The Maine Coon is one of the largest domesticated breeds of cat. It has a distinctive physical appearance and valuable hunting skills. It is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America, specifically "native" to the state of Maine (though the feline was simply introduced there), where it is the official state cat. No records of the Maine Coon's exact origins and date of introduction to the United States exist, so several competing hypotheses have been suggested. The breed was popular in cat shows in the late 19th century, but its existence became threatened when long-haired breeds from overseas were introduced in the early 20th century. The Maine Coon has since made a comeback and is now one of the more popular cat breeds in the world. The Maine Coon is a large and sociable cat, hence its nickname, "the gentle giant." It is characterized by a prominent ruff along its chest, robust bone structure, triangular body shape, an uneven two layered coat with longer guard hairs with a silky satin under layer undercoat, and a long, bushy tail. The breed's colors vary widely, with only lilac and chocolate disallowed for pedigree. Reputed for its intelligence and playful, gentle personality, the Maine Coon is often cited as having "dog-like" characteristics. Professionals notice certain health problems in the breed including feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and hip dysplasia, but reputable breeders use modern screening methods to minimize the frequency of these problems.
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