The Maine Coon is a Native American long-haired cat that was first recognized in Maine, later becoming its namesake. While the breed began as a glorified barn mouser, its significant stature made it popular among cat enthusiasts, even winning the first major cat show in the United States. The novelty of this breed’s size, combined with its sweet disposition, has made the Maine Coon a very popular breed. It consistently tops the charts of the most popular cats. The breed took the number two spot on the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s Top Breeds of 2022—only outranked by the Ragdoll.
With all this interest in the Maine Coon, it’s important that pet owners familiarize themselves with how to care for these gentle giants. Our furry friends should be spayed/neutered, provided proper nutrition, regularly groomed, and given ways to express their natural behaviors (such as scratching posts). These felines are also predisposed to certain health conditions that must be controlled through good breeding practices or healthy lifestyle choices.
Maine Coon health issues range from genetic diseases to lifestyle-related health problems. We review the top five genetic health problems for the breed, as well as other health concerns. Learn about DNA testing, pet insurance, and tips for healthy living.
5 Genetic Maine Coon Health Problems
While the breed is generally healthy—typically much healthier than other purebred breeds—some genetic diseases can affect the quality of life and shorten the lifespan of gentle giants.
“The three most common health issues I have seen in Maine Coons at my practice are cardiomyopathy, osteoarthritis due to hip dysplasia, and stomatitis (inflammation of the gums and mouth),” says Dr. Hannah Godfrey, BVetMed, MRCVS.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a form of heart disease where the heart walls thicken, leading to heart failure, pulmonary edema, paralysis, and death. According to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), about 30 percent of Maine Coon cats have a genetic mutation predisposing them to HCM.
Carrying the mutation does not mean that the cat will develop the disease. If the feline has the mutation on one of the two gene copies (heterozygous), it will not develop HCM. If the cat has the mutation on both gene copies (homozygous), the feline will eventually develop the disease. That’s why it’s so important for breeders to practice DNA testing. By avoiding breeding a positive heterozygous cat to a positive heterozygous cat, the likelihood of producing homozygous cats, who are more likely to become sick from this disease, is reduced.
“Sadly, I have seen several Maine Coons with heart murmurs at a young age who I have diagnosed with HCM with the help of a heart scan,” says Godfrey. “The cats that I have seen have developed symptoms quickly, and medication has only kept them stable for a short while.”
Signs that your cat may have HCM include:
- Irregular breathing (open-mouthed, labored, or rapid)
Cats diagnosed with HCM may experience any of the following conditions:
- Blood clots
- Limb pain or paralysis
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Weak pulse
According to North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital, most Maine Coons develop the disease after three years; however, some may not develop this condition until later in life. There is no cure for HCM; however, there are drugs and supplements (such as CoQ10, L-taurine, omega-3s, or a blend) to support cardiovascular health.
Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint develops abnormally, and the socket is too shallow. Normally, this ball-and-socket joint easily rotates to allow standing, walking, chasing mice, and climbing trees. In cats with hip dysplasia, the ball and socket are misaligned and loose, causing them to knock and grind against each other. Over time, this wear and tear can cause incapacitation and deterioration of the joint (osteoarthritis).
Evidence shows that feline hip dysplasia (FHD) occurs more commonly in some breeds, including the Maine Coon. A demographic analysis using data collected by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals found the frequency of FHD in Maine Coons to be about 25 percent. While a specific cause of hip dysplasia has not been identified, it is believed that obesity increases pressure and contributes to wear and tear on the joint. Additionally, selective breeding focused on making even larger Maine Coons may contribute to the rise of hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis in the Maine Coon breed. One study testing the genetic correlation of FHD found the severity of FHD systems increased with body mass. After using selective breeding to reduce the severity of FHD symptoms in descendants, they found the felines were also smaller.
Signs of hip dysplasia include:
- Avoidance of physical activity
- Expressing pain if the hip is touched
- Audible grating with movement
- Repeated licking or chewing of the area
An X-ray can confirm the diagnosis. From there, your vet will create a treatment protocol. This typically includes anti-inflammatory drugs or supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin to maintain the strength of your cat’s connective tissue. If your cat is overweight, they’ll likely be placed on a diet. Exercise is also encouraged to keep the hip muscles strong. Surgical options are also available for felines with advanced cases of hip dysplasia.
“The Maine Coons I have seen with hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis have generally responded well to anti-inflammatory medication and weight management,” says Godfrey. “Although regular blood tests to assess their kidney function has been needed.”
Polycystic Kidney Disease
Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is an inherited disease that causes the progressive development of cysts in the kidneys. These fluid-filled pockets are present at birth and grow larger over time. PKD cysts can change the shape of kidneys, making them much larger. Eventually, the cysts can disrupt kidney function and result in renal failure. Felines only need one parent with the defective gene to inherit PKD.
Symptoms of PKD include:
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Weight Loss
DNA testing can confirm the presence of the gene responsible for PKD. Diagnosing and monitoring the disease requires imaging tests, such as an ultrasound. Your vet may also use a blood test or urine analysis to evaluate the health of the kidneys.
Treatments for PKD include anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, appetite stimulants, diet modification, fluid therapy, and pain medications. Cats with kidney disease greatly benefit from a high-quality raw, freeze-dried, or canned diet. There are also various supplements available that support kidney function, such as VetriSciene’s Renal Essentials.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes felines to display an abnormal posture and awkward gait. SMA causes a loss of motor neurons in the cat’s spinal cord responsible for conscious muscle movement and atrophy of the muscles in the hind legs. While SMA isn’t painful or fatal, pets diagnosed with this disorder will require extra attention and care.
Signs of SMA include:
- Abnormal posture (standing with both hind legs touching)
- Loss of muscle mass in the hindquarters
- Muscle tremors and contractions
- Progressive muscular instability and weakness
- Swaying gait
The gene causing SMA is recessive, so a cat can only develop this disorder if both parents carry the recessive gene. The condition typically becomes apparent in the first three to four months of life. A cat will develop an odd gait with a sway of the hindquarters. At five to six months, they may be too weak to jump onto furniture and are clumsy in their movements.
As the condition progresses, the cat will lose mobility and can no longer jump, run, and play like your average kitten. There is no way to slow the progression of SMA, and there is currently no cure.
It’s important to note that SMA doesn’t cause reduced energy or a desire to play, and with home and lifestyle modifications, your cat can still live a happy and enriching life.
Feline stomatitis, also called feline chronic gingivostomatitis, is an autoimmune disease characterized by painful mouth ulcers and severely inflamed oral tissue. Stomatitis occurs when a cat’s immune system attacks the bacteria in a cat’s mouth. Many experts believe this oral disease is genetic. Without treatment, stomatitis causes gingival recession and bone loss. The condition is excruciating and can significantly affect your cat’s quality of life.
Common symptoms of stomatitis include:
- Bad breath
- Bright red, inflamed gums
- Crying out when eating
- Drooling (may be bloody)
- Loss of appetite
- Pawing at mouth
- Weight loss
Diagnosis of feline stomatitis requires a physical examination, dental X-rays, and bloodwork to rule out other potential conditions. Mild cases can be managed with proper dental care; severe cases may require teeth extraction.
“Stomatitis affects many cats, regardless of breed, and can be frustrating to manage,” says Godfrey. “With a wide range of treatment options available, though, I have managed to improve the comfort of the cats that I have seen.”
Remedies include raw feeding, probiotics, and regular dental care for overall dental health. Turmeric, boswellia, and proteolytic enzymes help reduce inflammation. Cold laser therapy can relieve pain and is safe for gingivitis, ulcers, and post-operative dental extraction healing.
Other Maine Coon Health Issues
Maine Coons also need to be watched for the following lifestyle-related health issues:
- Arthritis: According to VCA Animal Hospitals, about 90 percent of cats over the age of 10 experience osteoarthritis in at least one joint. To avoid arthritis, keep your cat at a healthy weight, make sure they exercise, and keep them indoors to avoid injury. You can also add fish oil to your cat’s meal to reduce inflammation.
- Periodontal Disease: Also known as gum disease, periodontal disease is one of the most common health problems among felines. The Cornell Feline Health Center reports that between 50 and 90 percent of cats older than four years of age suffer from some form of dental disease, with periodontitis, gingivitis, and tooth resorption being the main offenders. Lower your cat’s risk by regularly brushing (and using other dental health products) and feeding your cat a high-quality diet.
- Obesity: Cats are considered obese when they weigh 10 to 20 percent above their ideal body weight. Obesity shortens a cat’s lifespan and increases their risk of developing other diseases. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, adult (8-12 years) obese cats are 2.8 times more likely to die than cats of a healthy weight. To prevent feline obesity, feed your cat a quality diet that suits their age, activity, and lifestyle. Avoid free feeding and excessive treats. Engage your cat in plenty of play throughout the day, which helps burn calories and keeps your feline in good physical condition.
Our Personal Experience With Maine Coon Health Issues
When I was growing up, my family had a Maine Coon. Her name was Greta. She was a large, burly, indoor-outdoor cat. As a Maine Coon, she ate a lot but was also strongly motivated by food. She would eat the other cat’s food and the dog’s food. She also found a lot of treats out wandering the neighborhood. Greta always made it home for dinner and left her bowl clean every time.
When she got older, she was clearly overweight. This affected her mobility. She spent much less time roaming or outside. While this was preferable to her bringing home birds and mice, it was hard to see her less active. It also affected her demeanor, as she could not go off on her daily walks. While we tried a diet with her; getting her to stay on it wasn’t easy. In the long run, this significantly contributed to her having some other health issues as she aged, including sore joints.Danielle DeGroot, LYC writer and longtime cat parent
Health Testing For Maine Coons
When purchasing a gentle giant, always confirm testing has been done to check for inherited diseases. Responsible breeders will use genetic testing to track their cats’ health over generations to help minimize the likelihood of inherited health problems.
If you already have a Maine Coon, you may wish to purchase a DNA health test to:
- Understand your cat’s health. Knowing your cat’s health concerns can help you care for your furry friend better.
- Ensure your breeder is truthful. If you’ve been told your cat is clear of any genetic disorders, you can verify with your genetic testing. If you’ve signed an agreement guaranteeing your cat’s health, you may be able to get your money back.
- Learn about your cat’s ancestry. If you’re unsure if you have a Maine Coon, a DNA test can also determine your cat’s breed.
Best Cat DNA Tests
Wisdom Panel Complete For Cats
Wisdom Panel offers a comprehensive DNA test that includes a breed report, physical traits, health insights, and blood type. After registering your kit, swab your cat’s mouth and mail the sample to the lab. Reports are emailed back in two to three weeks. You can also talk with one of Wisdom Panel’s licensed vets to ask questions, get advice, and make future health steps for your pet.
Basepaws Breed+Health Cat DNA Test
Basepaws markets itself as the world’s first at-home cat DNA test kit. The Breed + Health DNA Test includes a brief breed overview, genetic traits (including susceptibility to viral infection), and health screening. As with Wisdom Panel, you must register your CatKit, swab your cat’s teeth and gums, and mail the sample. Results are available in four to six weeks. Basepaws also offers a whole genome and oral health test.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Keep My Maine Coon Healthy?
Nutrition, activity, and grooming are the best ways to keep your gentle giant healthy. A quality diet for felines means plenty of high-quality animal protein, animal fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. A healthy diet may effectively delay the onset or alleviate the symptoms of health conditions.
Activity keeps your cat mentally stimulated and agile. Playtime also regulates weight and keeps your kitty happy. Dedicate at least 15 minutes of your day to your furry friend. (View our picks for best toys for Maine Coons.)
What Is the Life Expectancy Of A Maine Coon Cat?
The Maine Coon’s lifespan is 10 to 15 years. We cover everything you need to know about Maine Coon lifespan, including factors influencing lifespan and tips to expand your cat’s life expectancy.
Should I Get Pet Insurance For My Maine Coon?
Yes, you should consider getting pet insurance for your Maine Coon. Insurance can cover accidents, illness, dental, and even preventative care. Hereditary conditions—like hip dysplasia and PKD—are also covered by insurance. The critical thing to remember is to sign up for pet insurance before your cat suffers a health problem. Pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions, so the sooner your sign your cat up, the better chance for complete coverage. View our top picks for the best pet insurance for Maine Coon cats.
A complete understanding of Maine Coon health issues is crucial before and after bringing one of these fluffballs into your home. Make sure you have the time and money (we cover costs—including breeder costs, grooming, and medical care—in our Maine Coon price article) to fully care for one of these majestic animals.