Cat idioms in Italian

In this lesson you’ll learn the most common and interesting cat idioms in Italian.

Let’s start!

Click here to go to the cat idioms in Italian interactive exercises!


Cat idioms in Italian: male cats

What follow are cat idioms in Italian featuring male cats.

Essere come cane e gatto

It translates to to be like cats and dogs. It means to be archenemies.

Essere come cane e gatto
To be like cats and dogs
Literally: to be like cat and dog

I miei due figli sono come cane e gatto. Litigano sempre!
My sons are like cats and dogs. They are always fighting!


Giocare come il gatto col topo

Another easy one that has the same meaning as English, to play cat and mouse.

Giocare come il gatto col topo
To play cat and mouse
Literally: to play like the cat does with the mouse

Sta giocando con lui come il gatto col topo.
He’s playing cat and mouse with him.


Essere in quattro gatti

It means to be just a handful of people.

Essere in quattro gatti
To be just a handful of people
Literally: to be in four cats

cat idioms in italian - essere in quattro gatti
Essere in quattro gatti
To be just a handful of people

Non c’era quasi nessuno al concerto. Eravamo in quattro gatti.
There was almost nobody at the concert. There was (we were) just a handful of people.


Quando il gatto non c’è i topi ballano

It’s the Italian translation to when the cat’s away the mice will play.

Quando il gatto non c’è i topi ballano
When the cat’s away the mice will play
Literally: when the cat is not there the mice dance


Avere sette vite come un gatto

This is quite an interesting idiom.

You see, Italian cats have seven lives, not nine.

Is it better to be born an English or an Italian cat…?

Avere sette vite come un gatto
To have nine lives
Literally: to have seven lives like a cat

I gatti hanno sette vite
Cats have nine lives
Literally: cats have seven lives


Cat idioms in Italian: female cats

What follow are cat idioms in Italian featuring female cats.

Qui gatta ci cova

Covare can either mean to brood (eggs) or to harbor (a feeling).

It translates to the English there’s something fishy going on.

Qui gatta ci cova
There’s something fishy going on
Literally: female cat broods here


Gatta morta

This is commonly found as either fare la gatta morta or essere una gatta morta. It has a double meaning.

It’s used to mean someone who plays dumb, but really isn’t. It’s also used to translate to be a flirt.

This idiom is based off of one of Aesop’s fables, The Cat and The Mice, where a cat fakes his death to lure in some mice.

Gatta morta
Someone who plays dumb
Cocktease, to be a flirt
Literally: dead female cat

Chi fa la gatta morta è una persona molto subdola e pericolosa.
People who play dumb are very devious and dangerous.

cat idioms in italian - Essere come cane e gatto
Essere come cane e gatto
To be like cats and dogs

Gatta da pelare

Pelare means to skin.

Bathing a cat is no easy feat. Imagine skinning one. Your arms would end up like a patchwork of scratches.

So when you’re facing a really hard problem, it can feel like skinning a cat…

Avere una gatta da pelare
To have a tough nut to crack
Literally: to have a female cat to skin

Questa sì che è una bella gatta da pelare!
Now this one is some tough nut to crack!


La gatta frettolosa fa i gattini ciechi

It means haste makes waste. Don’t do things in haste, you’ll regret it.

Cieco means blind. Frettoloso comes from fretta, which means haste.

La gatta frettolosa fa i gattini ciechi
Haste makes waste
Literally: the female cat in haste gives birth to blind kittens


Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino

Lardo is lard. Zampino is derived from zampa, meaning paw. The suffix –ino translates to little, so zampino means little paw.

Its English counterpart is the pitcher goes so often to the well that it leaves its handle.

Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino
The pitcher goes so often to the well that it leaves its handle
Literally: the cat goes to the lard so often that it leaves its paw


What next?

Click here to go to the cat idioms in Italian interactive exercises!

Now that you’ve seen the most common cat idioms in Italian, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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