Learn Amazing Animal Idioms in English with Meaning and Examples (A-E).
List of useful Animal Idioms in English.
You can jump to any section of this lesson:
- 1 (A) Different Kettle of Fish
- 2 (A) Leopard Can’t Change Its Spots
- 3 (Bird in a) Gilded (Golden) Cage
- 4 (Don’t) Have a Cow
- 5 (Go) Hog Wild
- 6 (Have a) Kangaroo Loose In The Top Paddock
- 7 (His) Bark Is Worse Than His Bite
- 8 (Like) Herding Cats
- 9 (Like) Tits on a Bull, As Useless as Tits on a Bull
- 10 (On a) Fishing Expedition
- 11 (Open Up a) Can of Worms, A Whole New Can of Worms
- 12 (Play) Whack-a-Mole
- 13 (Someone’s) Goose Is Cooked
- 14 (Straight From the) Horse’s Mouth
- 15 (That’s the) Nature of the Beast
- 16 (The) Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
- 17 (The) Tail That Wags the Dog
- 18 (The) Worm Has Turned
- 19 (There’s) More Than One Way to Skin A Cat
- 20 (To Be a) Fly on the Wall
- 21 (To Have a) Bee In One’s Bonnet
- 22 (To Have the) Bit Between One’s Teeth
- 23 (To Put the) Cat Among(st) the Pigeons
- 24 (To) Beat a Dead Horse
- 25 800-Pound Gorilla
- 26 A busy bee
- 27 A cat has nine lives
- 28 A cat in gloves catches no mice
- 29 A cat nap
- 30 A cold fish
- 31 A dog in the manger
- 32 A guinea pig
- 33 A home bird
- 34 A lame duck
- 35 A Little Bird Told Me
- 36 A lone wolf
- 37 A rare bird
- 38 A scaredy-cat
- 39 A sitting duck
- 40 Albatross Around One’s Neck
- 41 All Bark And No Bite
- 42 All Hat And No Cattle
- 43 Ants In Your Pants
- 44 As Poor as a Church Mouse
- 45 Back the Wrong Horse
- 46 Bark up the Wrong Tree
- 47 Bee in one’s bonnet
- 48 Bell the Cat
- 49 Big Fish
- 50 Birds of a Feather
- 51 Bird’s-Eye View
- 52 Bite the Hand That Feeds You
- 53 Black Sheep
- 54 Blow the Cobwebs Away (or Out of Something)
- 55 Bull in a China Shop
- 56 Buy a Pig in a Poke
- 57 Can’t Swing A Dead Cat In (Place) Without Hitting A (Thing)
- 58 Cat Fight
- 59 Cat Got Your Tongue?
- 60 Cat on a hot tin roof
- 61 Cat-and-Mouse (adj.)
- 62 Cat’s Paw
- 63 Change Horses in Midstream
- 64 Chickens Come Home To Roost
- 65 Chomp (Champ) at the Bit
- 66 Clip Someone’s Wings
- 67 Cock and Bull Story
- 68 Cool cat
- 69 Crickets
- 70 Cry Wolf (verb)
- 71 Curiosity Killed The Cat
- 72 Dark Horse
- 73 Dead as the Dodo
- 74 Dog in the Manger
- 75 Dog-and-Pony Show
- 76 Dog-Eat-Dog
- 77 Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
- 78 Drain the Lizard
- 79 Eager beaver
- 80 Eagle-Eyed
- 81 Early Bird [noun or adjective]
- 82 Eat Crow
- 83 Elephant in the Room
- 84 Every Dog Has His (Its) Day
- 85 Every Man and His Dog
(A) Different Kettle of Fish
- Meaning: Not comparable (with something that has been under discussion
- Example: You may think you know sailing, but the currents at Tierra del Fuego are a different kettle of fish.
(A) Leopard Can’t Change Its Spots
- Meaning: People can’t successfully disguise or change their essential natures.
- Example: Judith swears she’ll tell the truth from now on, but a leopard can’t change its spots.
(Bird in a) Gilded (Golden) Cage
- Meaning: In a luxurious but confining situation
- Example: Theresa married a rich guy, but all she does is sit at home and log on to social media. She’s a bird in a gilded cage.
(Don’t) Have a Cow
- Meaning: To get upset, angry (usually used in the negative)
- Example: Don’t have a cow, man! I was just making a suggestion.
(Go) Hog Wild
- Meaning: Act in a completely uninhibited way
- Example: I went hog wild at the coin show-I really bought more than I could afford.
(Have a) Kangaroo Loose In The Top Paddock
- Meaning: Be slightly crazy
- Example: Howard may seem as though he has a kangaroo loose in the top paddock, but he works well under pressure.
(His) Bark Is Worse Than His Bite
- Meaning: Hostile in manner, but actually friendly
- Example: Don’t worry about Ben. He’ll give you a hard time at first. But his bark is worse than his bite.
Useful Animal Idioms in English | Image 1
…85 Amazing Animal Idioms in English…
(Like) Herding Cats
- Meaning: Difficult to coordinate (said of members of a group)
- Example: There are some brilliant thinkers at our office, but getting them to work together is like herding cats.
(Like) Tits on a Bull, As Useless as Tits on a Bull
- Meaning: Completely useless
- Example: I forgot to bring my power supply, and soon my computer was as useless as tits on a bull.
(On a) Fishing Expedition
- Meaning: Looking for evidence without any solid suspicion of wrongdoing
- Example: This court will not allow the prosecution to go on a fishing expedition. Please keep your questions specific and to the point.
(Open Up a) Can of Worms, A Whole New Can of Worms
- Meaning: Create a new set of difficult problems
- Example: We could cut employee wages, but that opens up a can of worms.
- Meaning: (Confront) a situation in which when one problem is solved, another appears
- Example: It’s been a game of whack-a-mole at work lately – when I deal with one project, another one is immediately dumped on my desk.
(Someone’s) Goose Is Cooked
- Meaning: In serious trouble, with no hope of improvement
- Example: After losing two sets to the invincible Djokovic, the tennis player’s goose was cooked.
(Straight From the) Horse’s Mouth
- Meaning: Heard directly from one of the people involved
- Example: I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth: the boss is giving us all raises next month.
(That’s the) Nature of the Beast
- Meaning: The essence of something; just the way something is
- Example: Parenthood involves lots of responsibilities-that’s the nature of the beast.
(The) Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
- Meaning: A single small thing that exceeds a limit of patience
- Example: I’ve put up with Eduardo for a long time, but when he criticized the color of my car, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
(The) Tail That Wags the Dog
- Meaning: A small part of something that controls the whole thing
- Example: Darlene is the company president, but if you look closely you’ll see it’s really her assistant making the decisions. It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog.
(The) Worm Has Turned
- Meaning: The situation has been reversed.
- Example: Barbara has always bossed everyone around, but today in the meeting Caitlin stood up to her. The worm has turned!
(There’s) More Than One Way to Skin A Cat
- Meaning: There are multiple ways to accomplish this task.
- Example: Joe’s user interface didn’t work well, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
(To Be a) Fly on the Wall
- Meaning: To be an unnoticed observer
- Example: I would have liked to be a fly on the wall when Judy confronted her boyfriend about cheating.
(To Have a) Bee In One’s Bonnet
- Meaning: To be excited in a negative way; to express a pet peeve
- Example: Jill has a bee in her bonnet about the account reconciliation. I honestly think the way I did it is perfectly good.
(To Have the) Bit Between One’s Teeth
- Meaning: In control of a situation
- Example: The team seems to have the bit between their teeth. All the drills are paying off.
(To Put the) Cat Among(st) the Pigeons
- Meaning: Cause a disturbance or disruption, usually intentionally
- Example: If we question the suspect now, it will put the cat among the pigeons, and his associates will scatter. Let’s hold off for now.
(To) Beat a Dead Horse
- Meaning: To continue to argue about something that has been settled
- Example: You’re beating a dead horse. We’ve already decided to stop in Dubai on our way home.
- Meaning: A person or group powerful enough to disregard the rules; a big, dominant person or group
- Example: Toyota has been the 800-pound gorilla of Japanese auto manufacturing for many years, but they’ve run into trouble with safety devices.
A busy bee
- Meaning: A busy, active person who moves quickly from task to task.
- Example: I enjoyed being a busy bee, getting things done,’ she said in her confident way.
A cat has nine lives
- Meaning: Cats seem to get away with dangerous things
- Example: Mr.Smith has been missing for a few days, but I wouldn’t worry about him. Everybody knows a cat has nine lives.
A cat in gloves catches no mice
- Meaning: You can’t get what you need if you’re too careful.
- Example: I think you’ll get that promotion if you pursue it more assertively. A cat in gloves catches no mice, after all.
A cat nap
- Meaning: A short sleep during the day
- Example: I’m going to try to squeeze in a cat nap before my next shift starts, or else I’ll be feeling sluggish for the entire evening.
A cold fish
- Meaning: Someone who is not often moved by emotions, who is regarded as being hard and unfeeling.
- Example: The manager decided not to hire Bill as the store greeter because he came across like a cold fish during the interview.
A dog in the manger
- Meaning: A person who selfishly prevent others from using, enjoying or profiting from something even though he/ she cannot use or enjoy it himself.
- Example: The toddler, like a dog in the manger, refused to give her older sister the notebook she needed to complete her school assignment.
A guinea pig
- Meaning: Someone who is part of an experiment or trial
- Example: Jane used her husband as a guinea pig to try her new baked chicken recipe.
A home bird
- Meaning: Somebody who prefers to spend his social and free time at home.
- Example: Sharah’s a home bird really.
A lame duck
- Meaning: A person or enterprise (often a business) that is not a success and that has to be helped.
- Example: The company started as a lame duck that was saved by an innovative entrepreneur who decided to take some risks and go in a new direction.
A Little Bird Told Me
- Meaning: I don’t wish to divulge where I got the information
- Example: How do you know my boyfriend went out with someone else? – A little bird told me.
A lone wolf
- Meaning: Someone who is not very social with other people
- Example: Glen is a lone wolf and seldom joins in the activities of the neightbourhood.
A rare bird
- Meaning: Somebody or something of a kind that one seldom sees.
- Example: Diane Johnson’s book is that rare bird, an American novel of manners.
- Meaning: Someone who is excessively scared or afraid.
- Example: Gary called Joanne a scaredy-cat because she didn’t want to go exploring in the woods after dark.
A sitting duck
- Meaning: A person or object in a vulnerable position that is easy to attack or injure.
- Example: When my car broke down in a bad neighborhood, I felt like a sitting duck, just waiting to get robbed.
Albatross Around One’s Neck
- Meaning: Something from one’s past that acts as a hindrance
- Example: My drug arrest when I was a teenager has always been an albatross around my neck. When employers find out about it, my job application goes nowhere.
All Bark And No Bite
- Meaning: Tending to make verbal threats but not deliver on them
- Example: Don’t worry about Norm. He’s all bark and no bite. He won’t give you real trouble.
All Hat And No Cattle
- Meaning: Pretentious, full of bluster
- Example: He’s all hat and no cattle. If we put up a united front against him, he’ll crumble.
Ants In Your Pants
- Meaning: Restlessness
- Example: You’ve got ants in your pants! Calm down until I can finish this, and then we’ll go.
As Poor as a Church Mouse
- Meaning: Very poor
- Example: When we got married, we were both poor as a church mouse, and we had to live with my husband’s parents.
Back the Wrong Horse
- Meaning: To support the losing side
- Example: I think we’re backing the wrong horse in supporting Jones for the job. The boss seems to have made up his mind to hire Sanchez.
Bark up the Wrong Tree
- Meaning: Pursue a mistaken approach or belief; be wrong in a course of action
- Example: The new accounting procedures had no impact on the financial loss we reported. You’re barking up the wrong tree.
Bee in one’s bonnet
- Meaning: Someone who has a bee in their bonnet has an idea which constantly occupies their thoughts.
- Example: Ever since the blizzard last year, dad has had a bee in his bonnet about moving to a warmer climate.
Bell the Cat
- Meaning: Take on a difficult or impossible task
- Example: Who will bell the cat and take on the job of reducing corruption in this country?
- Meaning: An important person
- Example: Talk to Jon. He’s the big fish in the organization. He can help you get things done.
Birds of a Feather
- Meaning: People having similar characters, backgrounds, interests, or beliefs.
- Example: Tina and Marlene are birds of a feather. They like the same clothes, songs, and books.
- Meaning: A view from above; a broad perspective on something
- Example: For a bird’s-eye view of the city, you can take a cable car to the top of the mountain.
Bite the Hand That Feeds You
- Meaning: Act badly toward someone who has helped you
- Example: It was hard for me to criticize the boss after he’s helped me so much-I was biting the hand that feeds me. But he was wrong in this case.
- Meaning: A person who does not fit into a group, especially a family
- Example: Bob is the black sheep of the family. We all like sports, but he’d rather read a book.
Blow the Cobwebs Away (or Out of Something)
- Meaning: Make space for fresh ideas, encourage something new
- Example: The composer wanted to blow the cobwebs away in the world of classical music and expose audiences to new ideas.
Bull in a China Shop
- Meaning: A clumsy or tactless person
- Example: Matthew is good-hearted, but in delicate situations he’s a bull in a china shop.
Buy a Pig in a Poke
- Meaning: To buy something with no prior inspection
- Example: There’s no way we should buy that factory without visiting it first-I never like to buy a pig in a poke.
Can’t Swing A Dead Cat In (Place) Without Hitting A (Thing)
- Meaning: There are many examples of [thing] in this [place].
- Example: You can’t swing a dead cat in Massachusetts without hitting a good pizzeria.
- Meaning: A fight between two women
- Example: It was a wild night at the bar last night. A lot of people got drunk, and they were thrown out when they started arguing and a cat fight broke out.
Cat Got Your Tongue?
- Meaning: Don’t you have anything to say?
- Example: I saw you at the bar last night with another woman. What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?
Cat on a hot tin roof
- Meaning: Be extremely nervous
- Example: She’s waiting for the doctor to call with her test results, so she’s been like a cat on a hot tin roof all day.
- Meaning: In a toying way; playful in an unpleasant way
- Example: Caroline is giving Joe the cat-and-mouse treatment-she keeps leading him on, but she won’t commit to him.
Useful Animal Idioms in English | Image 2
…85 Amazing Animal Idioms in English…
- Meaning: A person being used by someone else, a tool
- Example: The prime minister has no real power. He’s really just a cat’s paw of business interests.
Change Horses in Midstream
- Meaning: Change plans or leaders in the middle of a process
- Example: We all wish Jack was leading the investigation, but since we’ve already started, it would be a mistake to change horses in midstream.
Chickens Come Home To Roost
- Meaning: The negative consequences of previous actions reveal themselves
- Example: We survived for awhile because stocks were increasing in price, but now the chickens have come home to roost: our lack of basic research is hurting us.
Chomp (Champ) at the Bit
- Meaning: Be eager to do something
- Example: Can I give the project to Ellen? She says she’s chomping at the bit.
Clip Someone’s Wings
- Meaning: Reduce someone’s privileges or freedom
- Example: I’ve noticed my son has been driving recklessly. I think it’s time to clip his wings and take away his car keys.
Cock and Bull Story
- Meaning: A far-fetched story, probably untrue
- Example: Do you expect me to believe that cock-and-bull story? You’re lying to protect your sister.
- Meaning: Someone who has the respect of their peers in a young, casual way.
- Example: Monty is a cool cat. I really like him.
- Meaning: Silence
- Example: What happened when I asked for comments? Crickets. So I assume you’re all satisfied with the proposal.
Cry Wolf (verb)
- Meaning: To issue a false alarm, to ask for help when none is needed
- Example: She says someone is following her, but sometimes she’ll cry wolf to get attention.
Curiosity Killed The Cat
- Meaning: Stop asking questions, don’t be too curious
- Example: Why do you want to go to the city tomorrow? – Curiosity killed the cat.
- Meaning: A surprise candidate or competitor, especially one who comes from behind to make a strong showing
- Example: With two candidates attacking each other in advertising, a dark horse with a cleaner image has come from behind and surged past both of them.
Dead as the Dodo
- Meaning: Completely extinct; totally gone
- Example: Videotape is dead as the dodo; video recording devices are all digital now.
Dog in the Manger
- Meaning: A person who prevents others from using something, even though the person himself or herself does not want it
- Example: Bobby is being a dog in the manger-he won’t let the other kids play with his ball, even though he never uses it.
- Meaning: A flashy presentation, often in a marketing context
- Example: The salesman gave us a real dog-and-pony show, but I’m still not sure what the product will cost.
- Meaning: Intensely competitive
- Example: Real estate sales is a dog-eat-dog world. It’s not for everyone.
Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
- Meaning: Do not question the value of a gift. The expression comes from the practice of determining the age and health of a horse by looking at its teeth.
- Example: It was nice of him to give you the ring. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Drain the Lizard
- Meaning: Urinate
- Example: Justin Bieber got a lot of bad publicity for draining the lizard in public.
- Meaning: The term eager beaver refers to a person who is hardworking and enthusiastic, sometimes considered overzealous.
- Example: Give that big project to the new girl, she’s a real eager beaver.
- Meaning: Having sharp vision
- Example: My eagle-eyed sister spotted the car in the parking lot before anyone else did.
Early Bird [noun or adjective]
- Meaning: Someone who does something prior to the usual time, or someone who gets up early.
- Example: If you think prices at restaurants are too high, many of them offer early bird discounts for people who eat before 5 p.m.
- Meaning: To admit one was wrong, and accept humiliation
- Example: I am ready to eat crow. My prediction about the game was completely wrong.
Elephant in the Room
- Meaning: A major problem that no one is talking about
- Example: We’re coming up with all these great ideas and pretending we can execute them, but funding is the elephant in the room. We haven’t dealt with that at all.
Every Dog Has His (Its) Day
- Meaning: Everyone has a moment of fame, power, or influence
- Example: Joe has had a run dof bad luck. But every dog has his day, and today he was singled out for praise by the president.
Every Man and His Dog
- Meaning: Many people
- Example: Every man and his dog wanted to interview me after I on the race.
85 Amazing Animal Idioms in English.