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Animal Proverbs

It is an old trick to talk of people by animals. Yet the same proverb may be applied to many situations, so its meanings can vary too.

Among the some 320 proverbs below, some are from the Bible. Often, a proverb is found in several languages, and with variants. There may also be proverbs with quite similar meanings (equivalents). Enjoy!


"Devotions are for everyone", said the dog, he stood howling at the church door.

"Everyone has his favourites," said the man; he bred snakes in his home.

"Haste is good, but consideration is good too," said the tortoise.

"I can't believe it is possible," said the old woman, she was shown an elephant.

"If I am a little pig as you say, then you must be a big one," said the boy to his mother.

"If you risk your life, I risk my throat," said the farmer, he swallowed a fly in his porridge.

"It tastes of bird," said he who was eating the bat.

"Little, but good," said the wife, she milked her cat.

"Slowly but steadily," said the snail.

"That was the devil making music," said the farmer; his pig screamed.

"They are beautiful animals," said the man, he had a close look at his shirt.

"This goes straightway to hell," said the minister when his swerving horses headed toward the church wall.

"We have a little lion, we too," said the farmer about the cat.

"Well, it was no cow, either," said the man, he lost his wife. [Implied, a cow meant a lot.]

A barleycorn is better than a diamond to a rooster.

A bird never flew on one wing.

A closed mouth catches no flies.

A cow is not called dappled unless she has a spot.

A crow is never the whiter forever washing.

A dog looks well at a bishop. (A cat may look at a king]

A dog wants doggy discipline.

A donkey laden with gold is still but a donkey.

A drop of honey catches more flies than a hogshead of vinegar.

A farmer with eight cow, a wife and a horse, may not fear the bailiff or the clergy, and is best off.

A fine cage won't feed the bird.

A fisherman's trip: Two steps and overboard.

A golden bit does not make the horse any better.

A good husband and a good dog won't chase the chicks. *

A gude [good] calf is better than a calf o' [of] a gude kind.

A guest and a fish are poison after three days. [Don't overstay your welcome.]

A handshake is as binding to a man as a collar to a bull.

A hard bit doesn't make the horse better.

A hog in satin is still a hog.

A horse may stumble on four legs, and a man on a word.

A lamb is as dear to a poor man as an ox to the rich.

A leopard cannot change its spots.

A little bait catches a large fish.

A live dog is worth more than a dead lion.

A man with a fixed idea is like a goose that tries to hatch a rock.

A mischievous dog must be tied short.

A mole can undermine the strongest rampart.

A mouse that has only one hole is soon caught.

A new net won't catch an old bird.

A pig is not without bristles as long as he is not scalded.

A ragged colt may become a good horse.

A salmon from the pool, a wand from the wood, a deer from the hills - are thefts which no man was ever ashamed to own.

A sheep that bleats loses a mouthful.

A smart mouse has more than one hole.

A squirrel ascends by climbing.

A viper that is fond of life, stays away from the highway.

A wild colt may become a sober old horse.

A wild goose never laid a tame egg.

A wise dog knows what is worth barking at.

A wolf makes pigs agree.

Alas for the goose that trusts the fox.

All birds sing with their own beaks.

All donkeys do not walk on four legs.

An ass burdened with books thinks himself a scholar.

Angry dogs rarely give thanks.

As a wolf is like a dog, so a flatterer is like a friend.

As the cow walks in front, her calf follows.

Asses sing badly because they pitch their voices too high.

At night, all the cats are grey.

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds. (Proverbs 27:23)

Better lose the wool than the sheep.

Big birds don't catch flies.

Big fish easily tear the nets.

Big fish eat small fish.

Big fish eat small fish.

Big fish swim in the depths.

Big horses make big tracks.

Birds of a feather flock together. [People with similar characters or similar interests will often choose to spend time together.]

Bring your cat to England, and he says 'meow' there, too.

Close by shoots no hare.

Cows don't catch rabbits.

Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.

Dead horses do not kick.

Death devours lambs as well as sheep.

Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. (Proverbs 23:31-32)

Do not wear yourself out to get rich . . . for [riches] will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. (Proverbs 23:4-5)

Doesn't a dog return to a place where there are meat bones?

Dogs don't make cats. [The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.]

Don't believe the horse dealer unless hair grows in the palm of his hands.

Don't blame God for having created the tiger, but thank him that he did not give him wings.

Don't burn down the house to scare away mice.

Don't change horses in the middle of the stream.

Don't count your chickens before they hatch.

Don't fly till your wings are grown.

Don't judge how the dog is by its coat or the tramp by his torn, old, or shabby clothing. [Appearances can be deceptive - or deceitful - for good or bad. "Don't judge a book by its cover." The opposite is valid too.]

Don't pat the cat the wrong way if you want him to purr. [Don't rub the cat the wrong way . . .).

Don't praise too early: Unripe barley, an untamed colt and an unknown woman.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Don't sell the bear's skin before you have caught the bear.

Don't sell the herring before she is caught in the net.

Don't set the fox to herd the geese.

Don't steal a goose and give the church the giblets.

Don't think a hare's foot in your pocket brings luck; mind instead what happened to the hare. *

Don't trust a dog, even if he sleeps. *

Don't wake the sleeping cat. [Let sleeping dogs lie.]

Even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in a while. [Sometimes people can be correct just by being lucky.]

Even though the fox is clever, more fox furs are sold than donkey leather.

Every goat can jump over a fallen fence. *

Every gypsy praises his own horse.

Fishes that swallow boats, don't live in brooklets.

For the lack of a horse one rides the billygoat.

For the lack of oxen one ploughs with a donkeys.

Fox counsels are dangerous to chickens.

Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler. (Proverbs 6:5) - [The setting; Free yourself - give your neighbour no rest if you have put up security for him (or her), or if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, for then you have been trapped by your dear words. (v. 1-3)]

From the bull, expect a bellow.

Glow-worms are not lanterns.

Go to bed with dogs and get up with fleas

Good feeding makes for good cattle.

Hare hunting is better than sheep hunting.

He can wile the flounders oot o' the sea.

He is a donkey who carries more than he can bear.

He that has an eel by the tail has a very unlikely hold.

He that lacks my mare may buy my mare.

He that lies with dogs comes up with fleas.

He who falls in puppy love, leads a dog's life.

He who has a thousand sheep, must battle fifty wolves.

He who makes himself a dove is eaten by hawks.

He who makes himself a ewe the wolf eats.

He who plays with a cat must expect to be scratched.

He who was born a hen likes to cackle.

Hedgehogs are not to be killed with a fist.

Herring is fish, too. [It cost little in earlier times when there was lots of it and a poor family could afford it.]

How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it! (Proverbs 1:17)

Hunger can make a monkey eat pepper.

I have lived too near a wood to be frightened by owls.

If a beard were a sign of intelligence, a goat would be Socrates.

If a donkey bray at you don't bray at him.

If a lake is still, (don't) believe there is no crocodile in it. [It depends on which lake it is.)*

If dog prayers were answered, bones would rain from the sky.

If it was a matter of beard only, the goat could deliver the sermon.

If not for the cat, the mice would eat up the food.

If one sheep has got scabies, several get it. [Scabies is a contagious, itching skin infestation caused by a mite. The disease can be treated.]

If the bear will learn to dance he must go to school early.

If the camel gets his nose in the tent his body will soon follow.

If the dog had not stopped to catch his breath, he we would have got the rabbit.

If the hen did not cackle, you would not know she had laid an egg.

If the snake cares to live, it doesn't journey upon the high-road.

If you act like a donkey, don't complain when people ride you.

If you call one wolf, you invite the pack.

If you don't step on the snail's tail, he won't come and bite you.

If you drive the dog out, his stink remains inside.

If you give someone a fish, he has food for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he has food for his whole life.

If you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.

If you put a crow in a cage will it talk like a parrot?

In small woods large hares may be caught.

In the dark all swine are black (or dim, or grey).

Incredible news - a jackal gone on a pilgrimage.

It does no good to beat a dead horse.

It is a good dog that smells it when a thief is about.

It is a good horse that pulls its own cart.

It is bad for puppies to play with cub bears.

It is easy to cut up a dead elephant.

It is easy to threaten a bull from the window.

It is not always such a good idea to build a fence around the garden to keep the rabbits out.

It is not butter, all that comes from the cow.

It is not for the swan to teach eaglets to sing.

It is not safe for the mouse to have the cat for a playmate.

It is the quiet pigs that eat the meal.

It is with his claw the cat catches mice.

It suits the pig to put his foot in the food-tray while he eats.

It's a poor bird that fouls its own nest.

It's bad to breed wild beasts in one's home.

It's better to go home and make a net than merely to look wistfully for the fish in the deep pond.

It's easy to blame the dog, he cannot defend himself against it.

It's easy to tie up a bear.

It's good when the nasty cow has short horns.

Its meat makes the colt look good.

It's no joke to get a real bear hug.

It's not a good cow that butts her own calf.

It's not an old monkey that one teaches to make faces.

It's not cunning that kills the fish; it's rather the net.

It's not easy to make gouts out of grey sheep.

It's not every year that whales come ashore.

It's not good to stand between two goring bulls.

It's not the cow that moos the loudest who gives the most milk.

It's the chicken that sings who laid the egg.

Lambs rarely agree when they are all tied together.

Large fish are caught where there is much water.

Laws catch flies and let hornets go free.

Let every herring hang by its own tail.

Let sleeping dogs lie.

Like a bird that flees its nest is anyone who flees from home. (Proverbs 27:8) [Doubt it.]

Like breeds like.

Little by little, the bird builds its nest.

Mad dogs get torn hides.

Many buy bear skin before he is shot.

Marriage is like an eel pot, the one on the outside wants to get in, and the one inside wants to get out.

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love. (Proverbs 5:18-19)

Milk is food for Mons [the cat).

No matter how big the whale is, a little harpoon may kill him.

No matter how high a bird flies, it has to come down for water.

Not only donkeys trot to the market.

Nothing is ever well done in a hurry except fleeing from the plague or from quarrels and catching fleas.

Old cats would like to lie by the fireside.

One ape makes another gape.

One does not say to porpoises: "Go and get a kid."

One does not wed hens with foxes. [Cf. "An ill marriage is a spring of ill fortune."]

One should never put the plough before the oxen.

One should never run after two hares at the same time.

One swallow does not make a summer.

Pigs may whistle but they have an ill mouth for it.

Seals do not coat the fox in the forest.

Setting the goat to keep watch over the oats-bag [may not go well).

Should I take the donkey to court because it steps on my foot?

Some people recall what no dog could dream of.

The bait hides the hook.

The beetle is a beauty in the eyes of its mother.

The bird is not ready for flying as soon as he comes out of the egg.

The burnt steak is the dog's part.

The cat catches the rat that is not on guard.

The cat gone, the mice dance.

The cat knows who he likes to be fondled by.

The cat must take into claws if he will up the tree.

The cat that is tied to the cheese, won't have it.

The cat, too, likes a sausage.

The cock governs twelve hens more easily than a man one woman.

The crocodile in the water and the tiger on shore both strive to break my neck.

The dog that has once been scalded by boiling water, fears cold water too.

Psychology teaching: In conditioning, stimulus generalisation is the tendency for the conditioned stimulus to evoke similar responses after the response has been conditioned. For example, if a child has been conditioned to fear a stuffed white rabbit, it will exhibit fear of objects similar to the conditioned stimulus such as a white toy rat.

The dog that was hit by the stone, yells. [Compare: "If the cap fits, wear it."]

The dog wags his tail, not for you, but for your bread.

The dog's house is not the place for storing sausages.

The early bird catches the worm.

The evening brings the cows home.

The ewe that bleats, loses the most of her meat.

The fish comes to his senses after he gets into the net.

The fish does not go after the hook, but after the bait.

The fox goes at last to the shop of the furrier.

The goat that climbs up the rocks must climb down again.

The goat thrives best by herself.

The ham never hangs higher that the dog does not hope to gnaw bones.

The hen won't lament it if the hawk is ill.

The herring barrel always smells like herring.

The last straw breaks the camel's back.

The leopard is absent so they play with the cubs.

The lion is not half so fierce as he's painted.

The little pig grunts as the old sow leads.

The magpie cannot leave her hopping.

The mice don't get peace and quiet during their meals any longer than the cat want it.

The mosquito can throw even a horse to the ground when the wolf helps him.

The mouse knows much, but the cat knows more.

The mouth of the catfish says "Respect me -"

The pig digs so long that it gets a splinter in his snout.

The pig is not big until he curls his tail.

The Pole gets wise too late; only when the horse is stolen he locks his stable.

The poor catch the foxes and the rich get their furs.

The rarly bird catches the worm.

The rats leave the sinking ship and burning house.

The scalded cat fears cold water.

The sleeping cat catches no mice [at the time].

The snail deserves the end of its journey.

The snail too gets along.

The sound of the bell does not drive away rooks.

The wolf always goes back to the woods [if there are any left.]

The wolf may lose his teeth, but not his nature.

The wolf that lies idle shall win little meat. (Haavamaal v. 58)

The wolf's death gives the herd life.

There are more ways to kill a dog than choking it with butter.

There are times the cat eats what was meant for the king.

There is a black sheep in every flock.

There is no brotherhood in horse-trading.

There is nothing wrong with the mare when she wants to go to the market.

There's life in a mussel as long as it cheeps.

There's more than one donkey named Martin at the fair. [Don't jump to conclusions.]

They are bad dogs who bite their own puppies.

They aren't foxes, all who have red hair.

Those who resemble assemble. [Compare: "Birds of a feather flock together": "Like attracts like."

Through lack of thrushes, one eats blackbirds.

Tiger courage is one thing, horse courage is another thing.

To a good cat a good rat.

To horse work, a horse belly.

To the dog that has money, men say My lord dog.

To the little mice the cat is a beast.

Two birds bring more to the nest than one.

Until they are dead, the miser and the pig may not gladden all.

Use a book as a bee does a flower.

We don't always know the fox by its colour.

We have not the teeth of a horse and the hands of the girls.

We tax our health as the bear does his autumn fat. [When he hibernates).

What need is there of a king in a country where there is no work, or of a mongoose where there are no snakes?

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

What's sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander. [Something acceptable for one person may also be acceptable for another.]

When one cow veers, others veer too.

When pride rides on horseback, the fool sits behind her.

When the bear comes, the bulls forget their goring.

When the cat is away, the mice will play.

When the cat passes by, the mice stop squeeking.

When the couch is gruff, the mare easily suffers for it.

When the crane tries to dance with the horse she gets broken bones.

When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed your family and to nourish your female servants. (Proverbs 27:25-27)

When the mouse laughs at the cat there's a hole nearby.

When the swine won't dig into the soil, its snout is black and the soil frozen.

When the tree falls the kid can climb it.

When wolf a wolf, the famine is in the woods.

When you hang silver on the sow, she is good, she too.

When you see a tortoise on top of a fence post, you know she had some help.

Where the goat is raised it thrives the best.

Where there are cattle, the wolf is to die.

Where there are many tigers, the goats get troubles.

Where there are no swamps there are no frogs.

Who barks himself, is spared from having a dog.

Who has no cow, may milk the cat.

Who is kind to animals is often kind to people too.

Who pursues two hares at the same time gets none.

Who rides on an elephant, is not afraid barking dogs.

Who toils like a horse, is to eat like one.

With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life. (Proverbs 7:21-23)

Wolves make swine disagree.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

You cannot drive a herd of camels and be in a hurry.

You cannot take a cow from someone who has none.

You can't eat a fat goose if you don't have any.

You don't flay the bear before he is dead.

You don't punish the crawfish by drowning him.

You don't set a gold ring in the pig's nose.

You have to know how to give an egg to get an ox. [Give a little to get a lot].

You must lose the bait to catch a trout.

You never know the length of a snake until it is dead.

You shouldn't sell the bearskin before killing the bear.


Animal proverbs and sayings, proverbs and sayings on animals, Literature  

From many sources.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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