Devout cat lover—had cats all my life. They all have their own unique personality, but the Maine Coon has definitely become my favourite.
All About Maine Coon and Ragdoll Cats
As a natural-born cat lover, I've had pet cats all my life; all moggies, with perhaps the exception of two Persian blue sisters (Tiptoes and Fred), although even then I don't think they were thoroughbreds.
It was a few years ago when we became the proud owners of our Maine Coon half-breed Ragdoll cats, Greebo and Dippy. It was the start of an adventurous journey as I was soon to learn, as Maine Coon cats are not the same as your everyday moggy, but quite separate with very distinctive features. It's been quite a new experience for us in caring for these two most wonderful cats.
Being a cat-lover, I was keen to understand the origins of our domestic moggies. As much as this article is our adventurous story of Greebo and his sister Dippy and their antics as they work paw-in-paw to make our house their home, it is also about the origin of the domestic cat.
The Origin of the Domestic Cat
So, how did the domestic cat originate? The first thing to tackle is the Latin terminology:
Feline basically means 'part of or belonging to the family of Felidae'; Felidae means 'all cats'.
The Latin word we're most interested in for domestic cats is Felis. Felis is the genus of small cat species (as opposed to large cats like lions and tigers) in the Felidae family in which our domestic cats belong (this includes wildcat ancestors to the modern-day moggy).
The Journey From Wildcats to Domestic Cats
The Felis genus dates back to about 12 million years ago and gave rise to many of today's small cat families including the Felis lunensis (Martelli's cat), which first appeared in Europe over 2 million years ago. This means that the wildcats that our domestic cats descended from, although bigger than today's moggies, are not big cats like lions and tigers; they are much smaller and closer to the size of a Maine Coon cat.
Here are some important facts regarding species origin:
- About 50,000 years ago, the Felis lunensis wildcat migrated from Europe to the Middle East to become the steppe wildcat (Felis silvestris ornate).
- Around 10,000 years ago, the steppe wildcat migrated east into Asia and southwards to Africa.
- Around 9,000 years ago in Europe (at the end of the last ice age), the Felis lunensis made it across into Britain.
Based on genetic evidence, it would seem that the modern moggy (Felis silvestris catus) is a direct descendant of the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) and was domesticated around 10,000 years ago in the Middle East.
Humans and Cats Were Buried Together
There is also archeological evidence from a Neolithic grave in Cyprus that shows that a human and cat were buried together; given other supporting evidence, it is highly likely that the Felis silvestris from Africa (domesticated in the Middle East around 10,000 years ago) was beginning to play an important role in the lives of humans in the region around Turkey around 9,500 years ago.
Wheat and Rodent Control
Wild wheat became domesticated in Turkey about 12,000 years ago, which is the time humans in the area switched from being hunter-gatherers to farmers. The wheat stores from the harvest would have attracted a lot of rodents, so the introduction of domesticated wildcats 9,500 years ago to protect the wheat harvest from rodents would have been a great asset to humans. Hence, it was instrumental to forge strong bonds between humans and cats—eventually leading to the moggy we all know and love today.
The Origins of the Maine Coon Cat Breed
The precise origin and history of the Maine Coon is unclear. What is known is that Maine Coon cats are native to the state of Maine and descended from local short-haired domestic cats that bred with long-haired cat breeds from Europe (possibly England); the long-haired cats were introduced to the region by maritime activities a few centuries back. This accidental union of two breeds of cats has produced a unique oversized, affectionate and intelligent breed of cat that Americans should be proud of.
The original cats tended to be brown tabbies, but these days, with their variations in colour and pattern, no two Maine Coon cats are the same; although, their long and flowing tail tends to give a bit of a raccoon-like look from the back.
Initially, they lived as American wildcats, predominantly on farmsteads where they were a welcome asset to farmers because of their natural hunting abilities and large muscular bodies. This made them ideal for catching unwanted vermin.
Coat Colour and Coat Type
Maine Coons with their long, shaggy, double-thick fur coats—a waterproof top-coat and soft undercoat—are ideally equipped for the cold climate in Maine from whence they originated. But best of all is their high intelligence and their warm affection—making them the perfect gentle giant for any welcoming cat-loving family. They are very large and very heavy for domestic cats, and they are placid. Not to mention, they are exceptionally intelligent (as you can see in Greebo's eyes from the photos below.)
Maine Coon meows are often quite different from ordinary cats; they can make a trill-like sound, as our cat Dippy does, or a chirping-type noise rather than the meow.
The Origins of the Ragdoll Cat Breed
The Ragdoll is a more recent American breed and was selectively bred by a cat breeder in the 1960s. They are much larger than the average domestic cat, and they also have a placid, gentle nature and a thick fur coat.
What Makes These Breeds Special?
Most noticeable is that Maine Coons are bigger, heavier and more intelligent than you're your average moggy and other domestic cat breeds. Ragdolls, although not as bright as Maine Coons, go limp just like a rag doll when they are picked up. This is considered one of the breed's exceptional traits.
Big Brother 'Greebo' and His Little Sister 'Dippy'
Greebo and Dippy (Maine-Coon Ragdoll cross-bred moggies) are brother and sister and have very different characteristics and personalities. They are each lovable in their own way. (Although Greebo, with his puppy-like eyes, appealing personality and gentle, soft nature, tends to take the limelight.)
Although their parents are moggies and not purebred (their father is a typical Maine Coon; their mother is a typical Ragdoll), both breeds are distinctive with many characteristics quite different from other domestic cat breeds; so even as half-breeds, they're not your typical moggy. (A 'moggy' is an affectionate British term for a mixed-breed house cat—the cat equivalent to a mongrel dog.)
Greebo, our star pet, was named by my son after the famous cat in Discworld, and Dippy got her name, not because of her black tail (which looks like it's been dipped in black paint), but because she's been dippy since she was a kitten (in comparison to Greebo); although occasionally she'll surprise us.
Greebo and Dippy's Close Relationship
The two have been together since birth, and in spite of their difference in size and intelligence, they are inseparable; they live, eat, sleep and play together, and occasionally will work together to solve problems. Usually, being the brighter of the two, Greebo will lead the way; but, being the big, gentle brother, he will share willingly.
They Work as a Team
The first time we witnessed them working as a team was when they were still kittens: Greebo (already quite strong and heavy) put his weight on his front paws on the foot peddle of the peddle bin in the kitchen, and Dippy jumped in the waste bin to forage for tasty scraps and brought them back out in her mouth to share with Greebo on the kitchen floor. We only became aware of this when we heard rustling in the kitchen and went to investigate.
They Have Voracious Appetites
On another occasion, after we had our weekly shopping delivered, a month's supply of cat biscuits was temporally left on the dining room floor while our son was taking other groceries down to our food-storage shed. I heard rustling from the living room, and on investigating, found that within just a minute or two, Greebo had bitten through and ripped a gash in the side of one of the bags of cat biscuits. Greebo was contently sitting back while his sister was tucking into a quick, free meal.
They Are Quick Learners
In fact, we have to lock their biscuits away at all times now. At first, we kept their biscuits at hand in a large, square biscuit tin, until Greebo worked out how to open it. When we started feeding them using cat-biscuit distributor balls (which they love), my son would place the biscuit tin on the floor near their feeding time to open the tin and fill their interactive food-dispenser toys (food-distributor balls). Each time Greebo would be watching, and after only a few occasions, he decided to have a go at opening the biscuit tin.
They Can Open Latches
We sat back and watched with interest. At first, Greebo made the obvious but understandable mistake of sitting on the biscuit tin to try to pull the lid off. He quickly learned (within two days) that he needed to sit next to the biscuit tin and pull the lid upwards with his claw. Once he learned that, it took him about five minutes to open it the first time, but with practice and over just a few days, he got it down to less than a minute.
They Are Adaptable
Now for the real challenge: By leaving their biscuit tin on a shelf in plain sight, Greebo would just help himself and share with Dippy. We started to keep their biscuit tin in a kitchen cupboard, only to find that overnight, Greebo would raid the cupboard and feast on the rewards with his sister. We then moved their tin to a kitchen wall-unit, but it made no difference. Greebo would still get up and open the wall-unit cupboard overnight and help himself. Now we keep their biscuit tin shut away in a cupboard and locked in a separate room where the cats can't get to it.
Tip: Get a Small Dog Flap Big Enough for Maine Coon Cats
When we had Greebo and Dippy, we already had a cat flap to let them out into our garden. At first, this was fine, but within a year, Greebo learned how to open it. As pet-lovers who are attached to our pet cats (although I'm sure they'd be fine), we do worry when they are out—we can't settle to sleep until they are in and we know they are safe.
For this reason, we let them out during the day and call them to come home at dusk. That's something that's remarkable about these two lovable cats: Like a dog, they come when called, unlike all the other cats I've had that could only be enticed back home with food; and even then, only in their own time.
They Figured Out How to Open the Cat Flap
The cat flap was operated by a dial with four settings: open, closed, open inwards-only or open outwards-only. When they were about a year old, Greebo worked out that by pulling down on the dial with his claw; he could turn the dial until the open position was reached, and then he could let himself out.
I Designed a Device to Keep the Cat Flap Secure
Endeavouring to combat this security breach, I made a door from thin plywood that fits in front of the cat flap and bolts shut with a door bolt that slides into the sidewall. Greebo has since learned (through trial and error) that he can undo the door bolt, provided he can lift and keep the device (the bit that we hold to slide the bolt) horizontal, and then push it sideways before it drops back into the down position.
Our Cat Still Managed to Manipulate It
However, this is a frustrating task for Greebo, because cats don't have opposable thumbs (to hold the bolt in position while it is pushed sideways), so it takes him about five minutes to get the bolt across and let himself out. Consequently, he doesn't do it too often, only about twice a year, although he has another trick up his sleeve.
He's over three feet tall when he stands on his hind legs (almost a foot taller than his sister), so he can easily reach door handles, and if we forget to lock the backdoor once we've let them in for the night, he'll just open the backdoor and let himself out again when he wants to.
The Cat Flap Wasn't Big Enough
The other problem we had with the cat flap is that by two years of age, Greebo was too big to fit through it, so we had to replace our cat flap with a small dog flap; unlike other domestic cats, Maine Coons continue growing for the first four years before they reach their full adult size. Greebo currently weighs about 17 pounds, which makes him quite a weight to lift.
They Both Love Drinking From a Mug
They're happy drinking water from their water bowl, a dripping tap and our wildlife pond, but they're not keen on drinking milk from a cat bowl. When we have milk with our evening meal, they both pester us for their own mug of milk served to them on the coffee table (just like we have our milk); if we put it on the floor for them, they're not that interested.
They Will Beg for Human Food
They both love cereal, especially cornflakes (and Wheatabix), but again, they insist on having it on a tray on our laps (just like us when having cereal in front of the TV). So, we have to make sure we leave a little for them to finish off; as with the milk, if we put the bowl of cereal on the floor, they're not really interested. Greebo also likes porridge, but unlike his sister, he is not keen on vegetables; whereas Dippy loves vegetables.
They Love Water
Being Maine Coons, they're fascinated by water and can play with it for hours, especially if you leave a tap dripping. In the summer months, Greebo will sometimes sit by the wildlife pond for ages, staring at it and occasionally putting his paw in. Dippy has, on occasions, followed my son into the shower unnoticed and has received a quick soaking before it's been realized (by which time she's drenched); but she doesn't seem to mind.
They Are Master Manipulators
When in the evening it's feeding time, Greebo will sit in front of you and stare at you with puppy-like eyes until you feed him; or, if you ignore him, he'll come up to the sofa, stand on his hind legs and gently kiss you before going back to where he was sitting to give you his appealing look. Dippy, on the other hand, makes a series of soft meows that sound more like a trill than a meow when she's hungry (which apparently is common with Maine Coons).
(They'll also occasionally watch TV for the odd minute, but their concentration span is short, so they soon lose interest.)
Ideas for Environmental Enrichment and Playtime
Treat Balls for Cats
We always try to keep our cats entertained, and their favorite type of toy is the interactive feeding toy: cat balls designed to be filled with cat biscuits so that the cats can chase them around the room; a few treats are dispensed at a time each time the ball is knocked. This is exactly what Dippy does—she'll knock and chase the ball all over the living room to get her reward; but Greebo has learned that if he just sits there with the ball between his feet, knocking it from one paw to the other, he can still get biscuits without too much effort.
The other successful toy, and one which saves our furniture and carpets from getting scratched, is their scratching post and platform. I've noticed Dippy uses it the most, often chasing herself around the post, through the tunnel and then settling to sit on the platform to look out through the French doors onto the garden for a while before going outside and playing on the lawn. If Greebo uses it, he's content in just sitting on the platform and looking out over the garden; although he prefers to sit on the settee or comfy armchair.
We decided to replace their scratching posts and platform with a proper cat tree, and Dippy loves it. She spends a lot of time sitting on the top platform looking out into the garden, and then periodically throughout the day, she'll clamber up and down the polls and chase herself around them while playing with the dangly ball for a few minutes. Greebo isn't so energetic. He'll jump onto the top platform, causing the whole tree to momentarily wobble because of his weight, and then sit there for a few minutes admiring the garden before either going outside for a while or settling into one of his favourite spots on the settee and having a catnap.
Playtime is important for cats—that means interacting with them and giving them affection and attention. Above is a short video demonstrating playtime with our cats and their toys on their cat tree. It is followed by giving them a few treats and letting them settle down for their catnaps, after which Dippy is offered a little cream as a special treat.
Dangly Things on a Stick
This toy has been the big winner. We recently watched an American TV series featuring a cat physiologist who treated problem cats (and their owners), and he always used these dangling-things-on-a-stick toys to great effect. So, we bought a couple of these toys. They were an instant success with both Greebo and Dippy; so much so, that recently Dippy jumped up to where we kept them and picked one up by her mouth to bring to me to play with her.
Toy Mice and Balls
They lost interest in the other cat toys that they had as kittens when they got older—the usual balls and toy mice—so we've since put them into a toy box (to keep the room tidy), which is where they stay most of the time; although occasionally, Greebo will get one out and play with it for a few minutes before going off to do something else or have a catnap.
Tag and Socialisation
They also play tag with each other quite often. Dippy comes off worse because her brother is a lot bigger than her, but more often than not, Dippy starts it by whacking Greebo as she rushes past him so that he chases her.