The mammalian side of the brain developed when we evolved from our nocturnal existence to become social creatures. This was a time when emotions and facial expressions developed, which are associated with parenting and social exchanges. Similarly, in dreams, animals often symbolize emotions, expression and the response of your more ‘wild,’ uncivilized, yet natural self. This part of your nature can be at odds with the inner critic that coaxes you toward conformity.
Since we view animals as acting spontaneously toward their urges without social restrictions, animals often represent normal urges that are breaking through conscious controls. If you dream of being threatened or attacked by an animal, some part of your emotions or behavior (usually anger or sexual feelings) may have erupted or surfaced in way that felt like it ‘came out of the woods.’ You do not ‘own’ the energy and so it threatens you. If the animal’s teeth are a focal point, there is a sense that these emotions or feelings will cut through skin awareness to have expression. As frightening as these dreams may appear, they are merely the way your natural expression comes up against your desire to ‘be good’ or follow the rules. All symbols in a dream personify aspects of you and the animal appearing in a dream is no different.
Wild animals portray the need to express your authentic feelings in an unbridled way, while domesticated animals portray how you have been conditioned to guard them.
Apes, chimps and other primates can suggest mimicking social behavior or acting mischievously as a way to stir up a response in others. Gorillas are more powerful and unpredictable, reflecting the power of emotion and urges to break through social restraints. Bears too, can represent sudden protective responses, or defense mechanisms active in daily life. Bears are associated with childhood and maternal influences and ideas that revolve around security.
Cats portray your instinctual and sensitive nature that avoids domestication, and is somewhat manipulative. Dogs are ‘faithful’ and loving, representing the easy expression of feelings and love in your relationship with others. The Wild Dogs, like jackals and coyotes, guard the way into the hidden realm of the subconscious. Meeting their snarling teeth portrays your own fears about digging within to discover the truth about how you feel. These types of dogs can appear as Archetypes when you are going through a transformative process. Carnivorous animals can signify how you can be ‘eaten up’ by being afraid to allow your emotions free reign.
Elephants ‘never forget’ and are enormous emotional beings. They portray the power of your emotions to trample over ideas that hold you back. Often, dreams of elephants can reveal long held emotional pain that is coming to the surface. Beasts of burden such as the donkey and ox, suggest being saddled or yoked to responsibility, while the ‘animal-ness’ of this symbolism suggests that it is unnatural or too self-restrictive. The pig is a symbol of satisfaction and enjoyment, sometimes at the expense of all else. In many myths, pigs are sacred and represent the family. Lions and tigers reflect masculine and feminine aspects of the power of sexuality. Both are blindly driven to devour for sustenance, and can portray the power of your innate drives that appear beyond your control when you take what you feel you need. A lion can be the clever psyche pointing out that someone (or you) is ‘lying’ about something.
Domesticated animals, like the cow and bull can represent territorial issues, where the cow is motherly and passive, while the bull is father-like and aggressive They suggest the care-giving qualities of your parents and how you have adopted these qualities through domestication. The bull offers additional insight, in that it explodes when it sees ‘red,’ representing feelings that remain below the surface. It can be a symbol of exploring how you are currently processing anger and what part your parents played in ‘bequeathing’ this trait to you. Additionally, the cow is a cosmic and sacred symbol of expanded awareness and evolution.
The horse is associated with ‘spirit’ and also exuberance, suggesting the enthusiasm to ‘win’ or race forward. Of all the animals, the horse will sometimes reflect communication taking place between what you think and what you feel, since there is a belief that horses are ‘psychic’ or respond instinctively to our thoughts as we ride them. The zebra is a unique creature and it is said that no two zebras have the same pattern, therefore reflecting the uniqueness of spirit.
Goats and rams portray drives associated with sexuality, impishness and playful curiosity, while sheep and lambs ‘follow the herd’ and are corralled, suggesting that you feel that you are being too passive in a situation. Deer can signify the gentleness of the soul and your innocence and vulnerabilities. Rabbits can reflect reproduction, intuition and a sense of sacrifice since they are low on the food chain.
Ground burrowing animals represent both hiding and digging beneath the surface. The soft eyed (innocence) of many of the furry (protective) and burrowing (hiding) creatures, like squirrels, rabbits and groundhogs are rich with symbolism related to ‘emotions stirring below the surface.’ The fox may represent your ‘craftiness’ in hiding your real feelings or an inability to commit or make choices. Rats and mice are often considered to be ‘pests’ or associated with what is ‘unclean’ or forbidden. Rats can be ‘stowaways,’ hiding in ships, or in the shadows, representing abandoning something, sneaking around or escaping like a ‘dirty rat.’ Dreaming of rats and mice can symbolize how you are not speaking clearly about your needs – feeling like you must sneak around in the dark to get your needs met. Used in scientific laboratories, both can symbolize ‘experimenting’ with expressing natural urges.
The Hippopotamus presents a sort of hybrid, in that it is an animal associated with diving beneath the water, where its large size is indicative of the enormous emotions that can be submerged. See Alligator and Crocodile under Reptiles.