Animal Idioms List with Meanings, Examples, & PDFs

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Animal Idioms List

Download the Animal Idioms List & PDF Worksheets

PDF Animal Idioms PDF

View the updated web-version of the animal idioms list in the table below.

The idiom worksheets and games are also free to download.

  • Download and print the PDFs.
  • Use the materials for interactive learning activities in class.
  • Students can also complete the worksheets to review or for self-study.

Animal Idiom Worksheets for ESL Students

PDF Worksheet A: Defining Idioms & Writing Sentences with Idioms

PDF Worksheet B: Reading Idioms in Context & Describing Meanings

Fun Animal Idiom Games for the Classroom

PDF Animal Idioms Crossword

PDF Animal Idioms BINGO

PDF Animal Idioms Checklist (for BINGO)

107 Idioms and Phrases About Animals

*Updated: December 2021

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Idiom / PhraseMeaningExample Sentence
a barking dog never bitesa person who constantly threatens never actsDon't worry about his vocal threats. He won't hurt you physically.
a cat in gloves catches no micebeing too careful can result in failureYou need to tell her how you really feel if you want to marry her. Remember that a cat in gloves catches no mice.
a little bird told mesomeone told me a secretA little bird told me that you're getting a divorce.
a whale of a timean exciting experienceThe family had a whale of a time at the theme park.
ants in your pantsanxious or nervousFrank had ants in his pants before taking his exam.
bark up the wrong treelook in the wrong place or falsely accuseHe asked me if I broke his laptop. I said he was barking up the wrong tree.
bark up the wrong treepursue misguided actionStop accusing me. I'm innocent. You're barking up the wrong tree!
beast of burdensomeone carries others problemsI will never be your beast of burden. You have got to deal with your own problems.
beat a dead horsedwell on a topic beyond resolutionI told you several times that I won't do it. Don't beat a dead horse!
bell the cattake on a difficult taskPoliticians should bell the cat and start reducing the inflation rate.
black sheepunaccepted group memberTom was the black sheep of the family and preferred to do things on his own.
call your dogs offstop criticizing or attackingI paid you all of the money. I don't owe you anything. Call your dogs off!
cat and mouseplayfully deceiveThe boss kept playing cat and mouse with me and never gave me the raise.
cat aroundsleep with many peopleHis wife used to cat around while he was working hard at the office.
cat burglarquick thiefThe cat burglar took everything in the house before the cops arrived.
cat got your tonguesaid when someone doesn't speakWhat's wrong? Cat got your tongue? You haven't said a word since we arrived.
cat on a hot tin roofvery nervousI felt like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting for my medical results.
cat's cradlesomething overly complicatedThere is a cat's cradle of rules that you must follow to board a flight these days.
cat's meowsomething wonderfulHer birthday cake was the cat's meow. She ate the whole thing in less than a minute!
cat's pawsomeone being exploitedPoorer citizens are usually the cat's paw of politicians. They use them only to get votes and never follow through on promised policies.
catcallsexually suggestive commentThe construction workers were all catcalling the woman as she walked by.
catfighta fight between two womenThe catfight was brutal! The other girl scratched her face with her nails.
catnapa short sleepMy father always takes a catnap after work.
chicken outavoid doing something because of fearMary was going to go skydiving, but she chickened out.
clam upbecome quietTom always clams up when you ask him about his ex-girlfriend.
cool cata hip or cool personHe was such a coot cat. He was respected by his peers and the girls all loved him.
copycatsomeone who copies anotherYou're such a copycat! Do your own work!
crocodile tearsfake tearsHer little daughter always cries crocodile tears to get whatever she wants.
curiosity killed the catcuriosity may lead to unwanted circumstancesDon't enter that haunted house. Remember that curiosity killed the cat!
dog and bonea telephoneShe is speaking with her boyfriend on the dog and bone.
dog and pony showelaborate presentationThe designer bag showcase was such a dog and pony show.
dog daysvery hot daysThe dog days of summer are really humid and uncomfortable.
dog-earedfolded corners of pages in a bookHe dog-eared the pages of the book instead of using a bookmark.
dog-eat-dog worldcompetitiveAmerican political debates are a dog-eat-dog world.
dog-tiredvery tiredShe was dog-tired after running the marathon.
dog's bollocksthe bestThat new Tesla is the dog's bollocks.
dog's breakfastvery messyHer mother was upset because her son's room was like a dog's breakfast.
doggy bagfood taken home after a restaurant mealMy girlfriend barely ate her dinner so she asked the waiter for a doggy bag.
dogs of wardestruction caused by warFamine and poverty are unfortunately common dogs of war.
dogsbodysomeone who does all the workThe chef was the dogsbody in the kitchen. Everyone else broke dishes.
don't count chickens before they hatchdon't plan for something that may not happenZoe bought the dress, before anyone asked her to the prom. I told her not to count her chickens before they hatch.
double dog darechallenge defiantlyShe double dog dared me to go hang gliding so I had to do it!
drop like fliesdie or give up quicklyThe other candidates dropped like flies at the end of the election.
eager beaversomeone who is excited about somethingShe's such an eager beaver when checking updates on Instagram.
early birdsomeone who likes to wake up earlySara is such an early bird. She gets up before the sun rises.
elephant in the rooma sensitive unaddressed issueThe couple's money problem was an elephant in the room. They never talk about finances.
every dog has its dayeveryone has success eventuallyKeep shooting and you will score. Every dog has its day.
fat catwealthy personFat cats get wealthier with inflation while the poor have to pay more for groceries.
fishystrange or suspiciousSomething fishy is going on. He takes his wedding ring off when he leaves.
fly in the ointmentannoyance that spoils enjoymentThe wedding crasher was such a fly in the ointment.
glory houndsomeone looking for fortune or fameHe's such a glory hound. He loves the attention from the press.
grin like a Cheshire catmischievously satisfiedShe was grinning like a Cheshire cat after she had used her boyfriend's credit card.
hair of the dogdrinking alcohol to cure a hangoverThe hair of the dog is the best remedy for a hangover.
have a cowget upsetDon't have a cow! It's not like I scratched the car on purpose!
hold your horseswait and be patientHold your horses! I'll be ready in a minute.
holy cowthat is surprisingHoly cow! Did she really dye her hair blue?
horse aroundplay roughlyStop horsing around kids. You're in the library.
hot dogshow offWhat a hot dog! He's stickhandling the puck around every player!
in the dog housein troubleThe coach won't let me play. I'm in the dog house.
keep the wolves at baystay safe from or prevent near disasterHe needed a part-time job to keep the wolves at bay and to avoid serious debt.
kill two birds with one stoneaccomplish two things at onceWhy not kill two birds with one stone and brush your teeth in the shower?
kitty cornerdiagonally across fromStarbucks is kitty corner to the gas station.
lazy as a dogvery lazyI was lazy as a dog last weekend. I stayed in bed on Saturday and Sunday.
lead a dog's lifeunhappy lifeHer father lead a dog's life trying to raise her and she never appreciated him.
let sleeping dogs lieavoid interfering in something that may create troubleDon't bring up old arguments. It's best to let sleeping dogs lie.
let the cat out of the bagreveal a secretDon't let the cat out of the bag about the birthday party.
let the dog see the rabbitremove unnecessary obstructionsIt's time to let the dog see the rabbit. Bring the batter up to the big leagues!
like herding catsa difficult taskGetting everyone to take the vaccine is like herding cats.
like the cat got the creamsatisfaction with some kind of achievementAfter proving her innocence, she smiled at the police officer like the cat got the cream.
lion's sharethe majority of somethingYou took the lion's share of the money. All I got was a couple pennies.
look what the cat dragged insomeone unwelcome has arrivedLook what the cat dragged in. We told you to stay home and talk to your therapist.
monkey see, monkey dosilly people copy each otherMonkey see, monkey do. Your brother spilt ketchup on his shirt too.
more than one way to skin a catmore than one way to succeedThere's more than one way to skin a cat. Let's quit our jobs and start a business by the beach!
nest eggsaved moneyShe has a huge nest egg, so she doesn't have to work anymore.
no room to swing a catvery small placeThere's no room to swing a cat in this apartment. I can almost touch the two walls with both hands.
not have a cat's chance in hellno chance whatsoeverYou don't have a cat's chance in hell of marrying her.
pig outeat a lotLast night, I pigged out on a bag of potato chips.
plenty of other fish in the seathere are many other available partnersDon't worry. You'll find another girl. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
puppy dog eyesinnocent facial expressionHis daughter showed him puppy dog eyes after dropping his ice cream cone.
puppy loveteenager romantic loveIt was just puppy love during high school but they broke up in university.
put the cat among pigeonsan action that causes problemsYou really put the cat among pigeons when you brought up those bill payments again.
raining cats and dogsraining heavilyIt's raining cats and dogs. Remember your umbrella.
rat racecompetitive struggleI escaped the rat race in the office and moved to Hawaii.
red herringsomething that draws attention away from an important topicThe President's gambling addiction was just a red herring for the pipeline problems.
rock hounda geologistThe gold miner is such a rock hound. He is going to be very wealthy.
run with the big dogscompete with the top performersIt's time to run with the big dogs when you play in the Premier League.
scaredy-catsomeone who is always scaredAre you really afraid of the dark? You're such a scaredy-cat!
screw the poochfailCarl really screwed the pooch on the exam. He's the only one who failed.
see a man about his doggo to the bathroomI left the dinner table to see a man about his dog.
shooting fish in a barreleasy or not challengingFor my brilliant little brother, setting up the Wifi connection is like shooting fish in a barrel.
sick as a dogvery sickI was sick as a dog on Monday, so I couldn't go to work.
sleep with the fishesdieBefore pulling the trigger, he told the gangster to sleep with the fishes.
smell a ratsuspect deceptionI smell rat. I know I left my wallet on my desk, but it's gone.
straight from the horse's mouthdirectly from the sourceThe boss said we're bankrupt. The news came straight from the horse's mouth.
take the bull by the hornsbe brave and face a challengeIf you want to be rich, take the bull by the horns and work harder.
the birds and the beessex educationI remember learning about the birds and the bees in middle school.
the cat's pyjamasthe best person or thingShe's the cat's pyjamas. Everyone loves to watch her perform on the stage.
the cat's whiskersthe best person or thingDo you think you're really the cat's whiskers? Anybody can parallel park with car sensors now.
the lion's sharethe majorityShe was upset because her sister got the lion's share of the inheritance.
three dog nightvery coldLooks like it's going to be a three dog night. It's going to minus 40 degrees.
throw to the dogsallow someone to be attackedWhy did you throw me to the dogs yesterday? I couldn't defend myself.
until the cows come homefor a long timeShe can watch Netflix until the cows come home.
wag the dogdistract attention fromThe politician wags the dog to prevent people from discovering his scandal.
water off a duck's backa harmful remark that has no effect on someoneShe insulted me but I didn't care. It was like water off a duck's back.
while the cat's away, the mice will playpeople will misbehave when there is no authority figureThey never do any work when the boss is out of the office. While the cat's away, the mice will play!
wild goose chaselengthy undertaking that accomplishes littleMaking the playoffs is now a wild goose chase. The team should focus on player development.
work like a dogwork very hardMy boss has me working like a dog.

Extra Examples of Animal Idioms in Use

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Watch on YouTube: Animal Idioms and Expressions in English

View more Idioms and Phrases on ESL Expat

View the complete list of English idioms and phrases.