Thursday, 25 August 2011

Norwegian Forest Cats vs Maine Coons

This isn't about which breed is best - there is no best - just what's right for you.  Obviously at some stage I decided I wanted to breed and become heavily involved with Norwegian Forest Cats.  They are the breed for me.  My choice was influenced by a number of factors – the individual cats I encountered in the early days of searching, the people I met, and a sort of innate bias I have towards all things Northern.  I love the history of the Forest Cat, its large size combined with elegance and above all its intelligent, active but adorable character.  Equally others would be attracted to the cat of America, with its amiable face and huge size. Many people ask me what is the difference between Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest Cats.  Superficially they are sometimes thought of as being alike, but of course as you get to know them really they are very different, but with some similarities.

(Above:  Vieuxtemps Zeddicus has a definite NFC ‘look’ even though he’s only four months old)

Both breeds are "semi long haired" meaning that their coats are shorter than a Persian coat, and easy to look after.   The MC coat is somewhat flowing whilst the NFC has a double coat, with woolly undercoat in winter covered by glossy guard hairs.  In the spring time the woolly undercoat is shed at which point the cat suddenly looks thinner!  The seasonal difference in the MC's coat is less dramatic.  Even so, they are able to cope with fairly harsh outdoor conditions as both breeds stem from farm cats that are able to take whatever nature decides to throw at them.

Both breeds are described as large in their respective Standards.  In fact the MCs that I see in Britain tend to be bigger than the NFCs.  I have seen some larger NFCs in Scandinavia that could give the MCs a run for their money!  I have a feeling that MCs have got bigger over the years, whereas NFCs haven't.  Breeders of NFCs don't want to breed bigger and bigger cats with the problems that that might bring to the breed - such as hip dysplasia.  That has been found in a very few NFCs already and in some MCs and must be avoided at all costs.  That isn't an excuse for small NFCs however and both breeds should be sturdy and well-boned with the males considerably larger than the females.  The Maine Coon is a really strapping cat, whilst the NFC's size is meant to be tempered with elegance (long body, legs and head). Generally however most cats of both breeds are exceptionally healthy and robust.

Above: Maine Coon showing boxy muzzle and typical Maine Coon expression
 (Thanks to Daphne of Keverstone for the photo, which is by John Daniels)

Below: Norwegian Forest Cat showing correct triangular shape of head and oblique eye set 
(Thanks to Ilse of Dansbjergs for the photo)

Perhaps the most obvious physical difference between the two breeds is the head shape and expression.  The Maine Coon has a boxy muzzle and a distinct dip in its profile when seen from the side. The NFC should have a triangular head shape when seen from the front, with the ears following the sides of the head in a continuation of the triangle, and from the side the profile should look long and straight.  In reality, you get some not-so-good examples of either breed that are hard to tell apart. 

Character-wise, both breeds are really laid-back and good natured and both would be a pleasure to live with.  I have spoken to some people who own both breeds and also visited breeders of Maine Coons so I have found some differences of character and behaviour.  The MCs tend to be more talkative, giving pleasant little chirrups. NFCs are very quiet vocally, but not so quiet in their activities as they like to be involved in everything that you are doing.  Typically you only have to look at an NFC for him to come eagerly towards you, which makes it difficult to take photos sometimes!  MCs are quieter in their behaviour, tending to pose grandly and to be very relaxed most of the time.  Both are capable of being very affectionate but are not lap cats, being too large and preferring to sit next to their favourite person rather than on top of them.

Although both MCS and NFCs originated as outdoor working breeds they are content to live indoors so long as they have plenty of company, places to climb and a good scratching post.


  1. Excellent article. I'm leaning toward a NFC.... but are both equally good with small children? Thanks.

  2. Hallo Adam and thanks for your kind comment. I would say that although there are noticeable differences between the two breeds, the most important factor is what your chosen cat or kitten's individual personality is like. As with humans, there are big differences between one cat and another. A good way to estimate how they will turn out is to look at the parents' characters if you get the chance. Or obtain your MC/NFC from someone who has children themselves, and then they will be used to that kind of environment.
    Generally speaking both MCs and NFCs make excellent family pets. In my experience, NFCs tend to be more 'in your face' wanting to join in with whatever activity is going on.
    I am sure you are aware that it is important for you to ensure your children treat all animals with respect!

  3. Hey there, so... I'm new in this cat- loving thing, and I want to know if these cats are laid- back as in, "Laid- back to ruin your home" thing, or laid- back as in, "I'm Laid- back. Race you to sleeping" thing. Which one are they?

    1. I have an NFC, "Ozzy" and he is very "laid back" as in just lying around relaxing or observing most of the time. He's very chill but it's natural for cats to have with short bursts of energy especially younger cats and NFCs grow up slower.

      Cats need some play time now and then but much, much less than the average dog does. Night time racing is normal for a cats but doesn't last long. Playing with a cat before bed helps get that energy out too.

      To keep them from ruining your furniture get them cat furniture like scratching posts and mats and put them near what they are clawing.

      If my cat clawed the hamper he got a firm "No!" but he used the scratch mat he got a lots of vocal of praise and recognition. Now it's only his stuff he claws. He understands.

      NFCs are smart and surprisingly trainable they often really are listening to you and want to understand (I suggest reading up on how to communicate with cats too). They have a sense of independence but it's paired with great love of approval and affection too. NFCs can be friendly with complete strangers, happy to meet them but the REAL treat with this breed is that if you respect their moods (cuddles when they ask for attention, leave them be when they just want to chill) they will love, love, LOVE you with a devotion not normally observed in cats.

      Ozzy greets me like dog when I come home, he comes when I call him, he follows me from room to room half the time. He's neither clingy nor aloof. If he meows it's because he's actually trying to communicate something. If something scares him he doesn't hide under things like other cats, he runs to me for safety instead. My roomies joke that he's my "familiar".

      With NFCs "The love you get is the love you give". Build a relationship on respect, affection and understanding and you will get a very chill best friend.

      ...and they purr very loudly, it's very comforting.

  4. Zen, both NFOs and Maine Coons are generally relaxed and good-natured, although as with all breeds, individuals vary of course, depending on their genetic make-up and their upbringing. They aren't particularly destructive although they do need a bit of space to run around and climb. They are both quite lively - NFOs more so in my experience - but in a good way. They are interested in what you are doing, intelligent and fairly easy to train.

  5. at first I thought I had a maine coon but now after reading this I am convienced my cat is NFC. they are both wonderful cats. I had a maine coone before so I speak from experience. They are both a joy. Zen they are both laid back cats. once they are past that kitten hood craziness.

  6. Hello Mary! I have a question that I hope you will have an answer to. I have a Wegie and I'm guessing he is around 13-15 yrs old could be slightly youger or older). I got him very late in life unfortunately. I was his 7th or 8th home due to his untrusting and somewhat aggressive nature...which he no longer has YAY!) and he originally grew up feral. When I first got him his coat was thicker than it is now even during the winter months. I do live in Southern California where the weather tends to be hotter almost year round so I initially chalked it up to that but now I'm wondering if it's a sign of him getting closer know. He is still extremely active with no health problems (astonishingly). He is not losing fur abnormally. I know that it is possible and most likely that he is not a purebred but the Wegie is definitely dominant. Any thoughts?

  7. Katie, my first thought is that your cat may look a bit like a Forest Cat but unless you know his parentage it's unlikely he is one. It could be he is a mix of other long or semi long hair breeds. In any case, in answer to your question, I have found that my cats as they get very old (ie mid to late teens) frequently lose coat 'quality' though not necessarily 'quantity'. So a cat whose coat has been self-maintaining all his or her life might become more prone to knots, for example. This can be a sign of weakening kidney function I believe. However in a warm climate I wouldn't expect a Forest Cat to have a very thick or long coat as they do respond to the climate in order to stay comfortable.

  8. I am totally delighted when you brought Gandalf to the station in Carlisle. He is and has been a wonderful companion who loves nothing more than being curled up right next to me.