Animal Tattoos and Their Meaning (With Pictures)

Updated on February 9, 2016
By Arik Rabinovich, B-Street, Israel
By Arik Rabinovich, B-Street, Israel

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 image 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 Tattoos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Dennis Dwyer, Ancient Art Tattoo, Tucson, ArizonaMike, Tattoo Machine, Puyallup WA)
Dennis Dwyer, Ancient Art Tattoo, Tucson, Arizona
Dennis Dwyer, Ancient Art Tattoo, Tucson, Arizona
Mike, Tattoo Machine, Puyallup WA)
Mike, Tattoo Machine, Puyallup WA)

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.

Based on a legend that koi succeeded in climbing the waterfalls at Dragon Gate, on the Yellow River, and were transformed into dragons, 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.

Snake Tattoos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Chris Moniz, Www.Chrismoniz.Com, Calgary, AlbertaunknownBob "Trixter" Treat, Red Beard Tattoos and Body Piercing, Harrisburg, PA
Chris Moniz, Www.Chrismoniz.Com, Calgary, Alberta
Chris Moniz, Www.Chrismoniz.Com, Calgary, Alberta
unknown
unknown
Bob "Trixter" Treat, Red Beard Tattoos and Body Piercing, Harrisburg, PA
Bob "Trixter" Treat, Red Beard Tattoos and Body Piercing, Harrisburg, PA

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.

Frog Tattoos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Lovely Lollie, Inkjunkys.Com, Conway, ARCliff (Z) Ziegler, Zebra Tattooz, Streetsboro, OHHawk @ Oxygen Tattoos, Bend, OR
The Lovely Lollie, Inkjunkys.Com, Conway, AR
The Lovely Lollie, Inkjunkys.Com, Conway, AR
Cliff (Z) Ziegler, Zebra Tattooz, Streetsboro, OH
Cliff (Z) Ziegler, Zebra Tattooz, Streetsboro, OH
Hawk @ Oxygen Tattoos, Bend, OR
Hawk @ Oxygen Tattoos, Bend, OR

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."

Tiger Tattoos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bill Medhurst. West Coast Tattoos, located in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, CanadaJavier Urbaneja, Q.bos Bodyart, Aranjuez (Madrid), SpainCliff (Z) Ziegler, Zebra Tattooz, Streetsboro, Ohioxkidox tigerTony Browning, State of the Art Tattooing, Winchester VA
Bill Medhurst. West Coast Tattoos, located in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada
Bill Medhurst. West Coast Tattoos, located in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada
Javier Urbaneja, Q.bos Bodyart, Aranjuez (Madrid), Spain
Javier Urbaneja, Q.bos Bodyart, Aranjuez (Madrid), Spain
Cliff (Z) Ziegler, Zebra Tattooz, Streetsboro, Ohio
Cliff (Z) Ziegler, Zebra Tattooz, Streetsboro, Ohio
xkidox tiger
xkidox tiger
Tony Browning, State of the Art Tattooing, Winchester VA
Tony Browning, State of the Art Tattooing, Winchester VA

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.

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

Horse Tattoos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Swirly Wanx Sinatra, Dragons Lair Tattoo, BrisbaneKim ("The Kim") LaMore, Big Dog Tattoos, Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641. West side of square!
Swirly Wanx Sinatra, Dragons Lair Tattoo, Brisbane
Swirly Wanx Sinatra, Dragons Lair Tattoo, Brisbane
Kim ("The Kim") LaMore, Big Dog Tattoos, Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641. West side of square!
Kim ("The Kim") LaMore, Big Dog Tattoos, Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641. West side of square!

Horses aren't as popular as other animal tattoos, but they are gorgeous none-the-less.

Horses are symbols of:

  • Grace
  • Beauty
  • Intelligence
  • Free spirit
  • Independence

Bird Tattoos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tacho, Thou Art Custom Tattoo And Piercing Studio, Sheffield, EnglandJason Saint, Mercy Seat Tattoo, Kansas City, MOMillenium, Southampton, UKIan McKown, Bound By Design, Denver, ColoradoChilla, Living Canvas Tattoo, Eltham, Victoria, AustraliaSacred Skin, Doncaster
Tacho, Thou Art Custom Tattoo And Piercing Studio, Sheffield, England
Tacho, Thou Art Custom Tattoo And Piercing Studio, Sheffield, England
Jason Saint, Mercy Seat Tattoo, Kansas City, MO
Jason Saint, Mercy Seat Tattoo, Kansas City, MO
Millenium, Southampton, UK
Millenium, Southampton, UK
Ian McKown, Bound By Design, Denver, Colorado
Ian McKown, Bound By Design, Denver, Colorado
Chilla, Living Canvas Tattoo, Eltham, Victoria, Australia
Chilla, Living Canvas Tattoo, Eltham, Victoria, Australia
Sacred Skin, Doncaster
Sacred Skin, Doncaster

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 symbolize both wisdom and imbecility.
  • Sparrows symbolize freedom, love, and loyalty.

Dog Tattoos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Dave Gilbert, Marked For Life, Warren MIPit Bull by Jeff Davis
Dave Gilbert, Marked For Life, Warren MI
Dave Gilbert, Marked For Life, Warren MI
Pit Bull by Jeff Davis
Pit Bull by Jeff Davis

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.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Petro 

      5 years ago

      What does music notes mean

    • profile image

      bads 

      6 years ago

      laos man

    • profile image

      rosemarie 

      7 years ago

      its so beautiful

    • jaymz profile imageAUTHOR

      jaymz 

      10 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      A. English 

      10 years ago from Oregon

      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 profile image

      Theophanes Avery 

      10 years ago from New England

      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.

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