The stunning Maine Coon cat is not really a cross between a raccoon and a domestic shorthair, but there’s a good reason people used to suspect it. When I was growing up in Maine, everyone “knew” Maine Coon cats were half-raccoon and maybe part bobcat, too.
Of course, it’s scientifically impossible for raccoons or bobcats to mate with domestic cats. But, having lived in Maine for many years, owned Maine Coons, and being well aware of the ways of bobcat and raccoon (both plentiful in the Pine Tree State), I wonder. I wonder if the qualities of these mysterious and beautiful animals somehow, by some strange spiritual osmosis entered the soul of this domestic cat breed and changed it forever.
Maine Coon Or Raccoon?
The resemblance is partly in the Maine Coon cat’s tail, which indeed is long, bushy, extravagant, and sometimes ringed—remarkably like a raccoon tail. Like other cold weather animals, such as the arctic fox and Siberian Husky, such a tail comes in very handy on a cold winter’s night when sleeping outdoors, serving as a combination ski mask and muffler. The large, well-tufted ears (sometimes called “lynx tips” in Maine Coon cat enthusiast circles) and big feet (like snow shoes) probably gave rise to the bobcat legend. And of course, like both the raccoon and bobcat, Maine Coons are nocturnal and prowly, but no more so than any other domestic cat breed.
Maine Coon cats are also superior climbers, like raccoons and bobcats, another quality which may have given rise to the legend of their origin. Some people maintain that Maine Coons aren’t “vertically oriented,” possibly because they’re so heavy. However, the fact is that these cats can climb quite well when so inclined. Maine Coon cats can actually do pretty much anything they please.
Then there’s the matter of the water-fetish. Like raccoons, the Maine Coon cat breed is totally fascinated by water in any form. Not only do they not seem fearful of it, they revel in it. Many Maine Coons will spend several amusing minutes every day playing with their water bowl or attempting to turn on the faucet. Sometimes they succeed. They like bathtubs, too. One of my Maine Coon cats would take naps in ours.
Perhaps this cat breed’s fearlessness of water is due to the quality of their thick coats, which are partially water repellent. This lavish cat really has to be felt to appreciate its quality. Although the fur is not as long as a Persian’s, the Maine Coon has a cold-protecting, dense coat that requires careful, twice-weekly grooming with a wide-toothed steel comb. However, the cat’s coat doesn’t mat nearly to the extent of other longhaired cat breeds because the Maine Coon has a shorter undercoat. This is a plus for those families that enjoy the beauty of a longhaired cat breed, but prefer a less grooming-intensive cat.
Another raccoon-like characteristic of the Maine Coon cat is the dexterous use of its oversize paws. It can scoop up a toy or bit of cat food and clench its toes possessively around the item. Some Maine Coons actually dunk the food in water, just like—well, a raccoon. So, although the Maine Coon cat is touted as one of oldest “natural cat breeds” in the United States, there’s always been something just the tiniest bit “unnatural” (at least as far as ordinary cats go) about this big beautiful cat.
Maine Coons Have Personality
One thing completely separates the Maine Coon from any wild animal— its completely social, charming, and family-oriented personality. The Maine Coon cat is for the owner who wants a lot of cat—in every sense of the word. One of the largest of the cat breeds, the Maine Coon also makes his presence known in the most charming way. They take up more room on the couch than the average cat, although they’re equally famous for squeezing themselves into unlikely corners and strange shapes.
There’s nothing not to like about this oversized charming cat. At one time nearly extinct, the Maine Coon now rides near the top of the popular cat charts—and with good reason. The Maine Coon Cat makes an immediate impression: an extremely large, beautifully coated, and gloriously tailed cat breed.
Part of the Maine Coon’s popularity is owning to its unmatched good looks—but the rest is due to its super-excellent personality. You may fall in love with this cat breed’s looks, but you’ll stay in love with its character.
The Maine Coon cat is loyal and friendly, but not neurotically clingy. For those who enjoy the playfulness of a kitten, take heart. This is a slow maturing cat breed—even teenagers sometimes act like kittens. Yet, the easy-going, tranquil Maine Coon will not frazzle your nerves with ceaseless tearing around the house. Probably due to its working heritage, the Maine Coon knows when to dig in and when to take it easy. It’s neither lazy nor an energy waster. Most Maine Coon cats enjoy a good romp early in the morning and again in the evening. The rest of the time they take it easy, like the sensible cats they are.
Maine Coons are devoted to their human family, although they can be cautious (but never mean or shy) with strangers. The Maine Coon’s generous nature allows it to accept children, other cats (including unrelated animals of the same sex) and even dogs with grace. Of course, it’s never wise to leave a small kitten alone with a dog until you know they’re fast friends. Even a well-intentioned dog, if overly excited, can hurt a young kitten. However, it should be said that some Maine Coons enjoy rough-and-tumble games.
The Maine Coon’s Quirks And Qualities
The Maine Coon’s sociability extends even to its eating habits. Many appear to dislike solitary dining and dig in only when other cats or their humans are also sitting down to eat. Remember, this cat is bigger than other cat breeds, it eats more, too.
If you have a very small dog, be prepared to accept the fact that your Maine Coon may grow to be three or four times the size and weight of the dog. This always makes for interesting conversation for your somewhat unnerved guests. Although your Maine Coon will probably boss your tiny dog around, he’s unlikely to bully or harass him. The nickname of “gentle giant” is well deserved—Maine Coons seldom exhibit behavior problems of any sort. They are much too sensible.
In terms of mindset, the Maine Coon cat has been compared to a 3-year-old human child: inquisitive, willful, charming and utterly without conscience. Although usually well behaved, a Maine Coon can make a shambles of your home if the mood strikes. Any cat can shred something expensive, but the sheer size of the Maine Coon allows it to shred more efficiently. This isn’t to say that Maine Coon cats are destructive. As a rule, they aren’t any more than other cats. It’s just that when they do decide to redecorate, they can do about twice as much damage as more modestly sized cat breeds. This doesn’t mean that declawing is a good option for responsible cat owners. It’s safer, more humane, and much cheaper to purchase or install a scratching post and keep your cat’s nails properly trimmed. You can even buy corner-saver scratching posts that connect to the corner of the couch, a spot to which many cats seem attracted. On the plus side, Maine Coons are considered one of the smartest and most trainable of all cats. In fact, many can easily be taught to walk on a cat leash! If you decide to try this, use a harness rather than a collar.
Maine Coons are strong, too, favoring macho tug-of-war games. Cat toys are an absolute must for this cat breed—their intelligence demands active stimulation. Maine Coons are especially fond of the fishing-pole type cat toys, but be forewarned. A Maine Coon can easily snap the cord of flimsier models—select a heavy duty variety. And always remember to put the kitty teaser away after playtime—curious cats, especially kittens, can inadvertently swallow strings and precipitate a serious and very expensive medical crisis.
Another weird play habit of the Maine Coon is their penchant for butting heads with their owners, and I mean that in a literal sense. Large Maine Coons are capable of delivering quite a powerful hit, and I speak from personal experience. It appears to be a form of harmless play, which they prefer to engage in with their favorite person. If that person isn’t available, the cat will then proceed down the perceived line of authority in the household. At any rate, all these macho play habits go far to endearing the Maine Coon to the male of the human species. This is indeed a man’s cat. Even men who say they don’t care for cats are invariably charmed by the immense and playful Maine Coon.
Male Or Female Cat?
Most people agree that of the two sexes, male Maine Coons are more playful and clownish. The female cats seem more dignified, as befits the gentler sex (an arrangement similar to that in the human realm, perhaps). On the other hand, female Maine Coons appear more bonded to the whole family, and males tend to choose a favorite and shrug off the rest of the household, unless they feel they’re getting insufficient attention. (It’s not always good to be the favorite—you get sat on a lot more.)
Maine Coons enjoy participating in family activities, especially those that involve water, such as gardening, bathing, shaving and washing up the dishes. They don’t actually help with any of these chores, of course. These cats just like to watch.
Maine Coon cats aren’t noisy like Siamese, nor are they totally silent. They seldom utter a conventional “meow,” but have a unique vocabulary of their own, consisting of sweet cheeps, harsh purrs and weird trills. Unique among cats, perhaps—but I have to say that the vocalizations of the Maine Coon do bear a striking similarity to the chirps, purrs, coos and trills of the raccoon. Probably just a coincidence.
There’s A Mouse In The House
The Maine Coon is also justly famous for its superior mousing abilities, which historically earned it a place by hearthside, even in the dourest Maine house during the direst of winters.
The highly touted mouse-catching prowess is due not only to the Maine Coon’s quickness (surprising in a cat of this size), but also its immense catcher’s mitt paws. Today, of course, we prize our Maine Coons for more than their hunting ability. Their intelligence, affection, charm, independence, beauty and size make these magnificent cats truly one of a kind. And then there is that wild animal factor…
By: Diane Morgan
Featured Image: olegosp/iStock/Thinkstock