts copper-colored eyes, though most associations do not accept copper as an acceptable color.

Body: A Maine Coon Cat should be muscular and broad chested. They are heavy and long, but should be proportioned to appear well balanced. As these cats tend to mature slowly, allowances must be made for younger cats, who may appear ungainly until reaching adulthood.

Tail: The tail must be long and wide at the base, but tapering. The fur should be long and flow off the tail, creating a beautiful plume.

Coat: To conform to the Breed Standard, Maine Coons must have a heavy and shaggy coat, shorter on the shoulders but longer on the stomach and britches. A frontal ruff is desirable but not necessary. The coat itself should be silky in texture and fall smoothly. Some allowances should be made for seasonal variations.

Penalties: Any cat with a coat that is short or overall even will be assessed a penalty.

Disqualifications: There are several reasons a Maine Coon Cat might be disqualified. These include: delicate bone structure, undershot chin, crossed eyes, kinked tail, buttons, lockets, or spots.

The Maine Coon Cat is a popular breed available in a variety of colors, including white, black, red, cream, or many variations of tabby or particolor patterns. Since they are a naturally occurring breed, they are generally free of genetic defects, though inbreeding has become a problem in some lines. They are sweet, intelligent, and unique, making them the perfect companion for most cat lovers.

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