Feline Phrases: Understanding Cat Idioms (Free PDF Download)

Have you ever heard someone say they have “more than one way to skin a cat” or that someone “let the cat out of the bag“? These are just a couple of examples of the many English CAT idioms. Cats have long been a source of inspiration for language and idioms, and in this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most common and interesting cat idioms and their meanings.

(Like) Herding CatsCuriosity Killed The Cat
(There’s) More Than One Way To Skin A CatFat Cat
(To Put The) Cat Among(St) The PigeonsFight Like Cats And Dogs
A Cat Has Nine LivesGrinning Like A Cheshire Cat
A Cat In Gloves Catches No MiceLet The Cat Out Of The Bag
A Cat NapLike A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
A Cat’s PawLook What The Cat Dragged In
A CopycatNot Enough Room To Swing A Cat
A Scaredy-Cat/Fraidy-CatPlay Cat And Mouse With
Bell The CatRain Cats And Dogs
Can’t Swing A Dead CatThe Cat’s Meow/The Cat’s Pajamas
Cat FightThe Cat’s Out Of The Bag
Cat Got Your Tongue?When The Cat’s Away, The Mice Will Play

Whether you’re a cat lover or just interested in the quirks of language, this post is sure to have you purring with delight. We’re also offering a free PDF download of all the idioms discussed in this post, so you can keep them handy for your next conversation or writing project. So keep reading to discover the fascinating world of cat idioms.

Common Cat Idioms 

(Like) Herding Cats – Trying to control or organize a group of people or things that are very difficult to manage or unify.
Managing this project is like herding cats, everyone has their own ideas and they don’t seem interested in anyone else’s ideas. It’s giving me a lot of stress.

(There’s) More Than One Way to Skin A Cat – There are multiple methods or approaches to achieving a goal or solving a problem.
I was too worried about how to control the project team, but my colleague suggested that I have them work in small pairs where they must work together. He reminded me that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
I need a few groceries but I don’t have time to stop at the store today because I have to work late. I can order them online and have them delivered, there’s more than one way to skin a cat

(To Put the) Cat Among(st) the Pigeons – To create a disturbance or stir things up, often by revealing previously unknown information.
The CEO’s unexpected announcement put the cat among the pigeons in the boardroom meeting.

Cat Idioms - Put The Cat Among The Pigeons

The athlete’s unexpected injury put the cat among the pigeons and changed the team’s entire game strategy.

A Cat Has Nine Lives – The idea that cats are resilient and can survive dangerous situations. It is also used to describe a person who seems to be able to survive difficult situations.
After surviving a serious car accident, he’s beginning to believe that he has a cat’s nine lives. Now he has eight left.

A Cat In Gloves Catches No Mice – Being too cautious or overly prepared can prevent one from achieving their goals.
If you keep overthinking it, you’ll never get started. Remember, a cat in gloves catches no mice.

A Cat Nap – A short sleep, typically during the day.
After working hard from the early morning, I like to take a cat nap after lunch.

Cat Idioms - A Cat Nap

After a long day at work, Scott took a quick cat nap on the couch before starting dinner.

A Cat’s Paw – someone who is used by others to achieve their own goals
Jack felt like a cat’s paw when his boss asked him to do something unethical to close a business deal.

A Copycat – Someone who copies or imitates another person or thing.
My sister’s always checking to see what I’m wearing to school in the morning. Then she puts together the same outfit. She’s such a copycat.

A Scaredy-cat/Fraidy-cat –  A person who is easily frightened or timid.
Don’t be a fraidy-cat! It’s just a little spider.
No one has lived in this old house for years. Let’s go inside and have a look around unless you’re a scaredy-cat.
Don’t be such a scaredy-cat! It’s just a little thunderstorm,

Bell the Cat – To undertake a dangerous or difficult task.
Everyone was talking about the problem, but no one wanted to bell the cat and confront the boss.

* In this idiom the word bell is being used as a verb meaning: to provide with a bell.
If mice can put a bell on a cat they can easily hear the cat’s movements and stay safe in the future. Actually putting a bell on a cat without the cat knowing is quite dangerous, that’s where the meaning of this idiom comes from.
Did you know?

Black cats are often a symbol of Halloween or witchcraft. In most Western cultures, black cats have typically been seen as a symbol of evil omens and bad luck. A long time ago they were suspected of working with witches or actually shape-shifting witches themselves.

Can’t Swing A Dead Cat In (Place) Without Hitting A (Thing)/Not enough room to swing a cat – a very small or cramped space
The apartment was so small that there wasn’t enough room to swing a cat.
The apartment is so small that you can’t swing a dead cat in there without hitting a piece of furniture.

Cat Fight – A physical or verbal altercation between two or more women.
The argument between the two actresses turned into a cat fight on the set.

Cat Got Your Tongue? – A question asked when someone is unusually quiet or not speaking.
When the teacher called on him unexpectedly, John froze and couldn’t answer, prompting her to ask “Cat got your tongue?

Curiosity Killed The Cat – being too curious can be dangerous
“I’m not sure if we should go inside that old, abandoned house,” said Tom. “Remember, curiosity killed the cat.”
There are many rooms in this building that are off-limits. Don’t enter any rooms you’re not supposed to, curiosity killed the cat.

Fat Cat – a wealthy and powerful person or organization
We can thank the fat cats on Wall Street for the economic crisis.

Cat Idioms - Fat Cat

The CEO was seen as a fat cat who made millions while the company was struggling to make a profit.

Fight Like Cats And Dogs – To fight or argue fiercely.
Every time I see Glenn and Samantha, they’re fighting like cats and dogs. I worry about that relationship. 

Grinning Like A Cheshire Cat – to be smiling in a way that seems mysterious or suspicious
“Why are you grinning like a Cheshire cat?” asked Kyle suspiciously.

Like A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof – to be restless or anxious
When the politician was asked by the reporters about the Scandal he started getting very nervous like a cat on a hot tin roof.
As soon as the thunderstorm started, the dog was like a cat on a hot tin roof, jumping and whining with anxiety.

Looking for more great animal idioms? Try these other awesome posts on my blog!
10 Idioms with PIG (Learn FAST with pictures and examples)
Idioms With RABBIT (18 Real Examples – with Video) 
Dragon Idioms – 8 Common uses (Real example sentences)

Look what the cat dragged in – used to express disdain or disgust at someone who has arrived (Sometimes playful)
“Oh, look what the cat dragged in.” said Sarah as her ex-boyfriend walked into the party.

Play cat and mouse (with) – This idiom is used when someone, (the cat), is using his or her position, power, or influence to control another person, (the mouse), in a way that is unfair or abusive.
I have liked Jennifer for months. She knows this but she keeps her feelings to herself. I’m getting tired of playing cat and mouse. I’ll ask her out one last time before I move on.

Cat Idioms - Playing Cat and Mouse

Playing cat and mouse can be fun, but it can also be dangerous.

Rain Cats And Dogs – to rain very heavily
When I woke up this morning it was raining cats and dogs. I’m glad I have the day off.

You can find more Weather idioms at my blog post: Common Weather Idioms (29 Real examples + Video)

The cat’s meow/The cat’s pajamas – something that is excellent or impressive
Your new car is the cat’s meow! I love the color, was it expensive?
Our new accounting software is the cat’s pajamas. It’s so easy to use and it will save me lots of time. 

The cat’s out of the bag – the secret has been revealed/Let the cat out of the bag – to reveal a secret

・The cat’s out of the bag now that the company’s financial reports have been leaked to the press.

I accidentally let the cat out of the bag when I told my sister about the surprise party.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play – people will misbehave when they think they won’t be caught
“Let’s have a party while our parents are out of town!” said Sarah. “When the cat’s away, the mice will play!”
Chris: It’s 8:30! You’re going to be late for work!
Derrick: My boss is on vacation this week so I can go into work late.
Chris: I get it, when the cat’s away the mice will play.

You can find more idioms with Rats and Mice at my blog post: 10 Common Idioms with Rats and Mice (Real example sentences)

The word cat has been used in the titles of popular songs, movies, or TV shows. Here are a few examples:

  • Cats” – this is a popular musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based upon the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot.
  • The Cat in the Hat” – This is a classic children’s book written by Dr. Seuss, which was later turned into a popular movie starring Mike Myers.
  • The Aristocats” – This is a Disney animated movie released in 1970.
  • “Cool Cat” – This is a song by Queen, released in 1982.
  • “Cat Scratch Fever” – This is a song by Ted Nugent, released in 1977.
  • Cat People” – This is a horror movie released in 1982, with a soundtrack by David Bowie.
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” – This is a play by Tennessee Williams, which was later turned into a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, released in 1958.
  • Cat Ballou” – This is a western comedy movie starring Jane Fonda, released in 1965.
  • Black Cat” – This is a song by Janet Jackson, released in 1990.

Printable Cat Idiom PDF

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