I have the same problem.
:3 ends up always as (cat).
Funny is, that only I cann see this on my iPhone. On my PC there still is :3.
I'm curious if this is a bug or it is supposed to look like this. I hope with the next patch they will get it right.
As far as I know, this came with the last update of Skype and it is not relevant if you have iOS 6 or 7.
I already did search the web. This is something new, so I couldn't find anything useful.
The funny part is, that the change from :3 --> (cat) is jsut text based. (cat) is not an animated emoticon. So I guess it would be useless deactivating emoticons.
I also get (cat) and I told my friends to stop sending the cat emoticon cos my iPhone doesn't show it, and it's just text "(cat)". They tell me they're only sending :3 which I can see on my computer, but not when I'm on my iPhone. Also this is the only thing that came up when I searched...
Yeah I know.. that's why I made this post.. because it really annoyes the crap out of me!!! So I hope that they will make an update soon which will fix this problem.. because.. it's.. 'I-wanna-rip-my-hair-out'-annoying!
I don't mind emoticons except for (a), (b), (c) which I use all the time to mean: these are our options. I can use (1) etc., except that might imply a priority sequence. Can I suggest that (a) .. (f) are interpreted as is, and emoticons only use (g) upwards?