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The Maine Coon is a breed of domestic cat with a distinctive physical appearance. It is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America, specifically native to the state of Maine, where it is the official State Cat.
The breed was popular in cat shows in the late 1800s, but its existence became threatened when long-haired breeds from overseas were introduced in the early 20th century. The Maine Coon made a comeback and is now the second most popular cat breed in North America, according to the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)
The Maine Coon is noted for its large bone structure, its rectangular body shape, and a long, flowing coat. The breed can be seen in a variety of colors and are known for their intelligence and gentle personalities. Health problems, such as feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and hip dysplasia, are seen in the breed, but testing is available to detect the genes responsible for causing these abnormalities.
The ancestral origins of the Maine Coon are unknown. There are only theories and folktales. One such folktale involves Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who was executed in 1793. The story implies before her death, Antoinette attempted to escape France with the help of Captain Samuel Clough. She loaded Clough's ship with her most prized possessions, including six of her favorite long-haired cats. Although Antoinette did not make it to the United States, her pets safely reached the shores of Wiscasset, Maine, where they mated with short-haired breeds and evolved into the modern breed of the Maine Coon.
The face of a Maine Coon
Another folktale involves Captain Charles Coon, an English seafarer who kept long-haired cats aboard his ships. Whenever Coon's ship would anchor in the New England ports, the felines would exit the ship and mate with the local feral cat population. When long-haired kittens began appearing in the litters of the local cat population, they were referred to as one of "Coon's cats".
A theory which is biologically-based, though genetically impossible, is the idea that the modern Maine Coon descended from ancestors of semi-feral domestic cats and raccoons. This could have possibly explained the most common color of the breed (brown tabby) and the bushy tail, which is a characteristic trait. Another idea is that the Maine Coon originated between the matings of domestic cats and wild bobcats, which could explain the tufts of hairs that are so commonly seen on the tips of the ears. There have been reports of domestic cats breeding with bobcats.
The generally-accepted theory among breeders is that the Maine Coon is descended from the pairings of local short-haired domestic cats and long-haired breeds brought overseas by English seafarers (possibly by Captain Charles Coon) or 11th-century Vikings. The connection to the Vikings is seen in the strong resemblance of the Maine Coon to the Norwegian Forest Cat, another breed that is said to be a descendant of cats that traveled with the Vikings.
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