History

The History of Maine Coon – Historien

av Anne Marit Berge

Maine Coon is a natural breed of cats that appeared in the state of Maine on the northeast coast of the United States. It is considered a very old breed.

An Old Natural Breed – En gammel naturrase

The first descriptions in literature includes the The Book of the Cat from 1903 when Mrs F. R. Pierce from Maine wrote the chapter on the Maine Cat (Pierce 1903). Mrs Pierce describes cats in the 1860s and also how these cats have been around in Maine for “as long as anyone can remember”.

In 1901 a newspaper presented the breed in an article about raising cats to sell: “Coon-cats have been recognized as a distinct breed in Maine for so long that the memory of the oldest inhabitant runs not back to their beginning. You will find several of them in almost any village in that part of the world” (Bache 1901). The cat was presented in cat shows as early as the 1880s. The most common variety was the Brown tabbies, but white cats were also known (Pierce 1903).

 

Genetic background – Genetisk opphav for rasen

The age of the breed is supported by genetic testing of cats, published in a scientific journal in 2008. The researchers tested genetic similarity across breeds and regional housecat populations to create a phylogeographical figure (see below). Genetically the Maine Coon is quite close to random housecats found in the New York area of North America (Lipinski 2008). This could be an indication that the breed has been found in America for quite a while. The breed is more distantly related to Norwegian Forest Cats and Siberians who are closer to each other and to European breeds. (Housecat populations shown in italics.)

Lipinski 2008 phylogenetic map of cat breeds

Phylogenetic map of cat breeds from Lipinski 2008. Housecat populations in italics.

Compared to several other breeds, the inbreeding coefficient for Maine Coons were among the lowest for pure bred cats, only surpassed by Siberians, Norwegian Forest Cats, Japanese Bobtails and Sphynx (see below). The breed has a high degree of heterozygosity. These are both strong indications that the Maine Coon is quite old.

heterozygosity cat breeds Lipinski 2008

“Genetic diversity indices of breeds, random bred populations and wildcats: Light bars represent observed heterozygosity (HO) and dark bars represent the inbreeding coefficient (FIS). Populations listed in ascending order of heterozygosity, breeds are on the left, random bred populations in the middle, and wildcat populations to the right. Y-axis represents the proportion of heterozygosity or inbreeding coefficient.” (Lipinski 2008)

 

The Maine Coon cat was popular around the turn of the century, but because of factors like extensive selling (Backe 1901), the wars and the introduction of more exotic cat breeds to the American market, there was a decline of Maine Coons until the 1960s. By then many thought the breed had died out and disappeared.

 

Foundation – de første registrerte kattene

In the early 60s enthusiasts began to register and breed again, and trace and register cats in Maine and other northeast states. A new interest in the breed came, and new breeders. “The Maine Coon Cat is truly the every day cat of New England. Many still do barn-duty and many more are ordinary house pets. Through the efforts of a dedicated group of breeders in the ’60’s, the Maine Coon Cat has found its way back to the fancy show halls, since its heyday in the earliest cat show of America in 1895.” (Kus 1990)

Registration in pedigree books started in the 60s, so the oldest lines we know today can be traced back to the Foundation Cats from that time. Since then more than a hundred Foundation cats create the basis for the Maine Coon breed.

Foundation Cat = A novice cat with no registered parentage, being the first cat in a line of pedigree cats. All breeds start with the registration of Foundation cats for the breed.

Alle raser starter med “foundation stock”, novisekatter uten stamtavle, men med akseptert bakgrunn for å bli godkjent i rasen og registrert i en stambok. Slik starter rasekattene våre. Kravet de fleste oppdrettere setter for å være en korrekt novisekatt for Maine Coon, foundation, er at den har opphav fra det nordøstlige Amerika, staten Maine og resten av New England i USA og grenseområdene Canada, ved Atlanterhavskysten og rundt de store sjøene.

Foundation-kattene er markert i PawPeds database med opprinnelsesland (og ofte stat) i firkantklamme bak navnet, slik som [Maine, US]. For kattene lagt inn i PawPeds kan man klikke på “Foundation” for å få opp en liste over alle Foundation-katter som ligger bak den enkelte katt.

Først sent på 1960-tallet begynte systematisk innsamling og registrering av kattene i stambok: De første Maine Coon Foundation. Framover mot 1980-årene ble det samlet inn og registrert flere hundre foundation-katter F1.

Fem foundation-katter og deres avkom ble ekstremt populære utover 1970- og 80-tallet, og tross stor genbase til å begynne med, så har de fleste MCO i dag 70-75 % av sine gener fra disse fem mest populære, Top 5 foundation.

  • Andy Katt of Heidi Ho – født 6. april 1969, fra Maryland
  • Bridget Katt of Heidi Ho – født 10. april 1969, fra Florida, langhårskatt med perseropphav
  • Dauphin de France of Tati-Tan – født 20. mai 1967, fra New York state
  • Tatiana of Tati-Tan – født 24. des 1965, også fra New York state
  • Whittemore Smokie Joe – født omkring 1965, den eneste av disse “Top 5” som faktisk er fra Maine

Det ble også tatt inn Foundation fra vestlige stater som Idaho, midtvesten som Wisconsin, og så langt sør som Pennsylvania og Virginia. Det ble samlet inn mange noviser gjennom hele 70- og 80-tallet.

The Maine Coon Heritage Site (del av PawPeds) har intervjuer med mange av de tidlige katteriene og oppdretterne.

The Gene Pool and Genetic Variation

As particular show lines became more popular, cats descending from a few lines were used more and more in breeding. Today most Maine Coons descend from these cats, and a large part of the genetic pool is from the Top 5 foundation cats and the so-called Clones. A typical Maine Coon will have 70-75 % of its genes from the Top 5 cats, and 35-40 % from the “Clones”, a handful cats that were extensively linebred, all from the same dam and sire. This is one of the challenges regarding genetic diversity in the breed.

The top 5 of the Maine Coon foundation cats are:

  • Andy Katt of Heidi Ho – about 20%
  • Bridget Katt of Heidi Ho – about 20%
  • Dauphin de France of Tati-Tan – about 15%
  • Tatiana of Tati-Tan – about 8%
  • Whittemore Smokie Joe (or Smokie Joe of Whittemore) – about 7%

Photos from PawPeds.com

It is estimated by the breeders who created the PawPeds database for Maine Coon, that the genetic make-up of the average pedigree of cats around 2010, when traced back to foundation, contains approximately:

  • 70% of the top 5 cats
  • 55% of the top 3 cat
  • 40% of the top 2 cats
  • 35% clones

 

Read more about the Top 5 Foundation cats and the Clones at the PawPeds website.

Maine Coon in Norway

The breed is quite new in Norway, but has become extremely popular. For the past few years it has been the largest breed of all registered breeds in Norway. In 2011 the NRR (Norske Rasekattklubbers Riksforbund, FIFe member) registered a total of 3850 cats, 810 of these were Maine Coons. That is a total of 21 % of all purebred cats in Norway. In 2019 the numbers are even higher.

In 1994 when NRR started registering cats in a computer database, there were Maine Coons among them. The first Norwegian Maine Coons came here from Sweden which saw its first import Koonluv Dear Boopsie in 1986, and the first Swedish litter was born in 1989. The first known owner in Norway who bred a couple of litters in 1994-1995 was Nina Aune in Stjørdal, Trøndelag, av Blåtind (N) cattery. She had cats from Sweden. However she gave up the line after these two litters, and as far as we know, none of these cats are found in today’s lines.

Among the breeders today with the longest history in Norway we find Solveig Iglebæk with S*Lindevoll’s cattery prefix who lived in Sweden when she registered as a breeder in 1991 to 1995 when moving back to Norway, and Liv-Benthe Prytz with husband Arvid in the north of Norway with cattery prefix (N)Arctic Coons starting in 1997. Both Iglebæk and Prytz got their first cats from Swedish breeder S*Glowcoons, Annika Gustavsson. Her cats were of very good quality with good show results and formed the basis for the first Norwegian lines.

S*Lindevoll had their first litters registered in Sweden, and first Norwegian litter in 1997. The mother, EC/EP S*Glowcoons Frexinette DM born 23 January 1995 in Sweden and owned by Iglebæk was the first Norwegian Maine Coon Europa Champion female. She has hundreds of descendants and is found in the pedigrees of many lines in Norway and other countries. She became almost 17 years old and passed away in 2011.

Prytz and another breeder, Nan B. Braathen at (N)Honey Hill’s got two sisters from the same litter. Honey Hill’s later stopped breeding Maine Coons. Arctic Coons had their first litter in Nov 1997, and from 1999 when their second combination litter was born, they were breeder of the year of category II NRR in Norway for the next ten years.

Since the introduction of the Maine Coon in Norway there has been a split between two groups of breeders. One group is more concerned about show types with the most feral look, perfect ears, box and size, while the other group is smaller and prioritize health testing, preventing inbreeding and finding outcross lines. This is also the background for there being two Maine Coon breed clubs in Norway. In 2020 there are signs of better consensus between various breeder groups about what is important for the future of the breed.

During the 25 years Maine Coons have existed in Norway the situation for stud males has changed a lot. In the early days it was common to borrow each other’s males, and not all breeders would own a stud male. Today it has become rather unusual to lend and borrow stud males, and most studs are sold with restrictions about lending and some also about selling further breeding stud males from them. This is a great concern among several breeders now, as it could not only prevent the most ideal matings but also restrict the genetic pool unnecessarily.

In 2002 Prytz imported Yukon from Germany, and at the time the rules were extremely strict and the bureaucracy complicated. Rabies vaccines could not be given until the cat was a year old, and with the subsequent testing and quarantine, the cat would be a year and a half before getting to Norway. This has fortunately changed, so now importing is fairly easy and has become quite common.

A lot of breeders now import cats, especially stud males. They come from Sweden (most common), Denmark, Finland, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Check Republic and Russia; there seem to be a growing number of imports from Eastern Europe.

NRR (FiFe Norway) has almost 25 000 Maine Coon registered in their online database, by 2020. Each year around 20 new breeders are registered, mainly in NRR, and from the first cats came to the country around 500 breeders have been registering kittens.

 

Inbreeding and Genetic Variation

Avlstrategier – Breeding Strategies

MyCatDNA screening and Genetic Diversity in the breed

 

References

 

Comments are closed.