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Cattitude on PetLifeRadio.comThomas Dock, host of Cattitude

Tom Dock
Cat Reporter
Veterinary News Network

Maine Coon Cats

Known as the “gentle giants” in the cat world, the Maine Coon breed is a truly American cat. Naturally selected by the harsh New England climate, this massive cat has undergone resurgence in popularity since its humble beginnings along the rocky coast of Maine.

Beyond its immense proportions, the Maine Coon is also known for a loving disposition, an almost dog-like fascination with toys, and a remarkable intellect. Many Maine Coon owners have learned that a large smart cat will easily learn how to let itself outside for the night! Learn all about the breed that was once thought to have been created due to a raccoon/cat liaison and stay to learn an important lesson in how to keep you feline friend free from a hidden, but very deadly parasite…the heartworm!

Questions or Comments? Email Tom at:


Tom Dock:  Welcome to the Cattitude channel on Pet Life Radio.  I’m your host Tom Dock and I want to say thanks for joining us once again to learn about everything feline and how to take care of our little kitty cat friends.  Want to thank you if you listened to the first two shows on Persians and Siamese and I hope that today will be another learning experience as we delve into a new breed, a breed that is indigenous here to North America and is the official state cat of Maine.  Of course I’m talking about the gentle giant, the breed, Maine Coon. 

But before I do that I want to say thank you to all of you who have emailed and asked questions.  Want to say hi to Allison and her husband out there.  Allison and her husband are actually now living in a mixed household.  They just got a four year old Chow mix dog to go along with their two cats Louie and Pumpkin.  Pumpkin is Bengal mix and Louie is a domestic short hair.  And I guess that they’ve had a little bit of problem with the dog.  The dog’s wanting to rush and play and you know just kind of rough house with the cats like dogs do and of course the cats don’t know what to do about this.  So they of course asked me what would be a good thing to do.  And they’re doing all the right things already by keeping the cats and dog separate during the day when they’re not home and they even keep a leash on the dog when they are home to kind of pull her back when she starts getting a little rough with the cats.  But I wanted to make sure that we did not leave any stone unturned.  And so I contacted some people at the Veterinary News Network and I talked with one of our certified veterinary behaviorists, this is a board certified veterinarian in behavior medicine.  Her name is Valerie Tines and I want to say thank you to her very much for responding. 

She said one of the biggest things that you really want to think about is to get kind of a third party objective experienced observer in there to make sure that when the dog rushes the cat that it’s not rushing in an aggressive manner.  Some dogs rush to be playful and some dogs rush because they actually do want to be aggressive and it’s a little bit hard for us to tell because we’re subjective, their part of our family.  Now if you’re thinking about adding a dog to your feline household you definitely want to talk with your veterinarian.  Find out if there’s any behaviorists in your area or any good animal trainers that they would recommend and they probably give you some advice as well.  But that came right from our veterinary board certified behaviorist, thank you again Dr. Tines. 

So we’re going to be talking about Maine Coon cats today.  We’re going to also talk about a very serious condition in cats known as Feline Heart Worm disease.  This is something a lot of dog owners and people who again live in mixed breed households, like dogs and cats know about but a lot of cat owners are completely unaware that their cats can get heart worms. 

Before we do that we do need to take a break and that means it’s time for a trivia question.  This should be pretty easy this week if you follow entertainment news.  It seems that one of our pop stars has once again made a social faux pas.  She left her cat at the veterinarian after getting neutered.  And I’m not talking about overnight or for a day but evidently the cat has been there for at least two weeks now.  Do you know who this little social diva is?  We will be right back after these messages from our sponsor.

Announcer:  How dare they open a can of tuna and make a sandwich out of it.  I can see why some of my celebrity pals prefer lasagna.  Well, anyway I did manage to grab myself the canary while I was in there [bird chirps].  Quiet bird, we’re going to hear the rest of my show Cattitude, if you behave I may not eat you until later.  OK Tom you may continue.

Tom Dock: Welcome back to Cattitude, I’m Tom Dock and did you get our trivia question this time?  We wanted to know which one of our lovely female pop stars has once again made a social blunder and if you follow entertainment news and you go to you’ll find out that Paris Hilton evidently got a male cat from an adoption agency last May, right before she went to jail and just recently got the cat neutered in January and evidently has yet to pick the cat up from the veterinary office.  I guess the adoption agency is taking the cat back and taking it away from Ms. Hilton.  Gosh you never know what these little starlets are going to do, do you?

Well that’s enough about that.  Let’s talk about Maine Coon cats.  This is America’s first show cat.  An absolutely striking feline anyway that you look at it from their size, their coloration, their unique ears, their unique paws any of the things they’re just absolutely wonderful cats.  The thought process with most breeders is that Maine Coons originated with domestic cats, the long hairs like Angoras and Persians that were brought over from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and they of course would then inter breed with the short haired domestic cats that were already here in America.  And this is truly a Native American cat first shown in 1878 and the neat thing about this, unlike the selective breeding that we’ve done with Siamese and Persians, Maine Coons appear to be a cat that has evolved through natural selection.  In other words, here you’ve got cats in America that needed to survive the very severe winters and if you live in New England if you’ve been up to Maine, you know how severe the snow can be up there.  That type of selection is definitely going to help find a cat that is rugged and very adaptable.  That’s how natural selection works.  So instead of being a selectively bred breed of cat we can say this is a naturally selected breed of cat.  Now there’s a lot of myths and legends that go along with Maine Coons and I think this is one of the most endearing things about them.  If you look at a Maine Coon one of the things you’re going to first see is of course kind of tabby markings to them but also a ringed tail.  And of course when we think of ringed tail we think of raccoons and the chirping voice of a Maine Coon cat is also very reminiscent of some younger raccoons and so a lot of early settlers actually thought that these were cats that inter bred with raccoons.  Now we know that’s not genetically possible but it makes for a good myth.   Now there’s also a myth of these domestic cats breeding with Bobcats.  Now Bobcats are a completely different genus of cat, they are not related to our domestic cats, closely that is and so genetically that could not happen either. But when you look at the large size of a Maine Coon cat you’re going to see how people could actually think that they were small Bobcats.  And they’ve got the little kind of Lynx points to their ears as well.  The little tufts of fur that come up over the ear points that make them look even more like a Bobcat.

I think I like the legends that are associated with the Maine Coon cat because it kind of goes towards their personalities as well.  One legend says that a Captain Coon [spells out Coon] actually would sail up and down the New England coast, this was an English sea captain, and he was very fond of cats and so he always had several cats on his ship.  And predominant he had again Persians and Angoras which are very long haired.  Well we all know what sailors do when they come into port and certainly Captain Coon was probably not an exception and when he would come into port and come ashore so did all of his cats. And then of course 60 days later a lot of long haired kittens began appearing in local litters and when an owner would see that they would say Oh this must be one of Coon’s cats.  Now that kind of shows the adventurous spirit of Maine Coons and I think that goes to their personality as well.  But there’s kind of a romantic version of their development and this is a legend that’s been handed down over the years about a Captain Samuel Cluff and the French Queen Marie Antoinette.  Captain Cluff, supposedly according to the legend was involved in a plot that was designed to get Marie Antoinette out of France and bring her to Maine.  Well we all know what happened to Marie Antoinette and obviously if Samuel Cluff, this captain, was found to be involved the same thing was going to happen to him so he high tailed it out of there.  He just happened to have a lot of the Queen’s personal belongings and six of her favorite pet cats, which of course were long haired cats.  So he comes to America the cats come to America and that is supposedly again another legendary origin of the Maine Coon cat coming down from Marie Antoinette.  Now we don’t know if that is true or not but we do know that this is a wonderful breed and they have a lot of popularity especially in Maine, they are the state cat of Maine and if you talk with somebody who has these cats, especially if they’re from the New England area they’ll probably look at you and say “yep, that’s some pretty good cat”, and that’s a quote right out of the CFA breed description of the Maine Coon. 

Now these are very large and very energetic cats.  They really took over the show scene when they were first brought onto it in the 1870’s.  In fact there’s a wonderful picture of Cozy who was a brown tabby female Maine Coon in 1895 that won best of show.  I can’t recall where I saw that from, it was probably on the CFA website but it gave a picture of her little engraved silver tag that she won plus the trophy and everything.  The interesting thing though is as Persians started coming along and becoming more popular, Maine Coons started dropping in popularity and actually as of the late 1950’s the CFA declared the breed extinct.  In fact they didn’t think there were any left.  But there were about six breeders that through the 60’s and 70’s worked very hard to get a core of good Maine Coon cats together and actually by about 1980 the CFA granted Maine Coon’s provisional breed status again and now they’re showing again and actually they’ve become the second most popular cat in registrations again per the Cat Fancier’s Association.  So like Mark Twain’s death the Maine Coon’s extinction was definitely an exaggeration.  Again we’re talking about a large cat here, if you want a cat that rivals the size of your dog this is a cat for you.  These guys can reach up to 25 pounds and even about 40 inches in length.  These are very, very long cats.  In fact the Guinness Book of World Records for the 2006 version had the world record holder for longest cat as a Maine Coon.  His name is Verismo Leonetti Reserve Red and he can be seen at and that would be spelled V-E-R-I-S-M-O cat dot com,  And here’s a cat that is 48 inches long and I want you to stop and think about that.  48 inches long, that’s four feet long.  This cat weighs 35 pounds and he’s really about the size of an eight year old child roughly if you think about it.  According to the description here on the website his paw just fits into a size two child’s shoe and the owners say they have to keep an eye on him when they are cooking because he can stand up and put his paws on the counter.  And if that isn’t anything that a dog would do I don’t know, but he’s a gorgeous cat, he’s not overweight at all.  He’s just a really, really big cat.

These guys are slow growers too.  They don’t tend to get to their full size quickly like our domestic short hairs and the Siamese do.  The Siamese, domestic short hairs, even Persians a lot of times by the time they’re six, eight months old even maybe 12 to 14 months for Persians have already reached their full growth, but for Maine Coons their still growing up until about the time they’re four or five years old.  They get a massively broad chest and of course this just gorgeous mane around their head, this rough fur.  And there’s another nickname, other than the gentle giant of cats, sometimes these cats are called Mane [spells out mane] M-A-N-E Coon Cats instead of [spells out Maine] M-A-I-N-E as in the state of Maine.  Maine Coons are very colorful just like Persians.  And you can see them shown in just about any color.  Tabbies, tabby and white, party colors, solid colors the only thing you really can’t see in Maine Coons of course would be pointed patterns, so you not going to see a Siamese looking Maine Coon.  You’re not going to see them with a ticked pattern like an Aussie cat or any of the colors that would show that they’ve been cross bred out to a different breed like chocolates or lavenders.  They’ve got the Bobcat looking ears and of course a very soft long fur.  A nice undercoat with long guard hairs and interestingly enough unlike the Persians, these cats seem to really like to take care of themselves.  They’re very self sufficient cats.  Taking care of licking and grooming themselves and owners report that they don’t have to do a lot of brushing on these cats, which is a really nice thing.  Highly intelligent, very playful, very dexterous cats.  They talk about an increase, the owners that is will talk about how they’ll increase use of using their front paws to eat.  They’ll scoop out kibble of food, to play with water.  This is another thing that Maine Coons like, is they like to play with water.  But the use of the front paws again takes us back to thinking about how when people didn’t really understand where the breeding came from that these cats would be like Raccoons because Raccoons a lot of times would use their front paws to eat and you could see a cat scooping something up to eat, well gosh it sure looks like a Raccoon, it must come from a Raccoon.

I would say if you are going to get a Maine Coon cat you’ll want to be careful with your doorknobs because if you get a cat like Leo here who is 48 inches long, he’s going to be able to open up those doors and you definitely don’t want a cat like this going outside.  Luckily these cats are pretty healthy cats.  They do have a couple of congenital things we need to discuss.  One of those is Polydachdelism, now polydactyl means extra toes, and so you’re going to see six or seven toes sometimes on these cats.  Good Maine Coon breeders are trying to work that out because obviously that’s not normal.  We can also see Polysistic Kidney Disease, and again this is something we talked about with Persians last week, same type thing in Maine Coon cats.  They tend to have a tendency to getting cysts on their kidneys.  Like dogs Maine Coon cats can get hip dysplasia.  And finally they seem to have a genetic predisposition for getting Hypotrophic Cardio Myopathy.  Now Hypotrophic Cardio Myopathy is an enlargement of the heart and it’s genetic in Maine Coon cats but it’s also very common in cats that don’t get enough Tolerene.  And up until the 1970’s and early 80’s a lot of the commercial diets weren’t even adding enough Tolerene and we had lots of heart problems in cats.  Not so much of a problem anymore because the foods have really increased in their quality and so it’s very rare to see a Tolerene deficiency in your cats anymore.   Well that was a quick overview of our Maine Coon kitties and again if you something that your small dog at home as a conversation piece, this is going to be the cat for you.  These cats are absolutely loveable, they like to be around their owners, they will play fetch with you, they like to go for walks and I think this is again one of the most striking cats that you’re going to see.  Go to the CFA website and take a look at some of the pictures there.  They’re gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.  We need to take a break and thank our sponsors for letting us do this show.  I really appreciate Pet Life Radio and everybody who does sponsor us.  We will be right back and we’re going to talk about feline heart worm disease.


Tom Dock:  OK, we are back, back on Cattitude we just got done talking about Maine Coon cats, and I also wanted to talk about, Maine Coon’s they are so large that sometimes people like to take things to excess and if you are like me and you like to kind of debunk some of these urban legends, there’s a great site out there called [spells out snopes] S-N-O-P-E-S dot com. and the reason that I bring that up is there is an email circulating and it’s been around for several years now showing a guy from Canada holding up this cat, pretending to holding up this cat that’s supposedly measures 69 inches from nose to tail and weighs in at a whopping 87 pounds.  Well that’s just not possible folks and I know that you all, all you cat lovers out there know this isn’t possible but this is evidently a little prank that was pulled because this guy is supposedly an employee of the Atomic Energy of Canada LTD and so the cat grows because of nuclear radiation or whatever but it’s totally a hoax and if you want to learn more about urban legends or just check that email that you’re getting that gets forwarded to you from co workers and stuff go to and I think you’ll really enjoy that.

Alright we need to talk about the health of our kitties here and there’s definitely a hidden and very deadly threat out there.  If you are dog owner as well as a cat owner you’ve heard about heart worms, maybe if you don’t own dogs and you own cats you’ve also heard about heart worms but most cat owners, less than 5% of them do anything about or know anything heartworms in cats. 

Now heartworms are a parasite that are carried by mosquitoes.  And they have evolved to parasitize the canides.  And we’ve know for about 100 years that cats can get heartworms but everybody just kind of thought it was a dead end.  That the heartworms couldn’t reproduce and that was it.  Well finds out that we were absolutely wrong and heartworm is much more prevalent than we had ever thought.  It actually started out about 10 years ago when cats were showing up just suddenly dead, with no apparent symptoms whatsoever.  We started doing some necropsies on cats, and when I say we I mean the veterinary profession, started doing necropsies on cats which is an autopsy on cats and they were finding heartworms in the heart and lungs of these cats.  And so a little bit more research has been done and we find out now that heartworm disease in cats is actually more prevalent than feline leukemia or feline AIDS.  Now the national average for feline leukemia accepted is thought to be somewhere between two and three percent of all cats have feline leukemia.  26% of cats in Southeast of the United States show signs of heartworm infection at some point in their lives and 10% of cats have actual heartworms in their heart and lungs.  So here we are we’re talking about a disease that is anywhere from three to five times more prevalent than feline leukemia or feline AIDS and most people just don’t know anything about it. 

So let me educate you a little bit.  Cats get heartworms from mosquitoes just like dogs, but pretty much the similarity to the canine version of heartworm disease ends right there.  Because they are not natural hosts, cats tend to have a much smaller number of worms than dogs do, and they’re very stunted in their growth, they don’t get quite as long and they live much shortened lives.  Now you would think that would be a good thing but unfortunately it’s not and it’s got to do with our cat’s immune system and the size of our cat’s heart.  In both dogs and cats the heartworm larvae after their injected by the mosquito are going to travel through connective tissue and blood vessels and they’re working their way towards the heart and lungs.  In dogs they’ll get up into the pulmonary artery which is the artery leading out of the heart to the lungs and they’ll live there and swim there.  And dogs can live with these guys for quite a while and not show any signs whatsoever.  But our cats, their hearts are so small that these worms get in there and they can actually cause quite a bit of an inclusion.  But the bigger thing that happens is the cat’s body wants to get rid of these worms really badly and cats have very strong immune systems.  And so what will happen is the immune system will overreact sometimes, they cat might start exhibiting some respiratory symptoms and if you take your cat in your veterinarian might say well it’s bronchitis or its asthma.  But that’s not the case.  What we’re actually dealing with is a disease that has been named by the Heartworm Society as Heartworm Associated Respitory Disease or HARD for short.  Now because of the cat’s immune response it is possible for cats to die very suddenly and when I say suddenly I mean within an hour.  You come home, see your cat is OK, you go to the grocery and you come back and your kitty is dead.  That is the unfortunate truth of feline heartworm disease.  As the heartworms start getting older as the larvae start maturing into adult heartworms we actually see clinical signs, the coughing, the bronchitis things like that start diminishing.  But there’s another deadly part of this disease and that is when the adult worms start dying.  Again we start getting massive inflammation, a massive immune response and lungs get injured and again there can be sudden death in our cats.  Unfortunately our cats won’t exhibit specific signs to let you know that they have heartworm disease.  The symptoms for heartworms in cats are very non specific and could be a variety of different things.  Vomiting is a symptom, coughing, sudden collapse, difficulty breathing, or weight loss all of these things are symptoms of heartworm disease, but they’re also symptoms of things that could be less harmful to the cat.  In any case if your cat shows these signs, difficulty breathing, vomiting take them to the veterinarian immediately, it could save your cat’s life.  Veterinarians can test for heartworms in cats, however it’s not the most reliable thing in the world and I’m not saying you shouldn’t get the test done, you should.  But with dogs it’s a very straight forward test.  They draw a little bit of blood they look for certain proteins in the blood and if the proteins are there then they know the dog has heartworms.  Our cats unfortunately it’s not that easy, because cats can have smaller numbers, there may not be the proteins in the blood and so you don’t get a very reliable test.  There also is not an effective or approved heartworm treatment for cats.  So in other words, if your cat has heartworms there’s really nothing you can do about it at this point in time.  There is good news though and the good news like so many things is you can prevent this disease.  You can get heartworm prevention from your veterinarian.  You can get it in an oral formulation or you can get it in a topical formulation, you know just like the flea control medicines that you put right on their back.  That can also, certain of those can also help to kill heartworm larvae and that will help the cat from developing this disease.  And as I said earlier the American Heartworm Society thinks that only about 5% of cat owners actually utilize heartworm preventative.  So that also means there’s probably well over about 75 million cats out there that are completely unprotected from heartworms.  Now what else can you do?  Some people think that if you keep your cats indoors that that would be a good idea.  And of course keeping your cat indoors is a good idea it helps keep them protected from diseases and helps to keep them protected them from predators like coyotes and helps to keep them from getting smooshed from the speeding cars and trucks.  But the unfortunate truth of the matter is that heartworms are carried by mosquitoes and mosquitoes don’t care whether their indoors or outdoors at all.  In fact if you have an indoor kitty they are actually more susceptible because they’re not developing antibodies as quickly as the outdoor kitties and so they are a little bit more susceptible to developing this disease.  In any case, talk with your veterinarian, get your kitty tested, get them on heartworm preventative.  A lot of time your veterinarian can put the heartworm test together with a complete blood panel and that gives you a good base line.  Just like with us our cats should have their blood tested on a routine basis.  So I hope that helped you to learn a little bit about this very serious disease and a little bit about Maine Coon cats today.  Next time we’re going to find another breed to talk about whether its Norwegian Forest cats or Bengal cats or Aussie cats, we don’t know yet but we’re going to have fun talking about it.  And of course we’ll bring you more information from the Veterinary News Network and more news about cats.  Please if you have any ideas that you would like to hear talked about on this show email me at again and I will try to get your suggestion on the air.  I really appreciate everybody who has emailed and said hi to me and I just want to thank our sponsors.  Also this is a very good thing that I think they are doing, I know a lot of people are downloading this and I’m hoping that it helps you understand your feline cat a little bit better.  So go out there, go have fun with your cats and we will see you next time on the Cattitude channel.

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