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12 Huge Facts About Maine Coons

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Thanks to their sizeable bodies and sociable natures, Maine Coons are known as the “gentle giants” of cats. Here are 12 facts about one of the world’s largest domesticated felines.

1. THEY ARE MASSIVE ANIMALS.

There’s a reason why some people have mistaken pet Maine Coons for bobcats—they’re huge. Maine Coons tip the scales at anywhere from 9 to 16 pounds (female) and 13 to 18 pounds (male). Some people like to say Maine Coons are the biggest cat breed, but they actually fall somewhere between Norwegian Forest Cats, which weigh up to 16 pounds, and Ragdolls, which can weigh up to 20 pounds.

2. THEY HAVE COLORFUL ORIGIN STORIES. 

As their name suggests, Maine Coon cats are native to the Pine Tree State. Thanks to their brown coats and bushy tails, one popular (but scientifically unsound) explanation for the breed's origin is that it resulted from semi-wild domesticated cats mating with raccoons. Another theory is that Maine Coons are descendants of six pet cats that Queen Marie Antoinette shipped to Wiscasset, Maine, as she was planning her escape from France during the French Revolution.

A less intriguing—but more plausible—story is that the furry kitties originated from short-haired domestic cats breeding with longhaired cats, which may have been brought to America by the Vikings or European sailors who docked in New England during the 1700s. Since genetic testing indicates that Maine Coons are actually a descendent of both the Norwegian Forest Cat and a mysterious extinct domestic breed, the Vikings are likely responsible.

3. THEY'RE "DRESSED" FOR WINTER.

Maine Coons evolved to survive harsh winters by developing characteristics like large, tufted paws that serve as built-in “snowshoes” and a thick, bushy tail they can wrap around their bodies when they're cold.

Their crowning feature is a dense, water-repellant coat that’s longer on the stomach, ruff, and flanks. These shaggy sections keep a Maine Coon’s lower body warm when it sits on or walks across ice or snow. The fur grows shorter on the shoulders, allowing the kitties to romp through the woods without getting snared by tree branches or bushes.

4. NOT ALL MAINE COON CATS ARE BROWN.

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Maine Coons are often thought to be synonymous with their brown, raccoon-like coats. They actually come in all kinds of colors and patterns, including smoke, cream, cameo, mackerel, and tortoiseshell. But Maine Coon owners don't breed cats with lilac, chocolate, or Seal Point Siamese coloring—the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) disqualifies against these colors, since they indicate hybridization.

5. THEY WON AMERICA'S FIRST POPULAR JURIED CAT EXHIBIT.

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One of America’s first well-known cat shows was held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1895. There, a brown tabby Maine Coon cat named Cosie won the event’s “Best Cat” award. Today, the silver collar and medal Cosey won at the event are on display at the Cat Fanciers Association headquarters in Alliance, Ohio.

For a long time after, Maine Coons were the country’s most coveted breed until Persian cats came into vogue. After that, cat fanciers stopped breeding the prize-winning Maine Coon. The cat became so scarce that some sources say it was thought to be extinct in the 1950s. Aficionados joined forces to rescue the fluffy feline from obscurity, forming the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association in 1968. In 1976, Maine Coons were accepted for championship status by the CFA.

6. THEY’RE POPULAR IN MAINE—AND EVERYWHERE ELSE.

The Maine Coon was made the official state cat of Maine in 1985—but they're also beloved by cat lovers across America. In 2015, Maine Coons were the third most popular breed in the U.S., according to CFA registration statistics. They're also prized in Japan and Europe.

7. A MAINE COON STARRED IN THE HARRY POTTER MOVIES.

A female Maine Coon named Pebbles was one of three kitties to play Argus Filch’s pet feline, Mrs. Norris, in the Harry Potter films. Pebbles was a neutered mama cat that animal trainers "discovered" in a cattery in southwest England. She reportedly wasn’t as responsive to complex training as the film's other cat actors, but she was great at walking across the set and stopping on command. Remember those shots of Mrs. Norris pacing the halls of Hogwarts? That’s Pebbles.

8. A MAINE COON WAS CLONED COMMERCIALLY.

In 2004, a Maine Coon named Little Nicky became the first pet animal to be cloned commercially. After Little Nicky died at the age of 17, his Dallas-area owner, Julie (who declined to give her full name to media outlets), saved his tissue in a gene bank. She paid $50,000 to have the California-based Genetic Savings & Clone, Inc.—a controversial company dedicated to dog and cat cloning—transplant Little Nicky's DNA into an egg cell. A surrogate mother cat carried the embryo, and gave birth to a kitten that was similar in appearance and temperament to Julie's prized kitty.

According to newspaper interviews, Julie was a happy customer. However, she won't be commissioning a Little Nicky III anytime soon. Genetic Savings & Clone, Inc.—which made global headlines for producing the first cloned cat, CC, in 2001—closed in 2006, reportedly for financial reasons.

9. A MAINE COON WAS THE WORLD'S LONGEST CAT ...

Stewie, an 8-year-old Maine Coon, held the Guinness World Record for world's longest domestic cat before his death from cancer in 2013. When fully stretched out, Stewie measured 48.5 inches from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail bone.

10. ... AND THE WORLD'S OLDEST CAT.

Technically, Corduroy—the feline who currently holds the Guinness World Record for world's oldest living cat—is only half-Maine Coon. However, Corduroy's 26-year lifespan puts his purebred counterparts to shame.

11. THEY LOVE WATER.

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Maybe it's due to their dense, moisture-repellant coats, but for some reason, Maine Coons love water. While other cats will steer clear of a full bathtub, a Maine Coon will likely jump into it.

12. SOME MAINE COONS HAVE SIX TOES.

Jamesishere, Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Move over, Hemingway’s cats—Maine Coons sometimes also have six toes [PDF]. Early in the breed’s development, Maine Coons were often polydactyls, meaning they were born with extra appendages on their paws. Some experts estimate that as many as 40 percent of early Maine Coons had this characteristic. It stemmed from a genetic mutation, which some people say helped the cats use their paws as “natural snowshoes” during snowy Maine winters.

Thanks to the rise of cat fanciers' associations, which disqualified polydactyls from competing in the purebred class, the trait was eventually viewed as undesirable. Owners ceased breeding polydactyl Maine Coons, and 6-toed kitties gradually declined in number. However, some non-purebred litters still yield Maine Coons with extra digits.

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Big Questions
Should You Keep Your Pets Indoors During the Solar Eclipse?
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By now, you probably know what you’ll be doing on August 21, when a total solar eclipse makes its way across the continental United States. You’ve had your safety glasses ready since January (and have confirmed that they’ll actually protect your retinas), you’ve picked out the perfect vantage point in your area for the best view, and you’ve memorized Nikon’s tips for how to take pictures of this rare celestial phenomenon. Still, it feels like you’re forgetting something … and it’s probably the thing that's been right under your nose, and sitting on your lap, the whole time: your pets.

Even if you’ve never witnessed a solar eclipse, you undoubtedly know that you’re never supposed to look directly at the sun during one. But what about your four-legged family members? Shouldn’t Fido be fitted with a pair of eclipse glasses before he heads out for his daily walk? Could Princess Kitty be in danger of having her peepers singed if she’s lounging on her favorite windowsill? While, like humans, looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse does pose the potential of doing harm to a pet’s eyes, it’s unlikely that the thought would even occur to the little ball of fluff.

“It’s no different than any other day,” Angela Speck, co-chair of the AAS National Solar Eclipse Task Force, explained during a NASA briefing in June. “On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun and therefore don’t damage their eyes, so on this day they’re not going to do it either. It is not a concern, letting them outside. All that’s happened is we’ve blocked out the sun, it’s not more dangerous. So I think that people who have pets want to think about that. I’m not going to worry about my cat.”

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a veterinarian, author, and founder of pawcurious, echoed Speck’s statement, but allowed that there’s no such thing as being too cautious. “It’s hard for me to criticize such a well-meaning warning, because there’s really no harm in following the advice to keep pets inside during the eclipse,” Vogelsang told Snopes. “It’s better to be too cautious than not cautious enough. But in the interest of offering a realistic risk assessment, the likelihood of a pet ruining their eyes the same way a human would during an eclipse is much lower—not because the damage would be any less were they to stare at the sun, but because, from a behavior standpoint, dogs and cats just don’t have any interest in doing so. We tend to extrapolate a lot of things from people to pets that just doesn’t bear out, and this is one of them.

“I’ve seen lots of warnings from the astronomy community and the human medical community about the theoretical dangers of pets and eclipses, but I’m not sure if any of them really know animal behavior all that well," Vogelsang continued. "It’s not like there’s a big outcry from the wildlife community to go chase down coyotes and hawks and bears and give them goggles either. While we in the veterinary community absolutely appreciate people being concerned about their pets’ wellbeing, this is a non-issue for us.”

The bigger issue, according to several experts, would be with pets who are already sensitive to Mother Nature. "If you have the sort of pet that's normally sensitive to shifts in the weather, they might be disturbed by just the whole vibe because the temperature will drop and the sky will get dark,” Melanie Monteiro, a pet safety expert and author of The Safe-Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out, told TODAY.

“If [your pets] have learned some association with it getting darker, they will show that behavior or at a minimum they get confused because the timeframe does not correspond,” Dr. Carlo Siracusa of Penn Vet Hospital told CBS Philly. “You might put the blinds down, but not exactly when the dark is coming but when it is still light.” 

While Monteiro again reasserts that, "Dogs and cats don't normally look up into the sun, so you don't need to get any special eye protection for your pets,” she says that it’s never a bad idea to take some extra precautions. So if you’re headed out to an eclipse viewing party, why not do your pets a favor and leave them at home. They won’t even know what they’re missing.

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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