Difference between European and American Maine Coons

In summary European Maine Coons tend to be bred more often to extreme, with larger ears and pronounced lynx tipped ears and large lion-like, chiselled muzzles compared to their American cousins. Plus, they might be more feral looking. I have also heard that TICA prefer more wild looking Maine Coons compared to the CFA more delicate or refined features and coat. TICA is an international cat association. The CFA is an American association.

American Maine Coon. Photo: Helmi Flick
American Maine Coon. Photo: Helmi Flick

European Maine Coon by Eurocoons based in Kansas, USA
European Maine Coon by Eurocoons based in Kansas, USA. Photo by them.

European and American Maine Coons are the same breed. There are some differences. There has to be otherwise you wouldn't describe them as European and American Maine Coons. Also, it is worth noting that some American breeders in America breed European Maine Coons. The European Maine Coon is not only bred in Europe. American breeders appear to be importing Maine Coon foundation cats from Europe to start their own breeding lines.

My research indicates that European Maine Coons tend to be bred to extreme compared to American Maine Coons, as mentioned. In other words, these breeders are focusing on some essential elements of the cat's anatomy such as: overall size, ears and muzzle and ensuring that they are as pronounced and as bold as possible. They do this at their own discretion because I have checked the breed standards of both TICA and FIFE (Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFé)). TICA's breed standard applies internationally and therefore breeders in Europe can follow it. The FIFE breed standard applies to Europe and Russia.
TICA breed standard for muzzle.
FIFE breed standard for muzzle

I have reproduced the breed standards for these two cat associations above and below in respect of muzzle and ears and as you can see, they are fundamentally very similar. Therefore, the differences in the European and American Maine Coons are due to the breeders using their discretion in interpreting the breed standard.

More precisely European Maine Coons compared to American Maine Coons tend to be:

  • larger;
  • the muzzles are squarer and larger;
  • the ears are larger and the lynx tips more pronounced;
  • one website says that the European Maine Coons are more feral or wild looking but I'm not sure that is entirely correct;
  • some breeders say that the European variety has higher cheekbones.
Comparison of the bold, large Maine Coon versus the more traditional type on the left.
Comparison of the bold, large Maine Coon versus the more traditional type on the left.

One European Maine Coon cat breeder, Eurocoons, based in Kansas, USA imported their foundation cats, as I understand it, from Ukraine (or at least some of their foundation cats). This is near Russia and the Russians tend to breed Maine Coons more to extreme levels as mentioned. One Russian Maine Coon breeder based in China (I believe) created Maine Coons that look like humans! And you will see some extraordinary faces on Maine Coons bred by Russians. They are all following the same breed standard be it from TICA or FIFE but they interpret it differently as mentioned.

TICA breeds standard for ears.

FIFE breed standard for ears.

Cat Association breed standards are quite loosely formulated and they are guidelines. The organisers of these cat associations allow cat breeders to employ selective breeding to create their own idea of what an outstanding Maine Coon (MC) should look like based upon the breed standard. But they are judged at cat shows. The ultimate arbiter of how well a breeder is doing is the cat show judges.

And the tendency nowadays is to breed Maine Coons bigger with more pronounced features and this tendency is being followed more often on Continental Europe and by European Maine Coon breeders in predominantly America. UK breeder follow the GCCF breed standard. Their cats seem to be more moderate in appearance. Sort of old style. There is a modern version of the Maine Coon and it is big and bold, almost like a lion or tiger.

This is probably in line with the gradual pressure on breeders to bred more outstanding cats.

European style Maine Coon. Strong muzzle, large ears, human face.
European style Maine Coon. Strong muzzle, large ears, human face. I believe that this cat was bred in Russia.

P.S. There are potential health issues with breeding to extreme. People think the MC should be big but the CFA breed standard does not insist on it. Although the TICA does say the cat should be 'large'. MCs are known to be predisposed to suffer from joint problems: hip dysplasia and patellar luxation (surgery can fix it). Increased size and weight can exacerbate hip dysplasia which is genetically inherited. The breeders have this defect in their breeding lines. 

How do breeders make their cats so big? 

Answer: they selectively breed. They select a very large foundation male cat and he's the stud for perhaps a number of breeding catteries. It is all down to a single or a few large foundation studs. And they refine the generations by further selections of Maine Coons with strong muzzles and super large ears. Or they breed back offspring of this superb male to their father creating the founder effect. These male cats are rewarded with titles such as 'outstanding sire'. But this has to be done carefully to avoid 'inbreeding depression' which is a term meaning poor health, sterility, small littter size and suppressed disease resistance. This is where outcrossing comes in (to introduce fresh genes) but this is prohibited in the Maine Coon in order to preserve the cat's distinct appearance.


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