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I want attention!:

The meow says many different things based upon its context, but essentially it has one basic message: "I want your immediate attention."

The meow begins as a mewing sound made by little kittens that lets their mothers know if they need some kind of help. In wild kittens, mewing mostly disappears as they grow into adult cats. But the domesticated cat retains some kitten-like qualities even after adulthood is reached. One such quality is how cats talk to their humans -- they communicate to their people much like a kitten does to its mother.

In addition, domestic cats learn to refine their meows to express different needs. They have soft meows, pitiful meows, expectant meows (when the cat food can is being opened). Although cats can develop a wide repetoire of meows, they will not be the same for all cats. A cat will develop a particular set of meows that it uses with its human. A different cat with a different person will use slightly different meows.

Therefore, we can't produce a recording with translations and call it a definitive guide to cat meows. But each person can, if alert, learn to distinguish the meaning of their own cat's (or cats') meows.

Source: Catlore, by Desmond Morris, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1987, pp. 20-22.