Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Made in Maine

The first pedigreed cat to claim the “made in America” label, the Maine coon has a long history of charming people

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

They make them big in Maine. Cats, that is. The Maine coon -- the state cat of Maine -- is not only one of the largest domestic cat breeds, but also one of the most popular in the United States. It ranks fifth among the 45 breeds recognized by the Cat Fanciers Association. The laid-back cats enjoy playing in water, take well to walking on-leash, are known to play fetch, demonstrate mousing prowess, and are usually happy to keep four on the floor instead of seeking out the heights that attract other cats.

No one really knows how the breed was developed, but there are a number of fanciful stories behind its origin. One is that the first Maine coon was the result of a hookup between a cat and a raccoon -- or in some tales, a domestic cat and a bobcat. It’s easy to see why those stories popped up, given the Maine coon’s long, bushy tail -- said to resemble that of a raccoon -- and pointed ear tufts (known as lynx tips), like those of a bobcat.

It’s also suggested that they made their way to North America some 1,000 years ago, arriving with Vikings who came, saw, and went back home -- perhaps leaving some of their cats behind to colonize the new land. The Maine coon and the Norwegian forest cat share a resemblance, although breed experts can point out differences in head shape and body type.

Another theory is that Maine coons descend from six of Marie Antoinette’s Angora cats, sent to New England in advance of the French queen. Not as lucky as her cats, she was unable to escape before being taken into custody.

The most likely origin story is that New England sea captains and sailors brought home long-haired cats from exotic ports, and that those cats then mixed with the local domestic cats to create the medium- to long-haired beauties we know today. In 1895, a brown tabby Maine coon named Cosey took Best in Show at the National Cat Show at Madison Square Garden, going home with a silver collar now on display at the Cat Fanciers Association’s Feline Historical Museum in Alliance, Ohio (sadly, closed indefinitely due to COVID-19).

Nicknamed “gentle giant,” or sometimes “coonasaurus,” Maine coons can weigh as much as 25 pounds! It can be a surprise when they open their mouth and out comes a small trill, chirp or coo, as well as the usual meows and purrs, all delivered in a quiet tone of voice.

Besides the large size and fancy ears, other distinctive characteristics include a ruff around the neck; tufted paws; soft fluffs of fur, known as furnishings, inside the ears (protecting the delicate interior from snow, ice and chilly temperatures); and a coat that comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Brown tabby is the classic Maine coon look, but the cats also come in solids, calico, tortoiseshell, parti-color (one color plus white), and more. The only colors or patterns you won’t see are chocolate, lavender and Himalayan (pointed).

Not surprisingly, given their shaggy coats, these cats shed up a storm. If you take one home, grooming will become an important part of your life. It’s often said that Maine coons don’t mat excessively, but that’s only true if you comb or brush them out at least weekly. More often is better.

One health issue to be aware of is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most common form of heart disease in cats. Using a genetic test, breeders can screen adult cats for the mutation that causes HCM before breeding them. Walk away from kittens whose parents haven’t been tested. Maine coons’ large size also makes them prone to hip dysplasia, which you may have thought only affected dogs.

For mouse patrol and companionship, you can’t go wrong with a Maine coon. Given good care and nutrition, the furry giants can live 12 to 15 years -- or even more.

Q&A

Teach pups

not to bite

Q: Our new puppy’s nickname is Jaws. Even though we give her lots of chew toys, which she likes, she bites our hands and feet -- hard. We withdraw attention when she bites, but it doesn’t help. Any advice?

A: Mouthing and biting are normal behaviors for puppies -- it’s how they explore their new environment and people -- but it’s important for them to learn that it’s not polite to put their teeth on humans.

Teach your puppy to replace her mouthing of humans with a chew or other toy. Whenever she mouths or bites your skin or clothes, freeze. Don’t move until your puppy lets go. The more still you are, the less fun you are. As soon as she lets go, give her a proper chew toy. Puppies sometimes mouth or bite humans because they learn it brings attention -- even if it’s negative -- so praise her for calm behavior and appropriate play with toys rather than reacting to biting behavior.

Keep chew toys in hand so that she grabs onto what you’re holding instead of the hand itself. Praise her for chewing on a toy.

You can also walk away each time she bites. This will help her learn to decrease the strength of her play biting so as not to lose your attention. The goal is for her to apply no pressure at all to your skin with her mouth.

Pay attention to when she typically mouths or bites. She may be seeking your attention, wanting to go out to potty, or still be excited after play. Knowing this will help you better focus your training and understand her behavior.

Finally, give her plenty of naps throughout the day. If she’s not sleeping enough, she’ll be less able to control the impulses that can lead her to bite you. -- Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Cat losing fur?

See the vet

-- If your cat is losing fur like crazy, or has patchy areas of hair loss, that’s not just normal shedding. Alopecia, as hair loss is known, can have many causes, including parasite infestations, allergies, and fungal infections such as ringworm. Cats who are losing an abnormal amount of hair may also have accompanying signs such as itchiness, sores or a change in appetite or energy level. Sometimes pain may cause them to chew at or pull out fur. A visit to the veterinarian can help to uncover underlying health problems.

-- While many dog breeds were developed in the United Kingdom and Europe, more than a few can be said to have been “Born in the USA.” They include the Alaskan malamute, American Eskimo dog, American foxhound, American water spaniel, American Staffordshire terrier, Boston terrier, Boykin spaniel, Carolina dog, Catahoula leopard dog, toy fox terrier and Chesapeake Bay retriever, as well as various coonhound breeds such as the black and tan, bluetick and redbone. Perhaps the most surprising of the lot is the Australian shepherd, who isn’t from Australia at all. Canada has its share of native breeds as well, including the Labrador retriever, the Newfoundland and the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever.

-- Does your cat get the “zoomies” at night? Cats -- including big ones, such as the fleet cheetah -- are built for quick bursts of speed that allow them to surprise and take down prey. They can’t maintain their top speeds -- as much as 30 mph for the average domestic cat -- for long, though. Their bodies overheat quickly, and they must stop and cool down after about one minute. Indoor cats who get the zoomies are burning off excess energy that they haven’t expended in explosive chases during hunting. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.