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The popularity of these beautiful semi-longhaired cats of 'foreign' type has risen dramatically in the UK over the past few years, and they frequently take the top honours at many cat shows, including as the overall winner at the Supreme Cat Show of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), the feline equivalent of the famous Crufts dog show. Maine Coons are large with dramatic markings and have a rugged outdoor appearance, not dissimilar to that of the Norwegian Forest Cat although they are less 'angular' in shape, and they have a natural long coat without the fluffiness of the Persians. They are one of the oldest breeds in North America, specifically native to the state of Maine in New England, where they are the official 'State Cat'. They are a very strong, tranquil breed that looks and feels very luxurious, although it can take 3-4 years before this breed has fully matured, and their coats usually look best in winter as befits their origins. In 2010, the Guinness World Records recorded a pedigree male Maine Coon named 'Stewie' as the 'Longest Cat in the World', measuring 48.5 inches from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.
The very beginnings of the Maine Coon breed are not known, although it is generally thought that they descended from British cats brought over to the New World by English settlers, combined with longhaired Russian or Scandinavian cats that arrived on ships into the ports of Maine. Some believe that this breed acquired its name of 'Coon' from mating with the raccoon (a small American wild mammal with a striped coat and tail), whilst others claim it comes from Captain Charles Coon, one of the early English seafarers, but the truth is that nobody knows! Their dense water-resistant coats would have been suited the harsh winters of New England as they were wild cats before they became a domesticated breed, and they a suitable size for hunting their own prey. The very first Maine Coon to appear at a cat show was a black and white cat named Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, who was exhibited at shows in New York and Boston in 1861, right at the beginning of the boom in this breed's popularity as a domestic pet. However, as the Persian breed gained popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century with its more luxurious coat, Maine Coons started to fall behind as a show cat and domestic pet until the 1950s, although they were still very popular with farmers because of their ability to hunt. However, by the 1980s there was a worldwide interest in this breed and they are now one of the most popular breeds anywhere. They started to be imported into Britain in the 1980s, being given preliminary recognition by the GCCF in 1988, and eventually gaining full Championship status in 1994.
The Main Coon has a long silky coat, short over the head, becoming longer own the back, stomach, legs and ruff. The coat can come in a huge combination of 64 colours and patterns in the UK, including solid colours, tortie, tabby (both classic and mackerel, but not ticked), tortie-tabby, smoke and shaded, all with or without white, but chocolate, lilac and Siamese pointed are definitely not permitted as they are not natural colours for the breed's origins. The final colour can take several months to come through on a kitten, and it is often very difficult even for the most experienced breeder to see what colours they have. All eye colours are acceptable, apart from blue or odd-eyed in Maine Coons that are a colour other than white. This is a large breed with fully- grown males sometimes reaching as much as 18lb in weight, although the females are usually slightly lighter. One of the most significant distinguishing features of this breed is the tail with its long and dramatic flowing fur. They are sometimes called 'the tail with the cat on the end' as the tail is especially long so that the cat can wrap it around its body for extra insulation. It is thought that today's Maine Coons look very much as their ancestors did.
The Maine Coon is a placid breed that enjoys human company, but they are not dependent on it in the same way that many other breeds are, and are happy to amuse themselves. They will often become attached to one particular member of the household of their choice, but they are not lap cats and prefer to be just with people rather than sitting on them or being picked up and cuddled. Their voice is quite different to the typical feline meow, and they have a rather charming chirpy trill that they use to greet their family, whether they are human, feline or even canine. Their origins as hunting cats in a cold climate also mean that they are fascinated by water and love playing with it, and a dripping tap turns into a favourite game. However, they are not as extrovert as many other breeds, particularly with people they do not know.
Maine Coons are a very long-established breed with no need for out-breeding, and their origins mean that they are strong and deal well with the British climate. They are not known to have any breed-specific health problems and many live to a very good age in the mid-teens. As with all other breeds, they need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors.
Despite their long flowing coats, Maine Coons are easy to look after a regular combing will be enough to remove any loose hairs that might cause fur balls. This breed will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. Cows' milk may give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available.