“Don’t be stupid,” her father scoffs. “Cat’s don’t smile. They only have on expression!"
Poor Virginia. Maybe there really isn't a Santa Claus.
Even cat people will agree that most domestic cats have somewhat unexpressive faces. If you are a true “cat whisperer” you may not agree, but for most of us, reading a cat’s expression is more difficult.
Some scientists believe that the stone-faced expression on cats is because they started on the path to domestication only 12,000 to 9,500 years ago and have been “socialized” only a few thousand years. They may gradually evolve more expressive faces.
What? Twelve thousand years seems long enough, even on the evolutionary scale, to develop as expressive a face as is needed to live with humans. But what do I know?
Human faces, compared to cats, are much more expressive. [Duh!] We have lots of muscles and nerves and other things going on. People depend at lot on reading facial expressions of others to assess people’s feeling, personality, and intent but, whether people realize it or not, body language plays a large part in that assessment.
Is it possible cats are hard to read because we pay more attention to their mouths and eyes. Most breeds of cats have large eyes and a down-turned mouth. If we try to superimpose human feelings onto those features, the result is bound to be off.
Some sources indicate the fixed expression of cats is due to the anatomy of the cat concerned, and not a true facial expression. Different breeds of cats do have varying anatomy which modifies the “expression” slightly from breed to breed.
A few examples are below. Frankly, I didn’t find the differences that pronounced, but I’m not familiar with many breeds of cats and perhaps didn’t choose the most diverse ones.
pictures-of-cats.org/cats-unexpressive petzlover.com/persian-cats cat-breeds-encyclopedia.com/Cornish-Rex
thepaws.net/calico-cat bowwowinsurance.com.au/cats/ coleandmarmalade.com/facts-about-tabbys
CatFACS stands for Cat Facial Action Coding System, a scientific tool for observing, identifying, and coding facial movements in cats.
This system was adapted from a widely used system created in 1978 to study human facial expressions. The system “allows an objective and comprehensive analysis of facial movements based on the movements of facial muscles. Each of the individual facial movements is called an Action Unit (AU) and defines a specific set of appearance changes visible on the face due to the contraction of specific muscles. Action Descriptors (ADs) are additional codes created to classify broader movements such as head direction changes. In CatFACS, there is also a set of additional movements to describe the incredibly complex range of ear movements in the domestic cat, called Ear Action Descriptors. Together, AUs, ADs and EADs cover all potential movements on the cat face, including very subtle and small… ” feline-friends.org.uk/facial-expressions-of-cats/
Thank goodness you have to be a trained and certified coder to use the system, so we are all safe.
In another study performed by Georgia Mason, a professor in the University of Guelph's Department of Animal Biosciences, a large number of participants [mostly cat owners] studied photos of cats and indentified for each whether the expressions was positive or negative [without any other information]. The scientific team had already spent hours perusing videos of cats in various situations and rating the cats’ expressions. About sixty percent of the general participants judged incorrectly compared to the scientists. dailymail.co.uk/Scientists-claim-cats-facial-expressions
holding bag of treats
Source of images: dailymail.co.uk/Scientists-claim-cats-facial-expressions
Mystery Solved! Virginia, you can relax now. Even though these studies do prove that cats to have different expressions, they can be difficult to read. The cat’s entire body language is as important, if not more, to intuit what your cat is feeling.
For example: Does the smile on a cat’s face mean the cat is happy? The following cats look happy to me, but are they? Cats smiling below courtesy of boredpanda.com/smiling-cats/
According to Viktorija Gabulaitė writing for boredpanda.com “these aren't true smiles, as their facial muscles are not the same as humans. So, technically, smiling animals aren't really smiling. More often than not, your cute cat will express happiness via the obvious purring, closing their eyes, and relaxing their head backward.”
Well, I’d bet these cats were all purring.
CASE STUDY -- REXIE
In case you’re not convinced, take a peek at Rexie, a 3-year-old cat which was rescued as a kitten, with a broken backbone and no control over his two back legs. Restored to health by his owner, Dasha Minaeva, but still unable to use his legs, he has no problem with facial expressions.
Credit for Images: Owner Dasha Minaeva
Sources of Images: boredpanda.com/handicapped-cat-rexie-the-handicat.