An idiom is a phrase used to convey an expression or feeling. Idioms, especially the ones that have a reference to animals, have a literal as well as figurative meaning. In case you like to use or read about such idioms, Penlighten’s got a list of animal idioms with their respective meanings and examples.
Funny Animal Idioms
It’s raining like a pissing cow
Meaning: It’s raining very heavily.
Has the cat got your tongue?
Meaning: Why aren’t you saying anything?
Animal idioms are widely used to express a variety of feelings like pride, disgust, shame, anger, happiness, sadness, etc. However, some of these can be easily interpreted without the need for a figurative meaning. For example, the idiom sick as a dog, easily conveys that it refers to a person who is very sick.
But, in case of an idiom like when the cat’s away, the mice will play, does have a literal meaning, which means when the cat is not around, the mice are free to play. However, when used in a sentence, the literal meaning is not of much importance, the expression of the idiom is recognized by its figurative meaning. In this case, the figurative meaning is that in the absence of a supervising authority, subordinates work/behave as they please.
To ease your task of comprehension, we’ve provided a list of animal idioms, each accompanied by its figurative meaning and a suitable example.
A List of Animal Idioms With Meanings and Examples
Better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion
Meaning: It’s better to be the leader of a small group, than to be an unimportant member of a big group.
Sentence: It’s better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion. I’ll prefer being the headmaster of a school, than being a junior teacher at the university.
Bark up the wrong tree
Meaning: To completely misunderstand or misinterpret something.
Sentence: The bank suspects that an employee is involved in the fraud, but they’re barking up the wrong tree.
Sick as a dog
Meaning: Being very sick.
Sentence: Even though he had almost recovered from dengue, he looked as sick as a dog.
Clean as a hound’s tooth
Meaning: Innocent and honest.
Sentence: After a thorough interrogation, the police discovered that the accused was as clean as a hound’s tooth.
Crooked as a dog’s hind leg
Meaning: Very dishonest.
Sentence: His corrupt demeanor clearly hinted that he was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
One’s bark is worse than one’s bite
Meaning: A person who is not as strong or tough as he seems.
Sentence: Has the big guy challenged you to a round of arm wrestling? Don’t worry! his bark is worse than his bite.
Every dog has its day
Meaning: Everyone gets a chance to be happy and successful at some point of time.
Sentence: Don’t lose hope due to these minor losses, we’ll surely crack the big deal next week. Every dog has its day!
One’s tail between one’s legs
Meaning: The feeling of shame or embarrassment.
Sentence: Being fired for sexual harassment, the employee walked out with his tail between his legs.
Work like a dog
Meaning: To work very hard.
Sentence: He worked like a dog for the whole week, in order to be eligible for a promotion.
Lead a dog’s life
Meaning: Living a dull and boring life.
Sentence: Post marriage, poor Mike is leading a dog’s life.
The tail wagging the dog
Meaning: In a situation, when the least important part has too much influence, than the more important part.
Sentence: For a minor heating issue, the service adviser is asking me to replace the motherboard of the laptop, which I feel is like the tail wagging the dog.
Curiosity killed the cat
Meaning: Being too curious can cause trouble.
Sentence: Jack: He was rejected by the employer because, he demanded a lot of explanation over the company’s sensitive terms.
Jill: Curiosity killed the cat
Belling the cat
Meaning: To perform a daring act.
Sentence: The stern manager had to be convinced about the ineffectiveness of the new company policies. A junior executive took the responsibility of belling the cat.
A cat in gloves catches no mice
Meaning: Sometimes, you can’t get what you want by being cautious and polite.
Sentence: John: I’m requesting the tenant to pay the rent for the last two months, but to no use.
Sam: A cat in gloves catches no mice John, talk to your lawyer and send him a legal notice hinting towards the consequences.
Let the cat out of the bag
Meaning: Accidentally reveal a secret.
Sentence: When Jessica asked Johny about what’s going on, he let the cat out of the bag by saying “the preparations for your surprise birthday bash”.
Grin like a Cheshire cat
Meaning: A very wide smile, especially in a self-satisfied way.
Sentence: What’s the matter son, why are you grinning like a Cheshire cat?
As conceited as a barber’s cat
Meaning: Excessively proud of oneself
Sentence: Ever since she was declared the school head girl, she’s been as conceited as a barber’s cat.
Look like the cat that swallowed the canary
Meaning: Appear happy and self satisfied.
Sentence: After the term-end examinations, Kate looked like the cat that swallowed the canary.
When the cat’s away, the mice will play
Meaning: in the absence of a supervising authority, subordinates work/behave as they please.
Sentence: As the teacher was absent, the students wreaked havoc in the class. When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Set the cat among the pigeons
Meaning: An act that causes trouble to others, leading to tensions and anger.
Sentence: By denying the sanction of a holiday on the occasion of Thanksgiving, the employer set the cat among the pigeons.
Quiet as a mouse
Meaning: Very quiet or completely silent.
Sentence: After hearing about the sad demise of Mr. Gray, Jacob was as quiet as a mouse.
Poor as a church mouse
Meaning: Very poor.
Sentence: Anthony is as poor as a church mouse
The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray
Meaning: Things can sometimes go wrong even though you’ve carefully planned them.
Sentence: Kevin: I had made all arrangements to go camping, but it’s raining now; everything’s ruined.
Jenny: It happens Kevin. The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.
Meaning: Struggle for success, especially in a specific field or business.
Sentence: The stock market is like a rat race; most brokers quit due to the resulting stress.
Rat out on someone/Rat on someone
Meaning: Inform the appropriate authority about the wrong or illegal deeds of another.
Sentence: The day I came to know about my brother’s drug addiction, I ratted him out to my mother.
Smell a rat
Meaning: Suspect something as fishy or unusual.
Sentence: I don’t think he committed suicide. I smell a rat.
Strong as a horse
Meaning: Very strong.
Sentence: When my car broke down, Steve pushed it all the way to the garage. He is as strong as a horse.
Straight from the horse’s mouth
Meaning: From a reliable or dependable source.
Sentence: Yes! The mayor himself said it. The news of the special provision for single mothers, came straight from the horse’s mouth.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink
Meaning: You can provide someone with an opportunity, but you can force him/her to take advantage of it.
Sentence: He admitted his son to college. But, his son doesn’t show any interest in studies. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Stubborn as a mule
Meaning: Very stubborn.
Sentence: When Sara wants a candy, she doesn’t listen to anybody. She’s as stubborn as a mule.
Back/Bet on the wrong horse
Meaning: To support something or someone that cannot win or succeed.
Sentence: The entrepreneur invested money in the shares of a losing company; he backed the wrong horse.
Get on one’s high horse
Meaning: Act in a way as if you’re better in certain aspects than others.
Sentence: The CEO always gets on his high horse while talking to the junior employees.
Get off one’s high horse
Meaning: Be humble and less haughty.
Sentence: Although he’s the Assistant Vice President of the club, he always gets off his high horse when discussing with his subordinates.
Flog a dead horse
Meaning: Insist on talking over something that has already been thoroughly discussed.
Sentence: Although her full salary was credited to her account, Linda insisted on discussing over the mistake on her paycheck. She was flogging a dead horse.
Hold one’s horses
Meaning: Be patient, or slow down.
Sentence: Mr. Robinson asked his son to hold his horses on his request for a new phone.
Lock the barn door after the horse is gone
Meaning: Take precautions after the damage is done.
Sentence: After losing all her valuables in the robbery, Mrs. Patterson’s thought of installing burglar alarms was like locking the barn door after the horse was gone.
Meaning: An exclamation of astonishment, surprise, delight, or dismay.
Sentence: Holy cow, you just set a new world record.
Take the bull by the horns
Meaning: To deal with something head-on or in a straightforward way.
Sentence: I decided to take the bull by the horns, and asked my wife for a divorce.
Hit the bull’s-eye
Meaning: To achieve a goal perfectly.
Sentence: Ana hit the bull’s-eye, when she suggested the perfect way to market the new product.
Have a cow
Meaning: Be upset, angry, or worried about something.
Sentence: I thought he was going to have a cow after learning about his failure in the exam.
A cash cow
Meaning: A business that makes a lot of profit.
Sentence: The idea of starting a shopping website, really proved to be a cash cow.
Awkward as a cow on roller skates
Meaning: Very awkward or clumsy.
Sentence: Her dance seemed as awkward as a cow on roller skates.
A bull in a China shop
Meaning: A very clumsy and tactless person.
Sentence: He is like a bull in a China shop, when it comes to dating girls.
Cast pearls before swine
Meaning: To waste something good on someone who doesn’t understand its value.
Sentence: Giving free passes for a music concert, to a bunch of retired colonels, is like casting pearls before swine. They won’t even bother to attend.
Buy a pig in a poke
Meaning: To buy something prior to checking the contents.
Sentence: If you don’t check for the latest software prior to buying a new phone, it will be like buying a pig in a poke.
Fat as a pig
Meaning: Exceptionally fat or obese.
Sentence: If I don’t stop eating junk food, I’ll be as fat as a pig.
Live high on/off the hog
Meaning: Live well and eat good (expensive) food.
Sentence: After earning millions from their valuable discovery, they lived high off the hog.
You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
Meaning: You can’t make good quality products using bad quality materials.
Sentence: To earn revenue, the website has to stop selling fake products at cheap prices. They can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
A road hog
Meaning: A bad driver who occupies the whole road, and doesn’t allow other vehicles to pass.
Sentence: The moment he’s behind the wheel, he becomes a road hog.
Go whole hog
Meaning: To be extravagant and do everything possible
Sentence: Jacob decided to go whole hog on his birthday bash. He ordered champagne, steak, and exquisite French desserts.
Go hog wild
Meaning: Behave wildly
Sentence: The moment we stepped on the dance floor, we went hog wild.
Make a monkey out of someone
Meaning: To make a fool out of someone.
Sentence: On April Fool’s Day, John made a monkey out of me.
Go ape over something or someone
Meaning: To be very excited.
Sentence: I simply go ape over strawberry ice cream.
Monkey around with
Meaning: Mess with something or someone.
Sentence: He doesn’t like to monkey around with those street chaps.
Meaning: Dishonest or misleading tricks.
Sentence: That’s the deal; no monkey business. Take it or leave it!
Monkey see, monkey do
Meaning: Imitating what other people do.
Sentence: If you show respect towards your parents, the kids too would respect them; monkey see, monkey do.
More fun than a barrel of monkeys
Meaning: Very entertaining or funny.
Sentence: The T.V. soap ‘Friends’, is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
Gentle as a lamb
Meaning: Very gentle.
Sentence: Although Mr. Finch looks fierce, he is as gentle as a lamb.
Innocent as a lamb
Meaning: Very innocent.
Sentence: Rover is the prime suspect in the bank robbery case. But I think he’s as innocent as a lamb.
Like lambs to the slaughter
Meaning: Doing something without realizing the dangers or difficulties in a situation.
Sentence: The school soccer team went to the field like lambs to the slaughter; they didn’t even know who their opponent was.
The black sheep of the family
Meaning: The worst member of the family.
Sentence: Will is the black sheep of the family; he does drugs and all sorts of bad things.
Separate the sheep from the goats
Meaning: To choose the best people out of a mixed group.
Sentence: Let’s read this bunch of résumés, and separate the sheep from the goats.
In two shakes of a lamb’s tail
Meaning: Very quickly.
Sentence: The pizza delivery guy reached our door in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
Get someone’s goat
Meaning: Annoy or anger someone.
Sentence: By repetitively asking stupid questions, the dumb student was getting the professor’s goat.
A lone wolf
Meaning: People who choose to do their things on their own (without anybody’s help).
Sentence: Chuck Norris plays the lone wolf in the film ‘Expendables 2’.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Meaning: Someone who appears to be gentle and friendly, but in fact is dangerous or evil.
Sentence: Brad Pitt was shown as the good guy in the film, but actually was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Meaning: To raise a false alarm.
Sentence: The commentators declared a goal, without noticing the penalty; they were crying wolf like always.
Keep the wolf from the door
Meaning: To maintain oneself at an acceptable level.
Sentence: I work hard enough to keep the wolf from the door.
Keep the wolves at bay
Meaning: To avoid something unpleasant or harmful.
Sentence: The employees were angry about the new leave policy. The management had to take steps to keep the wolves at bay.
Wolf down something
Meaning: To eat something very quickly and in very large pieces.
Sentence: Don’t wolf down your food, eat it slowly.
Throw someone to the wolves
Meaning: To sacrifice someone to save the rest.
Sentence: I think I’ll throw myself to the wolves, I don’t want you falling in cop trouble.
Other Animal Idioms
Blind as a bat
Meaning: Completely blind.
Sentence: He bumps into every person on the street, he’s as blind as a bat.
Busy as a beaver
Meaning: Very busy.
Sentence: He doesn’t even find time to talk to me. He is as busy as a beaver.
Drunk as a skunk
Meaning: Extremely intoxicated or drunk.
Sentence: After two bottles of vodka, he’s as drunk as a skunk.
Gruff as a bear
Meaning: Unsociable or unfriendly.
Sentence: The guy at the store doesn’t even smile at the customers, he’s as gruff as a bear.
Sly as a fox
Meaning: Very smart and clever.
Sentence: My landlord is as sly as a fox.
A dumb bunny
Meaning: A very stupid person.
Sentence: He doesn’t even know the name of the President of the United States, he’s such a dumb bunny.
Like a deer caught in the headlights
Meaning: Appearing completely puzzled and confused.
Sentence: The hostage looked like a deer caught in the headlights when we rescued him from the terrorists.
A paper tiger
Meaning: An organization that seems powerful, but is actually very weak.
Sentence: Will the company change the outlook of people towards sexual wellness, or is it just a paper tiger?
Put one’s head in the lion’s mouth
Meaning: Put oneself in a dangerous situation.
Sentence: He put his head in the lion’s mouth when he bribed the sincere officer.
Meaning: To hide something or to store something.
Sentence: I squirreled away some money from my allowance, in order to treat my friends on my birthday.
A white elephant
Meaning: Something that is not very useful but costs a lot of money to maintain.
Sentence: I always prefer the Ford to the Porsche. The Porsche seems like a white elephant.
These were some animal idioms from the English language. Hope you enjoyed reading them.