Where is the Maine Coon from? The origin.

Where is the Maine Coon from? The origins.

There are perhaps as many as a dozen different theories on the origin of the Maine Coon believe it or not. One of the most unusual is that the Vikings imported Norwegian Forest Cats into North America in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1021AD! They sailed from Norway on those small boats. Sound feasible? 🤔

The Norwegian Forest Cat (NFC) evolved into the Maine Coon (MC). It is not a bad theory as the NFC looks somewhat like the MC but there is no hard evidence for it.

If it is true the Vikings imported the domestic cat into North America well before any others.

The better story which is supported by good historical evidence is that the pilgrim immigrants from England and European immigrants were sometimes accompanied by domestic cats. In Europe at that time domestic cats were well established but there was no cat fancy and no formally accepted purebred cats. These were British and European longhaired and shorthaired cats – moggies. Formally speaking, at that time all domestic cats were moggies.

They landed on the east coast of North America which includes New England and the state of Maine. New England includes Boston in Massachusetts at the highest proportion of polydactyl Maine Coons live in the Boston area. Polydactyly is associated with the MC.

This fact is said to support and add to this MC origin story as sailors believed that domestic cats with more than the usual number of toes were good onboard ship as they could keep their balance better. They were selected as ships’ cats. A rather fanciful theory I think you’ll agree.

But overall, it makes sense that the Maine Coon ultimately comes from Europe if you go back far enough to the time of the first and early European immigrants into North America.

The cold winter climate of Maine would have enhanced the development through evolution of the now familiar shaggy, medium-longhaired MC coat over the 400 years or so that the cat has been in Maine.

RELATED: Origin of word ‘moggy’

The name of course comes from the state of Maine. The second part of the name probably comes from the fact that at one stage – rather remarkably by modern standards – people believed that the MC was a raccoon hybrid! That’s because of the toes and tail. But this is beyond fanciful and entirely fictional. There are other theories – about as many as on the origin of the breed – including a story of a ship’s captain whose name was Coon. He liked cats 🙄.

However, hundreds of years ago science was not what it is today. For instance, Charles Darwin, the founder of the concept of evolution died in 1882 which is about the time that the MC was first recognised as being a good enough barn cat to become a purebred pedigree cat. Breeders latched onto the idea of turning the barn cat Maine Coon into a fancy purebred cat by ‘refining’ the raw material through selective breeding over 125 years or more. The original Maine Coons from the late 1800s in Maine were completely different to today’s extreme-bred monsters. They are world’s apart.

The classic MC look of today: the large square muzzle and huge lynx tipped ears did not exist in the 1890s in the US. They are all the product of artificial selection by breeders.

That’s the time when the cat fancy emerged leading up to the first American cat show at Madison Square Garden (NYC) in 1895 where a Maine Coon won best in show!

Perhaps an MC won because they were and are considered to be America’s purebred cat. We can grant the cat that award even though they originally came from Europe.

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Fundamental reason why domestic cats don’t walk with their owners like dogs

Although, sometimes, domestic cats do walk behind their owners for a relatively short distance (a behaviour characteristic that I explain below), in general, it is fundamentally alien to domestic cats to walk with their owner on a lead like a dog on those nice country walks in the park. If you could talk to them, they’d find the suggestion inexplicable.

cat on leash. These are set up images.
cat on leash. These are set up images. Montage by MikeB


And the reason can be found in their wild cat character and lifestyle. Whenever the domestic cat goes for a walk as in hunting, they do it alone. They don’t indulge in communal walking or pack hunting. There are essentially solitary creatures in this aspect of their lives.

This, of course, is in complete contrast to the domestic dog which is a domesticated gray wolf, a pack animal which lives in a cooperative group. That’s why dogs follow their owner’s on a lead. They are participating in group living.

This reason for the aversion by domestic cats to walking on a lead with their owner is an aspect of their behaviour which is rarely discussed. However, we do see the occasional domestic cat enjoying trekking with their American owner in glorious, mountainous countryside from time to time. America has some fabulous landscapes.

This can be made possible because of short walk mentioned in the first para becomes something much more profound through gradual training and simply doing it a lot (see below).


There are other issues with respect to walking with your cat on a lead. You can’t use an ordinary collar and harness because the cat will slip out of it when agitated.

You’ve got to use a full harness which wraps around the torso. This induces what I call the ‘Thundershirt Phenomenon’.

You may know that you can buy a product on Amazon called the Thundershirt. It is mainly for dogs but can be used by cats too. It keeps them calm when otherwise they might be agitated.

The manufacturers don’t explain how it works. For me it works because the compression on the sides of the body triggers a mentality which I believe is a throwback to when they were puppies.

That aside, the key point to make here is that cats walk alone. I’m reminded of the well-used saying of Kipling, “The cat that walked by himself”. It’s true.

Cat follows owner

If, as my cat does, a cat follows you down the sidewalk for about a hundred yards when you buy the newspaper, it is because they are enacting what they did when they were kittens living with their mother in their den/nest.

At that stage in their lives, they are not fully independent but they are mobile. They follow their mother out of the den on short trips and she will go at a slow pace to keep an eye on them.

Because the relationship between the human caregiver and the domestic cat is identical in the minds of cats to the mother kitten relationship described, they might follow their owner down the road.

Certainly, sometimes, they follow their owner all over the house. It depends on the connection between human and cat but very often you see remarks on the internet, sometimes complaints, by owners saying that their cat follows them around the house too much and it has become irritating.

The underlying reason for this is as described.

Leash training

It is possible to leash train i.e. the cat accepts the leash, and then walking for a short distance but the difficulty is in achieving long walks like a dog.

Feline behavior

A lot of domestic cat behavior can be explained by reference to the relics of kittenhood.

Are cats solitary?

Are all cats solitary animals?

Cats vs dogs – it’s a draw as expected

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Do Persian cats come from Persia?

Today, Persia is Iran. Fortunately, we have at our disposal a well-known study which evaluated the genetics of cat breeds and worldwide random-bread populations. One objective, as I understand it, of this study was to look at the origins of the breeds and see whether the modern-day cat breeds can be traced back to their purported origins.

Young Persian cat
Young Persian cat has his origins in American and European breeders with no connection to his geographical origins. Image: Pinterest.

This group of scientists state, “Even though the early Persian cat may have in fact originated from ancient Persia, the modern Persian cat has lost its phylogeographical signature”. The phrase “phylogeographical signature” means, on my understanding, the linkage of the appearance of an animal with a certain geographical location. What the scientists are saying is that they can’t find any connection between the modern, contemporary Persian with the flat-face and Iran. The connection has been lost if it existed in the first place. Historically people think that the Persian cat hails from Iran but that conclusion is rather speculative and, as mentioned, has now been undermined by the study.

And the reason why there is no longer a connection between the modern Persian cat and Persia as it was called is because of over 100 years of selective breeding by breeders. In the words of the scientist, this cat breed has “undergone selection for an extreme phenotype, which likely involved complex gene interaction”. The word “selection” means selecting certain cats with an appearance which met the standard. This is selective breeding. When you selectively breed you are engaged in artificial selection as opposed to natural selection as espoused by Darwin’s theory of evolution. In other words, you break the route of natural selection. You interrupt and in effect start again with the breeders playing God to a certain extent.

To recap, the old Persian cats going back 150 years or more probably did come from Persia because logically the name indicates that. They would have been longhaired random bred cats by today’s standards, which is somewhat surprising seeing as Iran is a hot country and normally in hot climates you find lots of shorthaired bicolour cats.

However, the contemporary extreme-bred Persian cat with no muzzle and a brachycephalic head has been genetically manipulated through selective breeding so much that it origins have been entirely lost. The origin of the Persian cat is a bunch of breeders in America and in the UK who have operated over something in the order of 150 years.

Interestingly, the scientists found that the Persian cat is now genetically linked with random bred cat populations of Western Europe. I’m going to guess that this is a throwback to the early years of selective breeding in the UK. But that’s just my thought and people should not take that as fact, far from it. The cat fancy in the UK probably started not long before the first cat show that ever took place in 1871 at Crystal Palace, London.

Below is a quote from the study. This is the pertinent and important bit in respect of answering this question.

“Surprisingly, the Persian breed was not genetically associated with random-bred cat populations from the Near East, but grouped with random bred cats of Western Europe. The Persian is perhaps the oldest recognized cat breed and has undergone selection for an extreme phenotype, which likely involved complex gene interaction. Even though the early Persian cat may have in fact originated from ancient Persia, the modern Persian cat has lost its phylogeographical signature.”

The study referred to: The ascent of cat breeds: Genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations on Science Direct. Lead scientist: Monika J.Lipinski.

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In which continent did the domestic cat originate?

The domestic cat did not originate on a continent. It originated in the Middle East which is described as a transcontinental region in Afro-Eurasia. I guess that the area does not have the shape or the geography to be described as a continent. A continent is described as one of the world’s main continuous expanses of land. The impression is that the Middle East is in the middle of other parts of the world (hence its name) and therefore is not defined well enough to be a continent. That’s a personal viewpoint.

Syria is in the fertile crescent
Syria is in the fertile crescent, the place where the first domestic cats existed.

Just to be clear, the domestic cat originates in an area which is now called Syria and the surrounding areas, which is ironic because Syria has been destroyed by a very long war and included in that destruction is the death of very many domestic cats.

First domestic cat in Cyprus grave
First domestic cat in Cyprus grave. Photo in public domain.

The oldest record of a domestic cat that humans have discovered was found in Cyprus (see above). The cat was a domesticated African-Asian wildcat. The scientists believe that the cat was domesticated because it was buried with its owner. Therefore the owner must have requested that he or she be buried with his cat thereby indicating a close relationship.

Middle East
Middle East. Image: PoC.

It has been decided that this cat found its way to Cyprus on a ship from the mainland east of Cyprus which is the general area where the domestication of the cat first happened. So, the domestic cat does not originate on a continent but in an area now described as the Middle East and we think that it happened around 9,500 years ago.

Although there is a possibility that archaeologists will dig up another domestic cat which can be dated to an earlier era. Certainly, the dog was domesticated around 20,000 years ago, it is believed. This is because the dog was and still is a utilitarian animal more so than the domestic cat which is now more or less exclusively a companion.

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