General

The Origin of the Maine Coon Cat

Origin

The Maine coon cat plays a role in the history of the state of Maine and is the state cat. Although they are from Maine, there is more depth to their true origin.

There has been some debate on the origin of coon cats with varying theories, but some of these theories hold more water than others.

Theories of the Coon Cat’s Origin: Viking Cats

Origin

One theory that seems to be more likely than the other ones is that of Viking cats. This theory suggests that Norwegian cats, commonly called Norwegian forest cats in the United States, interbred with the local cats when they came to the United States. This theory is primarily backed by the similarities in appearance between the two: long hair, and tufted paws and ears.

However, despite the fact that a lot of people may favour this idea, Dr Christine Hoyt, owner of a cat hospital in Scarborough, dismisses this theory, stating that it isn’t likely. She states that despite those physical similarities, they only look similar because of the pressures that the environment introduces to the cats. This alters their appearance slightly and makes them look more related.

Theories of the Coon Cat’s Origin: Bobcat and Domestic Cat

Origin

Another theory is that the coon cats are the interbred result of the bobcat and domestic cats. The reasoning for this theory is almost identical to the previous theory in which the similarities lie within their tufted ears and paws.

Theories of the Coon Cat’s Origin: Racoon

Origin

Steering away from the physical similarities, the next theory focuses on the name “coon cat” and starts to dissect it in a literal sense. The conclusion of this alleged dissection is the theory that coon cats are the interbred result of a raccoon and a cat. As most could conclude, so long as they have knowledge about how breeding between animals, this theory is quickly disregarded.

Per Dr Hoyt, cats cannot be interbred with bobcats or raccoons. Being that this is biologically an impossible answer to the common question regarding the Maine coon cat’s origin, it’s surprising that it hasn’t yet been crossed off on the list of theories.

Although those are the most common theories, there are other theories that more specific and haven’t been able to gain all that much attention.

Theories of the Coon Cat’s Origin: Marie Antoinette and Captain Coon

Origin

One of these specific theories is that Marie Antoinette was smuggled by Captain Samuel Clough and several of her pets were on the ship; these pets being longhaired cats. Therefore, the cats made it to America.

Another specific theory involves another Captain, this one being named Coon. The theory suggests that he travelled with several longhaired cats of his own. These longhaired cats were popular in England. The idea here is that the cats travelled to the United States with Coon and when they reached the shore, they were referred to as “Coon’s cats”.

Some of these theories are a bit of a stretch, as usually happens with uncertain situations. Some people may take creative liberty when sharing stories about potential origins, and eventually, it can have a similar effect to the game Telephone.

The True Origin of the Coon Cat

Origin

Dr Hoyt states that the reality of the situation is a lot less exciting and stays further away from the fantastical stories. At the end of the day, she says that Maine coon cats came to be simply due to the process of natural selection.

We know for sure that these cats came to America from Western/Northern Europe at some point during the 1600s or the 1700s, thanks to the Puritans. The idea is that the coon cats are the descendants of those cats.

However, it still begs the question, why do coon cats look so similarly to Norwegian forest cats? As mentioned previously, this is due to the pressure put on the species by the environment. In this situation specifically, the harsh demands of the climate can take two separate species and push them to be more closely related due to the way that they are forced to adapt.

These similar adaptations can be seen in several examples: humans and koalas are not at all related, yet we both have fingerprints. Bats and birds aren’t related at all either, yet their wings are very similar to one another.

Touching back on the similarities between the coon cat and the Norwegian forest cat, both species are large cats with large feet and their double coats are similar in the sense that they are incredibly thick. They also have extra tufts of fur on their ears and in between their toes. When you take into account the incredibly cold weather, it’s needless to say why this excess of fur is necessary.

The Coon Cat’s Size

Origin

Thinking about a coon cat weighing almost twice as much as a domestic cat makes more sense when you look at the comparison between the same animal in a colder climate versus a slightly warmer climate. This consistent difference is because larger animals prove to do better in colder climates.

The reasoning behind this can be found in Bergmann’s Rule which states that larger-sized species are typically found in colder climates, therefore, the smaller-sized species are found in warmer climates.

However, this doesn’t even entirely explain the large size of the coon cat. Some people have decided to selectively breed these cats with the intention of making them larger which means that they are larger now than they would’ve been had only natural influences played a part in their adaptations.

The Polydactyl History of Coon Cats

Origin

Their large feet which have been compared to snowshoes in the past are also known for having an excess of toes. This is called “polydactylism” which simply means that there are more than five fingers or toes per hand or foot respectively.

An interesting twist to this infamous mental image that people have of coon cats is that on average, they don’t have an excess of toes when compared to other groups of cats. It’s likely that some people may think that these cats have an excess of toes simply due to the larger size of their feet.

It’s also possible that polydactyl Maine coon cats have become a thing of the past due to the fact that they were thought to be related to witches. Although they may have needed extra toes at one point in order to adapt to their ship life, this trait was seen as a flaw in another time. These cats were killed rather frequently in order to avoid reproduction, as people wanted to put an end to the undesirable trait. Similar to the size aspect, selective breeding also helped to push the polydactyl trait out of the common set of traits.

Coon Cat Popularity

Today, not only are these cats loved and widely desired, but they are one of the most common and preferred types of domesticated cats. These cats are also thought to be the dogs of the cat world due to the fact that they have the potential to grow to be larger than small dog breeds.

They are also known to be great pets for families as they are playful and affectionate, with plenty of room in their hearts to love all members of a family.

Regardless of the differences between the most outlandish theories and the truth, it’s hard to deny how interesting the species truly is. The Maine coon cat, despite its larger size, is incredibly affectionate and seeks out human attention. These cats would make for a fantastic addition to any family and are almost guaranteed to never want to leave their owner’s side.

Caring for a Coon Cat

Origin

Fortunately, these cats are also easy to care for. Despite their thick coats with sporadic tufts, brushing them only once a week will keep them soft to the touch. Simply being around their owners is sufficient for them and will help to keep their content, but they are also intelligent and playful creatures, so those aspects of their personality should also get their fair share of attention.

With all things pointing towards reasons to give yourself the opportunity to fall in love with a Maine coon cat, it’s hard to ignore their winning personalities, their undeniable beauty, and all of the things that set them aside from the other common cat breeds.

How the Coon Cat has Adapted Through the Years

Origin

As one of the alleged original cat breeds in the United States, the Maine coon cat has adapted to near perfection throughout the years. The cold weather played a role in keeping this breed away from human civilization and therefore played a role in preventing interbreeding. This could be the reason behind the fact that this breed is as common as it is.

The lack of interbreeding has kept the species fairly consistent throughout. Despite the fact that every animal has their own personality, people can expect Maine coon cats to have the same characteristics and exhibit the same behaviours as one another.

For those who are fascinated by the mystery of their origin alone, the Maine Coon Cat can be that much more appealing. This adds a level of charm to the species that other breeds may not have. These beautiful cats were even participating in cat shows consistently until Persian cats, the similar, but more exotic, longhaired breed stepped into the limelight.

When Maine coon cats were reintroduced into cat shows, those with the polydactyl were not permitted as it wasn’t seen as an aesthetic trait. Eventually, there was a standard put into place that protected these cats from this discrimination, but it wasn’t long after that the gene started to disappear.

Being such an adaptable breed that has been able to rise to the occasion rather than being harmed by any external pressures shows how truly hearty the breed really is. The fascinating breed is widely sought after, and it’s not hard to understand why that is.