The Maine Coon is a large, semi longhair cat, which was first recognised as a breed in the US state of Maine. The origin of its name is uncertain: the cats have long since been called ‘Coon cats’, possibly from the early myth that the cat was crossed with a raccoon! They were also known as ‘Shags’ at one point – in reference to their thick fur.

There are a number of theories about the ancestors of this distinctive breed , including legends about the hardy Scandinavian cats owned by Viking settlers or possibly even Marie Antoinette’s cossetted Turkish felines being involved in their family tree!

What is certain is that the original ‘Coon Cats’, with their well-tufted ears and paws, shaggy coat, and long tail – ideal for wrapping around themselves – were ideally suited to withstanding the harsh winters on the North East coast of the USA, where the breed was first recognised in the 1860s.

Today the breed is famed, not only for its impressive size (males average 10 to 18lbs, and females around 7-12) and stunning looks, but also for its happy-go-lucky personality, affectionate nature and clownish disposition.

Maine Coons are known as the “gentle giants” of the cat world. They are undemanding and happy-go-lucky, but enjoy being the centre of attention too. In our experience, they integrate well in households with other pet cats and dogs, as long as introductions are carefully supervised and not rushed.

Maine Coons come in a huge colour variety, from the ‘original’ brown tabby (my favourite), through to more ‘glamorous’ tabby combinations such as creams and tortie-silvers, as well as a range of solid colours including blacks and whites. Smokes and shaded colours are possible too, all with or without white!

Although the coat is much less profuse than in a longhair breed, and some claim it is ‘self-maintaining’, it is still best to give Maine Coons a weekly comb through, checking for knots and tangles which can be teased out before causing discomfort or becoming a problem.

Maine Coons are slow growing, and it can take around 4 years for them to reach their full size.

Their stunning looks and tractable  character has made them popular on TV and in film. Most notably, maybe, is the appearance of a Maine Coon as Mrs Norris in the Harry Potter films, and barely a week goes by without seeing them in an advertising campaign.

If you’ve not seen a Maine Coon in real life before, and think they might be the breed for you, try to visit a cat show if possible, where breeders and enthusiasts will be happy to tell you all about owning one. A list of forthcoming shows is published on the GCCF website.

Lots more information on the breed, including photos of most colour combinations, can be found at www.maine-coon-cat-club.com