To a novice, these two cat breeds seem totally identical and therefore are very often confused. I can’t count how many times someone asked me if Néline was a Maine Coon. So, in this article, I will explain how to easily tell the difference between a Maine Coon and a Norwegian Forest: you won’t have any excuse anymore! 😊 Disclaimer: the following tips only give an indication to help you recognize the two breeds visually, but the only way to know for sure if a cat is a Maine Coon or a Norwegian is to check the cat’s pedigree! So, if your cat verifies some of those criteria, it does not make it a Maine Coon or a Norwegian! It needs to have a pedigree that proves its breed.

Breed history

First, let’s start with a bit of history that explains the similarities between the two breeds.
Storm the Norwegian Forest cat from @kaiaalekse.

Origins of the Norwegian

As its name suggests, the Norwegian forest cat comes from Scandinavia. It is very likely that the ancestors of the Norwegians were semi-longhair cats from the Middle East. They arrived in Scandinavia around the Middle Age with the Vikings’ boats as mousers. Through the centuries, they evolved with a strong body and a thick coat to stand up to Norway’s climate. Also called “Skogkatt”, the Norwegian forest cat is part of the Nordic mythology, in which the goddess Freya’s chariot was drawn by longhair cats. The breed almost disappeared in the 20th century, but breeding plans started in the 1930s to save and protect it. The plans were interrupted during World War II. However, they made a comeback in the 60s, the breed started to be recognized by official associations in the 1970s, and King Olaf designated it as the official cat of Norway.
Luna the Maine Coon from @mainecoonqueens

Origins of the Maine Coon

Similarly, the Maine Coon name tells something about its origins. This breed originates from the state of Maine in the USA. There are several hypotheses about how these cats arrived in the region of Maine. One of them is that the ancestors of the Maine Coon arrived with the Vikings around the 11th century, making them of the same origins or descendant of the Norwegian. Another hypothesis is that they arrived with the boats of the European seafarers in the 18th century. The breed started to develop and being popular at the end of the 19th century thanks to the farmers of the state of Maine, who were very proud of their cats. The breed was then almost forgotten, it was less popular than the Persian or Siamese, but it was rediscovered in the 1950s. By the 1960s, the breed rised again in popularity and was recognized by the ACFA in 1967. The Maine coon is the official cat of the state of Maine. We can now see that both breeds have some similarities in their history, as they are both natural, rustic, longhair cat breeds. They very probably have common ancestors too, which explains their resemblance to each other.

Physical Features

Having discussed their history and similarities, let’s now dive into some of the physical features that characterize the two breeds.
Face Comparison: On the left Tiara the Maine Coon from @mainecoonqueens, and on the right Néline the Norwegian Forest cat.

Head shape

The Maine Coon has a square head, and it is slightly elongated. The profile has a gentle concave curve. The muzzle is square. The Norwegian has an almost equilateral triangular head. The profile is long and straight from the tip of the nose to the slightly rounded forehead.
Profile Comparison: On the left Albus the Maine Coon from @boreas.albus.mainecoon, and on the right Aslan the Norwegian Forest cat from @aslantheforestcat.

Eyes shape

Maine Coon’s eyes are large and slightly oval, but appear round when wide open. They are slightly oblique. The Norwegian has large, almond-shaped eyes, set oblique with an alert expression.

Ear shape

They both have large and wide ears, both with or without lynx tips. The Maine Coon’s ears are set high on the head. Norwegian’s ears outer line follows the triangular line of the face and chin.

Body shape

They both have a long, strong and muscular body. The Maine Coon has a broad, powerful chest. The legs are of medium length. The Norwegian has high legs with the hind ones, which are slightly higher than the front legs.
Néline the Norwegian Forest cat.

Fur

They both have a semi-long fur. Maine Coon’s uppercoat has a silky texture, with a slight undercoat which is soft and fine. Norwegian’s fur has a wooly undercoat and a water-repellent upper coat. The Norwegian must have a mane.

Size

The Maine Coon is a bigger breed even if the Norwegian is not a small cat. Maine Coon: males are around 7-12 kg (15-26 lb) and females are 5-8 kg (11-18 lb). Norwegian: males are around 6-9 kg (13-20 lb) and females are 4-6 kg (9-13 lb).

Color

They can both have all colors variety except pointed patterns, chocolate, lilac, cinnamon and fawn. The amber category does not exist in the Maine Coon breed.
Luna the Maine Coon from @mainecoonqueens

Character

I won’t talk of the character differences, because while it’s true that cats of a same breed can have similar traits, each cat has its own personality. That’s why I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to compare the characters of the two breeds. I hope you now have enough information to recognize Maine Coons and Norwegians! Stay tuned for a future article in which I will compare these two breeds with the Siberian forest cat.

Sources

Title picture: On the left Albus the Maine Coon from @boreas.albus.mainecoon and on the right Tonje the Norwegian Forest cat from @nfc_tonje_magnor Standard LOOF Standard FIFé Standard TICA