Download the Animal Idioms List & PDF Worksheets
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
Fun Animal Idiom Games for the Classroom
107 Idioms and Phrases About Animals
*Updated: December 2021
|Idiom / Phrase
|a barking dog never bites
|a person who constantly threatens never acts
|Don't worry about his vocal threats. He won't hurt you physically.
|a cat in gloves catches no mice
|being too careful can result in failure
|You 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 me
|someone told me a secret
|A little bird told me that you're getting a divorce.
|a whale of a time
|an exciting experience
|The family had a whale of a time at the theme park.
|ants in your pants
|anxious or nervous
|Frank had ants in his pants before taking his exam.
|bark up the wrong tree
|look in the wrong place or falsely accuse
|He asked me if I broke his laptop. I said he was barking up the wrong tree.
|bark up the wrong tree
|pursue misguided action
|Stop accusing me. I'm innocent. You're barking up the wrong tree!
|beast of burden
|someone carries others problems
|I will never be your beast of burden. You have got to deal with your own problems.
|beat a dead horse
|dwell on a topic beyond resolution
|I told you several times that I won't do it. Don't beat a dead horse!
|bell the cat
|take on a difficult task
|Politicians should bell the cat and start reducing the inflation rate.
|unaccepted group member
|Tom was the black sheep of the family and preferred to do things on his own.
|call your dogs off
|stop criticizing or attacking
|I paid you all of the money. I don't owe you anything. Call your dogs off!
|cat and mouse
|The boss kept playing cat and mouse with me and never gave me the raise.
|sleep with many people
|His wife used to cat around while he was working hard at the office.
|The cat burglar took everything in the house before the cops arrived.
|cat got your tongue
|said when someone doesn't speak
|What's wrong? Cat got your tongue? You haven't said a word since we arrived.
|cat on a hot tin roof
|I felt like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting for my medical results.
|something overly complicated
|There is a cat's cradle of rules that you must follow to board a flight these days.
|Her birthday cake was the cat's meow. She ate the whole thing in less than a minute!
|someone being exploited
|Poorer citizens are usually the cat's paw of politicians. They use them only to get votes and never follow through on promised policies.
|sexually suggestive comment
|The construction workers were all catcalling the woman as she walked by.
|a fight between two women
|The catfight was brutal! The other girl scratched her face with her nails.
|a short sleep
|My father always takes a catnap after work.
|avoid doing something because of fear
|Mary was going to go skydiving, but she chickened out.
|Tom always clams up when you ask him about his ex-girlfriend.
|a hip or cool person
|He was such a coot cat. He was respected by his peers and the girls all loved him.
|someone who copies another
|You're such a copycat! Do your own work!
|Her little daughter always cries crocodile tears to get whatever she wants.
|curiosity killed the cat
|curiosity may lead to unwanted circumstances
|Don't enter that haunted house. Remember that curiosity killed the cat!
|dog and bone
|She is speaking with her boyfriend on the dog and bone.
|dog and pony show
|The designer bag showcase was such a dog and pony show.
|very hot days
|The dog days of summer are really humid and uncomfortable.
|folded corners of pages in a book
|He dog-eared the pages of the book instead of using a bookmark.
|American political debates are a dog-eat-dog world.
|She was dog-tired after running the marathon.
|That new Tesla is the dog's bollocks.
|Her mother was upset because her son's room was like a dog's breakfast.
|food taken home after a restaurant meal
|My girlfriend barely ate her dinner so she asked the waiter for a doggy bag.
|dogs of war
|destruction caused by war
|Famine and poverty are unfortunately common dogs of war.
|someone who does all the work
|The chef was the dogsbody in the kitchen. Everyone else broke dishes.
|don't count chickens before they hatch
|don't plan for something that may not happen
|Zoe bought the dress, before anyone asked her to the prom. I told her not to count her chickens before they hatch.
|double dog dare
|She double dog dared me to go hang gliding so I had to do it!
|drop like flies
|die or give up quickly
|The other candidates dropped like flies at the end of the election.
|someone who is excited about something
|She's such an eager beaver when checking updates on Instagram.
|someone who likes to wake up early
|Sara is such an early bird. She gets up before the sun rises.
|elephant in the room
|a sensitive unaddressed issue
|The couple's money problem was an elephant in the room. They never talk about finances.
|every dog has its day
|everyone has success eventually
|Keep shooting and you will score. Every dog has its day.
|Fat cats get wealthier with inflation while the poor have to pay more for groceries.
|strange or suspicious
|Something fishy is going on. He takes his wedding ring off when he leaves.
|fly in the ointment
|annoyance that spoils enjoyment
|The wedding crasher was such a fly in the ointment.
|someone looking for fortune or fame
|He's such a glory hound. He loves the attention from the press.
|grin like a Cheshire cat
|She was grinning like a Cheshire cat after she had used her boyfriend's credit card.
|hair of the dog
|drinking alcohol to cure a hangover
|The hair of the dog is the best remedy for a hangover.
|have a cow
|Don't have a cow! It's not like I scratched the car on purpose!
|hold your horses
|wait and be patient
|Hold your horses! I'll be ready in a minute.
|that is surprising
|Holy cow! Did she really dye her hair blue?
|Stop horsing around kids. You're in the library.
|What a hot dog! He's stickhandling the puck around every player!
|in the dog house
|The coach won't let me play. I'm in the dog house.
|keep the wolves at bay
|stay safe from or prevent near disaster
|He needed a part-time job to keep the wolves at bay and to avoid serious debt.
|kill two birds with one stone
|accomplish two things at once
|Why not kill two birds with one stone and brush your teeth in the shower?
|diagonally across from
|Starbucks is kitty corner to the gas station.
|lazy as a dog
|I was lazy as a dog last weekend. I stayed in bed on Saturday and Sunday.
|lead a dog's life
|Her father lead a dog's life trying to raise her and she never appreciated him.
|let sleeping dogs lie
|avoid interfering in something that may create trouble
|Don't bring up old arguments. It's best to let sleeping dogs lie.
|let the cat out of the bag
|reveal a secret
|Don't let the cat out of the bag about the birthday party.
|let the dog see the rabbit
|remove unnecessary obstructions
|It's time to let the dog see the rabbit. Bring the batter up to the big leagues!
|like herding cats
|a difficult task
|Getting everyone to take the vaccine is like herding cats.
|like the cat got the cream
|satisfaction with some kind of achievement
|After proving her innocence, she smiled at the police officer like the cat got the cream.
|the majority of something
|You took the lion's share of the money. All I got was a couple pennies.
|look what the cat dragged in
|someone unwelcome has arrived
|Look what the cat dragged in. We told you to stay home and talk to your therapist.
|monkey see, monkey do
|silly people copy each other
|Monkey see, monkey do. Your brother spilt ketchup on his shirt too.
|more than one way to skin a cat
|more than one way to succeed
|There's more than one way to skin a cat. Let's quit our jobs and start a business by the beach!
|She has a huge nest egg, so she doesn't have to work anymore.
|no room to swing a cat
|very small place
|There'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 hell
|no chance whatsoever
|You don't have a cat's chance in hell of marrying her.
|eat a lot
|Last night, I pigged out on a bag of potato chips.
|plenty of other fish in the sea
|there are many other available partners
|Don't worry. You'll find another girl. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
|puppy dog eyes
|innocent facial expression
|His daughter showed him puppy dog eyes after dropping his ice cream cone.
|teenager romantic love
|It was just puppy love during high school but they broke up in university.
|put the cat among pigeons
|an action that causes problems
|You really put the cat among pigeons when you brought up those bill payments again.
|raining cats and dogs
|It's raining cats and dogs. Remember your umbrella.
|I escaped the rat race in the office and moved to Hawaii.
|something that draws attention away from an important topic
|The President's gambling addiction was just a red herring for the pipeline problems.
|The gold miner is such a rock hound. He is going to be very wealthy.
|run with the big dogs
|compete with the top performers
|It's time to run with the big dogs when you play in the Premier League.
|someone who is always scared
|Are you really afraid of the dark? You're such a scaredy-cat!
|screw the pooch
|Carl really screwed the pooch on the exam. He's the only one who failed.
|see a man about his dog
|go to the bathroom
|I left the dinner table to see a man about his dog.
|shooting fish in a barrel
|easy or not challenging
|For my brilliant little brother, setting up the Wifi connection is like shooting fish in a barrel.
|sick as a dog
|I was sick as a dog on Monday, so I couldn't go to work.
|sleep with the fishes
|Before pulling the trigger, he told the gangster to sleep with the fishes.
|smell a rat
|I smell rat. I know I left my wallet on my desk, but it's gone.
|straight from the horse's mouth
|directly from the source
|The boss said we're bankrupt. The news came straight from the horse's mouth.
|take the bull by the horns
|be brave and face a challenge
|If you want to be rich, take the bull by the horns and work harder.
|the birds and the bees
|I remember learning about the birds and the bees in middle school.
|the cat's pyjamas
|the best person or thing
|She's the cat's pyjamas. Everyone loves to watch her perform on the stage.
|the cat's whiskers
|the best person or thing
|Do you think you're really the cat's whiskers? Anybody can parallel park with car sensors now.
|the lion's share
|She was upset because her sister got the lion's share of the inheritance.
|three dog night
|Looks like it's going to be a three dog night. It's going to minus 40 degrees.
|throw to the dogs
|allow someone to be attacked
|Why did you throw me to the dogs yesterday? I couldn't defend myself.
|until the cows come home
|for a long time
|She can watch Netflix until the cows come home.
|wag the dog
|distract attention from
|The politician wags the dog to prevent people from discovering his scandal.
|water off a duck's back
|a harmful remark that has no effect on someone
|She insulted me but I didn't care. It was like water off a duck's back.
|while the cat's away, the mice will play
|people will misbehave when there is no authority figure
|They never do any work when the boss is out of the office. While the cat's away, the mice will play!
|wild goose chase
|lengthy undertaking that accomplishes little
|Making the playoffs is now a wild goose chase. The team should focus on player development.
|work like a dog
|work very hard
|My boss has me working like a dog.
Extra Examples of Animal Idioms in Use
Do you want to read more examples and sentences with animal idioms?
Try entering the expressions in a corpus database or language app.
We highly recommend the following corpus resources and tools:
Watch on YouTube: Animal Idioms and Expressions in English
View more Idioms and Phrases on ESL Expat
- Body Idioms
- Cat Idioms
- Clothing Idioms
- Color Idioms
- Dog Idioms
- Food Idioms
- Love Idioms
- Money Idioms
- Sports Idioms
- Time Idioms
- Weather Idioms