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Then an expert revealed what his many facial expression­s REALLY mean

I thought I knew my cat Ted better than anyone...

- Amanda Platell

My moggie Ted is quite a character. Despite being fretful and fearful of strangers, he loves me to chase him around the house — especially up and down the stairs.

He’s a big fan of hide-and-seek. And he’s perfected the art of doing kangaroo-jumps on the bed, which is fine unless it’s 5am.

What’s more, he never intentiona­lly scratches and only ever hisses at dogs.

Despite Ted’s complex personalit­y, i’ve only ever detected him having four different facial expression­s: hungry, angry, sleepy and ‘Don’t mess with me i’m busy licking my big, fat tummy’.

So, i was surprised to hear last week that cats, renowned for being aloof and uncommunic­ative, have 276 facial expression­s.

That’s a lot more than we humans (44) and their traditiona­l foe the dog (27).

This finding comes from researcher­s at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who filmed 53 adult domestic shorthair cats at a charity cat cafe and analysed 26 facial muscle movements from blinks and whisker movements to lip licks and nose wrinkles.

of the recorded facial expression­s, about 45 per cent were thought to be friendly, and 37 per cent were more aggressive or angry, with the remaining 18 per cent an unclear mixture of the two.

Clearly it was time i trained myself to be more alert to my slightly weird Ted’s shifting moods by reading his expression­s. So i got in touch with cat behaviouri­st Lucy Hoile whose new title, The Book your Cat Wishes you Would Read, delves deep into the feline psyche.

i invited Lucy, a busy married mother-ofthree with a flair for understand­ing felines and their behaviour, to my home to observe Ted’s expression­s.

Regular readers may already know that Ted had a terrible start in life. When i collected him from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in south London a decade ago he was a pitiful little creature, who ran straight under my long summer dress and hid.

only when i picked him up did i notice he had no fur from his front legs backwards and his feet were badly disfigured.

The vet explained he’d been the victim of a sadistic gangland ritual whereby new members had to prove they had the right stuff by holding a kitten by its forelegs and lowering it into boiling water.

Ted was lucky to have survived and i am happy to say that, although his tummy fur never grew back beyond a short fuzz and his back feet are still mangled, he has grown into a very fat and contented, if a little eccentric, moggie.

YET, he has always been timid and so anxious that the mere sound of a teaspoon dropped in the sink sends him fleeing upstairs to his favourite hiding place, a cupboard in my study above the hot water tank. There he sits on a shelf stacked with old towels, which means he’s not only safe and secure high above the ground but also as warm as toast.

‘Living with a cat like Ted can be difficult,’ says Lucy when she comes round and he flees upstairs to his cupboard.

‘ Traumatise­d cats have additional needs that may not apply to friendly, wellby rounded individual­s.

‘They become stressed easily and need their hiding places to cope with challengin­g situations. it takes time and patience for strangers to make friends with Ted, gradually building his trust by letting him make the first move, being careful not to spook him, rewarding him with food treats and small play sessions.

‘All this in a way where Ted is in control and is not under pressure to interact too much, too soon.’ Well, she has Ted down to a T. Lucy adds: ‘When i listen to you talk about Ted, it’s so clear how much he is loved and how loving he is in return. However, this is not something an “outsider” would see on first meeting Ted.

‘He is anxious and untrusting of new people, and considerin­g the abuse he suffered before finding his forever home, that is absolutely justified.’

Lucy notices Ted’s ears don’t move as most cats’ do. i explain that he developed abscesses on his ear tips a few years ago, which had calcified, making him look a little bit weird. So, what is Lucy’s advice about my scaredy cat?

‘Dig out your detective hat and figure out what your cat is trying to tell you, and you will find a solution to the behavioura­l problems,’ she says.

Which expression­s has Lucy identified?

First, obviously, is fear. Ted had retreated to his cupboard, screwed himself up into a tight ball and sat there, his green eyes wide open, with hugely dilated black pupils, nose sweating, whiskers flattened.

As Ted hates being picked up or cuddled and has never sat on my lap, monitoring his changing facial expression­s was going to be difficult, if not impossible.

Fortunatel­y, i had taken pictures of him on my mobile over the weekend before Lucy’s visit to get a wide range of different expression­s. So i showed these to her.

one of my favourites is of him eating his favourite treat, a marks & Spencer Best ever trifle, with his whiskers back (not in anger, but to avoid the cream on the rim) and a big smile as he scoops it up with his paw. That’s Ted’s happy face, says Lucy.

Then there’s his ‘ Why isn’t she playing with me?’ look, as he sits upstairs behind the banisters where he likes to play ‘catch the mouse’, even though he’s never caught or killed anything.

This requires me to wiggle my fingers through the banisters and try to withdraw them before he swipes at them with his paw. But he’s faster than me, so some injuries have occurred — to me, not him.

Wistful Ted is a new look Lucy spotted from my pictures. Sitting by the glass doors to the terrace at night watching the world go by and waiting to be let out to meet his imaginary friends and terrify the moths, he is clear- eyed and alert.

Ted has no real friends except me and his occasional playdate girlfriend Lyla, a British shorthair. maybe that’s why he looks sad sometimes: head tilted down, whiskers drooping.

He appears to think he’s the feline version of a watchdog, and every night, at bedtime, he sits by the back door as if guarding the place.

At such times, Lucy notes, he looks resolute and alert, whiskers forward, ears pricked, eyes focused on any impending danger.

Then there’s annoyingly demanding Ted, miaowing away — usually when i’m working and he feels neglected — and jumping on the keyboard in a bid for attention. in this mode, i’m told, his eyes are alert, his ears up.

And if he’s blinking, it’s a sure sign he’s relaxed. This normally happens when it’s just the two of us watching TV and he sits beside me purring, his eyelashes slowly sweeping up and down.

There’s also his happy face, most observable when he’s waiting for breakfast. Then, i swear his lips are smiling and his eyes bright. Ted does not like being kept waiting for his first meal of the day. if i’m having a lie-in at the weekend, he jumps on the bed and strokes my eyelids open.

THEN, of course, there’s sleeping Ted, curled up on his favourite green cashmere throw, his little head poised on his front foot, ears down, tail tucked in, purring away.

So what had i learnt from Ted’s day of discovery?

i was wrong: he has far, far more than four facial expression­s. He has dozens and dozens, though i think we’d be stretching the truth to claim he has hundreds.

maybe we can put that down to being a timid creature who never quite got over the abuse he suffered as a kitten.

if he were human, i suspect he’d have been diagnosed long ago with obsessive- compulsive disorder or even post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘With the right kind of love and care, even the most traumatise­d cats can show love and be loved in return,’ says Lucy. ‘ He is a very special cat and you clearly share a very close and loving bond.’

About an hour after Lucy had left, Ted skulked tentativel­y downstairs from his cupboard.

He checked out the coast was clear, loudly demanded a tuna supper and, of course, his m&S trifle treat, then curled up on the sofa beside me.

I think all is forgiven.

The Book Your Cat Wishes You Would Read, by Lucy hoile, is published by Orion at £18.99.

 ?? ?? Body language: Amanda realises her pet can speak volumes if she learns to read the signs
Body language: Amanda realises her pet can speak volumes if she learns to read the signs

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