If you’ve come to this page, you’re probably excited about getting your very first cat. Maybe you’ve shared a home with cats before but never been a cat owner yourself, maybe you’ve never had the pleasure of living with a feline companion; either way, you probably have a lot of questions right now as you try to decide which of these two wonderful breeds would suit your particular situation. In this article we clear up the confusion, breaking down just what makes these amazing breeds so very special to let you determine exactly which one is the best choice for you and your household.
What you need to know about the British Shorthair
These friendly, easy-to-care-for cats are well-known for their charming features: large round eyes, wide-set ears and a snub-nosed muzzle that seems to wear a permanent smile. Their coats have a unique “crisp” texture and are very dense – a joy to stroke. The British Shorthair is said to be the descendant of domestic Egyptian felines introduced by the Romans, who brought them over to help keep down mice and rats on board ship and in their settlement food stores.
These cats interbred with native British wild cats The British Shorthair was recognised as a pedigree breed in the Victorian era; despite some ups and downs, the British Shorthair is more popular than any other pedigree breed. They have a strong presence in popular culture, turning up in everything from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (it is believed that the Cheshire Cat was based on a British Shorthair) to advertisements and internet memes.
What you need to know about the Maine Coon
A true New England native, these cats are arrestingly beautiful and rather majestic. Their exact lineage is lost to the mists of time but they do look very similar to Norwegian Forest cats. We can safely put to bed the folklore explanation for this breed’s unusual facial markings – that they’re a cross between a long-haired cat and a racoon – but beyond that, there’s not much to go on. It’s surmised that they are descended from cats brought to Maine by traders from Europe, who then bred with Persians or other long-haired cats to acquire their luxurious coats.
Maine Coons originated in the state that gave them their name but has become hugely popular both in the US and in many other nations. Their handsome coats with almost Lynx-like tufts around their ears, their expressive faces, their unusual trainability – all these things and more make the Maine Coon really special.
What’s the price difference?
Pedigree British Shorthair prices are rather hard to pin down as they can vary quite dramatically depending on a number of factors. Where you live is one (they tend to be very pricey in the US and UK but somewhat cheaper in Australia, with significant variation by region within each country). Other factors include the age of the cat and whether or not you’re buying from a registered breeder. While British Shorthair kittens from a backyard breeder are cheaper, they can have a number of issues.
It’s much better to grin and bear the £1200 or more than you’ll pay for a kitten from a registered breeder (under $1000 AUD but probably $2000 or more in the US). You can decrease this significantly if you’re willing to adopt in a mature British Shorthair; rescues can cost as little as £50 in the UK and go for under $200 in the US. The price for a rescue in Australia varies but can be even less.
Pedigree Maine Coon kittens will run you anything from £500 to £1000 in the UK if you buy from a registered breeder. In the US there’s significant variation; I have seen prices from $400-$1500 bandied around. In Australia, you might pay around $800 AUD but prices are sometimes much lower – or higher for some sought-after colours. As with British Shorthairs, you should eschew backyard breeders and go to someone who is listed with the region’s pedigree breeder registry. Kittens with less popular colours or polydactyly (extra toes) make wonderful pets but cost a great deal less because they do not show animals.
You can also pay a minimal fee if you’re happy to adopt a mature adult Maine Coon. Although sought after as pets they do sometimes find themselves in need of a home; a rescue animal may cost you as little as one-tenth of the price of a pedigree Maine Coon kitten. You’ll also be providing a loving home for a splendid cat who might not otherwise find one.
The character differences
I like to say that the British Shorthair is a real cat lover’s cat. They just embody so much that’s lovely about the domestic feline. They may not be overly demonstrative but they are very affectionate and loyal. This is a fairly low-energy breed; once they grow out of the playful kittenish stage they tend to live life in the slow lane, content to snooze the day away near their favourite humans or meander around the house, following amiably at your heels as you go from room to room. They often get a strong sense of your daily schedule and it’s not uncommon for them to get up and wait by the door for you to come home so they can greet you.
British Shorthairs are quietly chatty, often conversing with you in their low-volume meows and even calling you to join them in another room if they want your company. They are patient, steady and not given to drama or destructiveness.
Maine Coons are also a very loyal and affectionate creature, although again they’re not really lap-cats. Aside from their wild, Viking-like good looks, they differ from the British Shorthair in terms of their energy levels. While the British Shorthair is quite happy to nap for hours at a stretch, the Maine Coon is vigorous and needs plenty of exercises to keep from growing bored and fractious. Cabin fever is a real issue with this breed; they need lots and lots of physical and mental play to wear them out properly.
I’ve seen Maine Coons called “puppy-dog cats” because they will play fetch like a dog; they’re also unusually fond of swimming (though this varies between individuals – some Maine Coons hate water, some will leap into the coldest river for a dip). If you do opt for a Maine Coon you will need plenty of space – they really don’t like being cooped up. You’ll also need to be fairly energetic yourself if you want to keep up with this cat.
What about health?
Aside from a couple of inherited disorders, the British Shorthair is as strong as an ox. They are prone to the same conditions as any cat but in general, their health will remain excellent throughout a long, long life (expect your British Shorthair to stay with you for at least 15 years; 20 is not unheard of). Those heritable disorders are feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition – mercifully rare – and a type of hemophilia. The latter is detectable via lab tests and breeders will check for it. The conditions you really need to look out for are bad teeth and obesity; later on, we’ll look at how you can prevent these from bothering your British Shorthair.
The Maine Coon is also a very healthy breed. Besides the usual issues that can affect any cat, the Maine Coon has three heritable disorders to look out for. Like British Shorthairs they can suffer from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can eventually cause the cat’s heart to fail. This is testable in Maine Coons and breeders will often check for the gene. They can also develop hip dysplasia, a deformity of the legs which can make walking painful and difficult, and polycystic kidney disease which can slowly cause their kidneys to deteriorate and stop working. These conditions are very rare and your Maine Coon is unlikely to develop them but they are a possibility. Aside from these problems, the Maine Coon tends not to be sickly or suffer from poor health — they’re strong, robust cats with good constitutions. To find out how to keep your Maine Coon in the pink of health, keep reading.
Let’s compare size and weight
The British Shorthair is, to use the parlance of our time, “an absolute unit”. The breed is impressively heavyset and quite long. They start out as fairly large kittens and just keep slowly getting bigger for the next few years. At a very rough estimate, expect kittens to gain a little less than half a kilo or approximately one pound per month. By their third year, British Shorthairs have usually attained their full adult size – in some cases, this can take even longer.
The breed is unusually dimorphic, with toms being much larger and heavier than queens; there’s not a great deal of difference when they’re first born but by the time your kitten is old enough to leave its mother, a male will be noticeably bigger than the female. Males sometimes go through a “gangly teenager” stage before attaining the classic blocky physique. A healthy weight for an adult male British Shorthair is between 6-9kg; females should weigh something in the 4-6kg range.
Maine Coons tend not to get as chunky as British Shorthairs but they are still large handsome cats. Their thick coats make them look even bigger than they are. They grow very fast, at about twice the rate of British Shorthairs and domestic cats; kittens pile on two pounds per month or around 800g. Females are noticeably smaller than males, although the breed’s dimorphism isn’t as pronounced as the British Shorthair’s.
A male Maine Coon can weigh roughly from 6-8 kilogrammes (13 to 18 lb) with females weighing from 4-6kg (8 to 12 lb). They reach their full size between three to five years old. Maine Coons are long, tall cats; be sure to size scratching posts and litter-boxes accordingly. Later in this article, we’ll discuss this kind of equipment and how to make sure it’s big enough for your cat, so stay tuned.
Living with children and dogs
If you already have children or dogs at home (or are planning to add some soon) the British Shorthair is a very good breed to choose. They’re hard to annoy, preferring to remove themselves to a safe location rather than bite or scratch someone who’s bothering them. They don’t mind dogs as long as the dog is friendly, although they don’t care to be pestered by overly energetic pups. As for children, this breed seems to positively adore them.
They’ll attach themselves quite readily to the younger members of your household, tailing them on their adventures, eagerly awaiting their return from school and supervising their sleep from the end of the bed. Smaller children who might get grabby or rough should be supervised until they’re old enough to understand the cat’s needs. All in all, they’re a fantastic cat for a multi-pet home and wonderful for homes with youngsters.
Maine Coons are also good with kids. Although they’re less patient with roughness than the British Shorthair, once a child is old enough not to grab tails or try to pick up a cat that wants to be put down they make an excellent companion. A child’s high energy levels are a great match for the exuberant Maine Coon’s, and their playful nature makes them a lot of fun for kids. Dogs and Maine Coons generally get along too, provided you don’t have the sort of dog that likes to torment cats.
Their own puppyish nature makes them a better fit for a dog-owning household than your average domestic moggy. If you allow your Maine Coon to be an outdoor cat, it’s not unknown for them to invite themselves on walks with your pet pooch, lolloping along next to you and chasing after thrown sticks and balls just like another dog.
Care and maintenance of your cat
Aside from the usual vaccinations and vet check-ups that any cat should have, the British Shorthair only requires a little extra care. Though short, their dense coat does sometimes develop mats and should be brushed at least once a week. The British Shorthair can also develop gingivitis and dental issues so make sure you give her teeth a weekly brush – try using a meat-flavoured toothpaste and a finger brush to get her to accept the procedure. Because they are large cats all their equipment needs to be upsized accordingly. Scratching posts should be half again as tall as your cat when she stands on her hind legs, while litter-boxes should be half-again as long. Make a point of involving her in games – she will tend to become lazy in later life and making sure she gets up to chase a toy or engage in some other fun activity is good for her.
Despite their abundant layers of fluff, Maine Coons only need a good brush once a week to stay free of mats. As with the British Shorthair, their teeth sometimes need a good brush to prevent gum disease and caries. Once again, equipment will need to be on the larger size to accommodate these big cats. The most important difference between the two breeds is the Maine Coon’s high-energy disposition – unlike the stolid British Shorthair, the Maine Coon absolutely must have space to roam and lots of places to explore.
If you keep your Maine Coon indoors, you will need to provide a climbing tree and lots of toys of the type she can chase around. This breed gets very unhappy if they can’t burn off some of that ample get-up-and-go. Your Maine Coon may become destructive or engage in various forms of kitty rebellion if she doesn’t get plenty of exercise and lots of vigorous play. You should, of course, arrange for all the usual kitty vaccinations and take your cat for routine checkups as recommended by your vet.
What’s the verdict?
I would happily recommend either breed as your first cat. The British Shorthair will be the least challenging but a Maine Coon isn’t too difficult for a first timer with lots of energy and living space. Although not clingy and generally not keen to be a lap-cat, the British Shorthair is deeply loving in her own way and very easy to have around. If you are not around much during the day, a British Shorthair is a good choice as they are very independent and won’t mope or pine if left alone. They’re also a good fit for a smaller dwelling.
The Maine Coon is excellent if you have plenty of space (either inside or outside) where they can roam and explore. They really need a household with energetic people to play with them, especially games that challenge their larger-than-usual feline brains. They’re a bit more physically demonstrative than British Shorthairs but need time to warm up to you before they’ll snuggle. Neither breed is appropriate for a home with a lot of smaller pets, as they’re both ferocious hunters. Unless you can keep mice, rabbits, guinea pigs and so on in a separate room where the cat doesn’t go, they’re apt to end up as a snack.