The Maine coon breed can often be confused with a Norwegian Forest cat, but any purebred cat lover will tell you that there are important differences between the two breeds. It is easy to get the two mixed up as their appearance is quite similar and they can even exhibit some of the same character traits.
If you are looking to get a new cat then you may be interested to know what the differences are between the Maine coon and the Norwegian Forest cat. Well, in short, Maine coons are slightly larger and are prone to a few more health conditions due to years of breeding. Maine coons are also more vocal and more needy as they crave constant human attention.
(If you’ve recently got yourself a cat and you are not sure if it might be a Maine coon or a coon mix then make sure you give this article a read: How to Tell if Your Cat is a Maine Coon.)
If you are short on time then here is a table of summary for the differences between the two breeds (each section will be explained in more detail below):
|Age of Maturity||4-5 years||4-5 years|
|Average life expectancy||12-14 years||4-16 years|
|Weight (when fully grown)||Male: 9-20lbs Female: 8-15lbs||Male: 9-15lbs Female: 8-12lbs|
|Coat||Shaggy, double layered with ruff around neck, lynx tips and tufts between toes||Smooth all over, double layered, lynx tips and tufts between toes|
|Face||Square muzzle, curved forehead and round eyes||Triangular muzzle, flat forehead with almond-shaped eyes|
|Tail||Same size throughout length||Tapers at the end|
|Agility||Not so fond of jumping, stays lower to ground||Agile, likes to jump around|
Origin of the Breeds
The Norwegian Forest cat is the national cat of Norway. Their appearance reflects their hardiness for the great outdoors. They have evolved over the years to survive the cold Scandinavian winters. They are now a very popular breed of domestic cat all over Europe.
The origin of the Maine coon is not known but there are a lot of folk tales around this topic. There is a theory that they may be descended from the Norwegian Forest cat. It is thought that the Norwegian Forest cat may have been brought over to America by the Vikings and may have even bred with a racoon. One nickname of Maine coon is actually the American Forest cat.
How do they differ in size?
The Maine coon is the largest breed of domestic cat. A fully grown Maine coon will measure around 40 inches in length and can weigh anywhere between 8 and 20 pounds. The male of the species are noticeably larger than the females with some weighing up to 25 pounds and still being considered healthy, depending on their length. Several Maine coons have held the Guinness World Record for largest domestic cat.
Similarly the Norwegian forest cat has a strongly built frame but will grow to be only slightly larger than your average domestic cat. Again the males tend to be larger than the females. Fully grown a female will weigh around 8-12 pounds whereas the male will weigh between 9 and 15 pounds. The Norwegian forest cat tends to have a frame which is more slight than the Maine coon due to its slightly longer legs.
Both breeds of cat mature more slowly than other domestic breeds of cat, only reaching their adult size at around the age of 4-5 years.
How does their appearance differ?
Both the Maine coon and the Norwegian Forest cat are a semi-long haired breed of cat. This means that they have thick coats which shed a lot! Their fur coats are double layered to provide warmth out in the wild and are also water-resistant to protect them from the snow. The texture of the fur does however differ between the two breeds. The Maine coon coat is thick and shaggy with a long ruff around the neck, like a lion’s mane. There are also shorter areas of fur on the shoulders, stomach and britches. In contrast the coat of a Norwegian Forest cat is smooth and glossy all over. The two layers of the coat are also more easily distinguishable. Both breeds also sport tufts of hair between their toes and large ears which have tufts of hair known as lynx tips.
The most distinctive physical feature separating the two breeds is the shape of their faces. The Maine coon is known for its square muzzle, gently curved forehead and big round eyes. The Norwegian Forest cat has a much more triangular shaped face with a flat forehead, a straight nose and almond-shaped eyes. Their facial appearance is much more like that of a regular domestic feline.
Their tails are also significantly different. Although both have large, bushy tails, the Norwegian Forest cat has a tail which is tapers at the end. If you measure it then the length of the tail will also measure the same as the length of their body! The Maine coon tail is considered to be much bushier and remains the same width from the base to the tip.
Are they affected by the same health conditions?
The Maine coon breed is known to be prone to a number of health issues, mainly due to a reduced gene pool as a result of breeding. Maine coons should be tested for a condition called polycystic kidney disease which can cause kidney failure. They should also have genetic tests for spinal muscular atrophy which is a genetic condition causing weakness of the legs and progressive lameness.
Both the Maine coon and the Norwegian Forest cat are known to be at risk of a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is the most common cause of heart failure in domestic cats. Breeding pairs should be tested for genetic mutations which can predispose to this condition. Queens should also have a heart scan between litters to check that she is not developing heart failure.
Due to their large stature both of these breeds find themselves susceptible to joint issues. Hip dysplasia is a condition where the ball and socket joint of the hip does not form properly. This is a condition seen in both Maine coons and the Norwegian Forest cat. It can be quite painful and sometimes results in the need for surgery to correct the issue. Maine coons are also prone to patellar subluxation which is a condition affecting the position of the kneecap. This is again a painful condition which can result in the need for surgery.
Norwegian Forest cats are known to be at risk of a condition called glycogen storage disease type IV. This is a condition affecting Kittens and is the most common cause of stillbirth or death of Kittens within a few hours of birth. This is likely due to the kitten having insufficient glucose to survive the birthing process. If the kitten survives then they will often suffer from progressive neuromuscular weakness resulting in an inability to use their legs. Kittens with this condition will commonly die from complications such as heart failure.
How long do they live for?
Because of the tendency towards these various health conditions the lifespan of a Maine coon is slightly shorter at 12-14 years compared with that of a Norwegian Forest cat which usually live between 14 and 16 years.
How do their personalities compare?
In terms of their character there are many similarities between the two breeds. Despite being wild cats, both of these breeds are known for being very friendly and gentle. In fact, both breeds have earned themselves the nickname of ‘gentle giants’. As such they make great family pets, getting along well with other cats, small children and even dogs. Of course I am talking in general as every cat is an individual.
Both breeds of cat are in touch with their wild, hunter heritage and therefore make great mousers. They love to play and if allowed outside will often bring you little ‘gifts’ to demonstrate how much they love you.
Maine coons are often kept as indoor cats and in general they do not mind this at all. Their larger frame means that they do not tend to jump around as much, instead being content playing at ground level. Norwegian Forest cats on the other hand are much more fond of jumping around and climbing, therefore they much prefer being allowed outside.
Maine coons crave human attention and will follow their chosen person around the house. They are very chatty and have a wide range of noises that they will make to get their point across. Maine coons are known as the ‘dogs of the cat world’ due to their many dog-like behaviours. They will fetch toys for you to play with and will even walk around outside with a harness.
The Norwegian Forest cat is smaller and more agile than the Maine coon. Provided that they can go outside to burn off energy the Norwegian Forest cat will require much less attention than a Maine coon. Maine coons are much more vocal and will follow you around like a shadow. Having a Maine coon is not dissimilar to owning a dog. Both breeds of cat would make a friendly addition to your family and provide you all with years of fun and love.