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Animal Tattoos and Their Meaning (With Pictures)

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Jaymz has held numerous jobs in several states, but no matter where he lives, he always has a job as a tattoo artist.

Learn more about different animal tattoo designs and the meanings behind them

Learn more about different animal tattoo designs and the meanings behind them

Why does one choose a tattoo design? A person may choose an animal tattoo to mark a turning point in their life or to represent a part of their soul.

Some choose a tattoo of an individual animal friend. In today's society, animals are a big part of life. We spend millions on our pets, and many people remember their pets by wearing their images on their own bodies.

Some people need a particular animal species tattooed on their body because of a fascination with that animal, or a spiritual connection to that animal.

But, in any case, animal tattoos are popular. The more common animals include:

  • Koi
  • Snakes
  • Frogs
  • Tigers
  • Horses
  • Birds
  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Dragons
  • Butterflies

We'll see some examples and some of their meanings below.

Koi Fish

Koi, like goldfish, are a kind of carp; they are popular in China, Japan, and Korea. Koi tattoos show brightly colored fish—gold, red, blue, black, and white—surrounded by a Japanese-style wave, or water in some other form.

Koi fish are traditionally considered lucky, which is why they tend to be a very popular tattoo. Because their name sounds like a Japanese word for "love," they are considered signs of affection and friendship. It is said that if a koi is caught, it will lie on the cutting board without flinching, like a samurai warrior facing a sword.

There is a legend that koi succeeded in climbing the waterfalls at Dragon Gate, on the Yellow River, and were transformed into dragons. Thus, the fish became a symbol of worldly aspiration and advancement, for example, Chinese scholars passing their exams and getting government jobs. Koi can also represent courage, attaining goals, and overcoming life's difficulties.


Snakes have many meanings, which is why they tend to make a popular tattoo.

  • Death
  • Danger
  • Medicine
  • Healing
  • Power

An image of a snake eating its own tail in a clockwise direction (head to tail) symbolizes the life cycle or rebirth.

Many civilizations worship snakes. You can find cobras wrapped around the necks of Shiva and Vishnu. In India, there are temples where people pray to snake deities. Snakes even have a special day devoted to them.


Frogs are another popular animal tattoo.

They are the symbols of:

  • Life
  • Fertility
  • Harmony
  • Licentiousness

Many Christians, these days, are getting frogs tattooed on their body. They say "Frog" is an acronym for "Forever Rely On God."


Tigers not only have beautiful fur but look beautiful on human skin.

Tigers stand for:

  • Strength
  • Power
  • Medicine
  • Healing
  • Combat

Tigers in Chinese culture are seen as earth symbols, and rivals equal in power to dragons.

In modern literature, the tiger is usually menacing and fearsome. The wicked Shere Khan, in The Jungle Book, was Mowgli's mortal enemy.

You will also find some cute and cuddly tigers, such as Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comic, and Tony the Tiger.


Horses aren't as popular as other animal tattoos, but they are gorgeous nonetheless.

Horses are symbols of:

  • Grace
  • Beauty
  • Intelligence
  • Free spirit
  • Independence
By Arik Rabinovich, B-Street, Israel

By Arik Rabinovich, B-Street, Israel


Bird tattoos are popular and come in great variety.

You will commonly find sparrows, owls, crows, ravens, doves, and hummingbirds.

  • Crows and ravens symbolize revival and messages from God.
  • Doves symbolize Christianity, peace, hope, and new life.
  • Eagles can represent might, spiritual growth, and patriotism.
  • Hummingbirds can represent a love charm or one who hoards.
  • Owls can embody both wisdom and imbecility.
  • Sparrows symbolize freedom, love, and loyalty.


Often, dog tattoos are a memorial for a beloved pet who has passed on.

Otherwise, a person may pick a breed to portray based on characteristics or a reputation that the person may want to have themselves.

For example, someone may get a tattoo of an APBT ("pit bull") as a sign of loyalty, strength, and courage, but another may get a tattoo of an aggressive-looking dog of the same breed to represent power and the fear that pit bulls evoke.


Petro on November 06, 2012:

What does music notes mean

bads on March 05, 2012:

laos man

rosemarie on June 13, 2011:

its so beautiful

jaymz (author) from USA on June 03, 2008:

Swallows will have a different meaning to different people. In the past, they were common amongst sailers as they represented the trust of the Navy, as well as menaing that the sailor would return from the ocean safely. Swallows can mean loyalty, pride, freedom, and wealth.

It's said that in the past sailors would get a swallow on their chest after 5,000 miles and one on their side after 10,000 miles on sea.

 Traditionally, sailors who had a pair of swallows on their chest would be pulled to Heaven by the swallows if drowned.

It's a common tattoo of those who have been in prison and done their "bird." In Britain, they represent "jail bird."

Swallows on the back of hands is supposed to give you faster hands, whether in fight or work.

There are other meanings, but those are the more common and traditional.

A. English from Oregon on June 02, 2008:

I see a lot of swallows and thought they were beautiful. I was thinking of getting one but want to be sure I know what it means before I do. Do you know?

Theophanes Avery from New England on January 18, 2008:

Interesting. I had no idea frogs actually stood for something. Another popular one is butterflies, the power of transformation. I really like the pitbull, it looks like a wtaercolor... how neat.