How to say “cat” in French – and other essential French vocabulary for cat lovers

Chat is “cat” in French.

But what about “kitty”, “kitten”, “pussy cat”, and other feline monikers?

Let’s look at the many ways to say “cat” in French – including one to be careful with!

9 ways to say “cat” in French

A brown tabby kitten sits amid the folds of a blue and white blanket. His eyes are closed and his little mouth ever so slightly open. He looks totally warm and content and sleepy.

Since we cat people like to talk about our favorite animal in lots of creative ways, you may come across new and evolving slang terms or terms of endearment the more you get into the cat world online and in books and magazines. But these are the standard “cat” terms you’ll hear most often and that will be understood by everyone.

The standard “cat”: un chat

Chat is the most common, standard way to say “cat” in French.

It’s a masculine noun, but in general French people don’t tend to specify a cat or dog’s gender unless it’s for a particular reason.

There’s a more specific reason for this when it comes to the word chatte, the feminine form of “cat” in French, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

So, in general, you might hear someone say J’ai un chat. (I have a cat), whether the cat is male or female.

Note that the word chat can have other meanings. For instance, it could be a borrowed English word for “chat” or “chatroom”.

And chat is also the way to say “tag”, the game where one person chases others and has to touch (“tag”) one of them so that they become the one who has to tag people. In French, the person who’s chasing everyone, called “it” in English, is le chat. Jouer à chat means “to play tag.”

The risky “cat”: une chatte

You probably learned in your French classes that une chatte is a female cat. That is perfectly true and correct, but this word also means “pussy” (a slang, vulgar term for female genitalia).

Because of this, if you say something like J’ai une chatte or J’aime ma chatte, you are almost guaranteed to see a smirk or smile on the other person’s face, especially from anyone under the age of 50. Some may even think you’re actually talking about your private parts rather than your pet!

That’s why, as I mentioned in the previous item on our list, most French people will tend to avoid using chatte in everyday language (well, unless they’re talking about the OTHER kind of chatte…) and not specify that they have a female cat, unless it’s absolutely necessary.

So you could say that while chatte does simply mean “female cat”, a better translation for it in contemporary French would be “pussy cat” or “pussy”.

With this in mind, it’s best to avoid using chatte unless you’re in a situation or place where it would absolutely be taken literally and seriously – for instance, a vet’s office, a breeder’s or shelter, or a cat show. In this way, it’s a bit like the term “bitch” in English, although chatte is never an insult.

Note that while another meaning of “pussy” is “weak person/coward” in English, chatte doesn’t have this meaning in French.

The “kitten”: un chaton

“Kitten” in French is un chaton.

This word is usually used for either a male or female kitten. But if it’s important to differentiate (maybe, for instance, in an adoption ad or at a shelter), the term une chatonne could be used for female kittens.

If you’re a cat person like me, you probably want to go look at some photos or videos of kittens  now, so I’ll wait….

The “kitty”: un minou (or sometimes minet/minette)

The most common way to say “kitty” in French is un minou. Like many of the terms on our list, this word is masculine but can sometimes be used for female cats as well.

You’ll probably also come across the variants minet for male kitties and minette for female kitties, although these are a bit less common than minou.

Minou can sometimes be a pet name or term of endearment, a bit like calling someone “kitten” in French. But I wouldn’t do this unless it was clearly understood that this was your intention, since, like another “cat” word on this  list, minou can also sometimes have a sexual context.

The “kitty cat”: chatounet

Chatounet can be roughly translated as “kitty cat” in French. It’s a bit less common than the other words on our list. Like other “kitty” words, you may hear it used as a term of endearment for a person.

The “kitty”…or card game: mistigri

Mistigri is another way to say “kitty” in French. It probably comes from old French words meaning “agile” and “gray”, although today it can be used for a cat of any color.  

You may come across this term but it’s more rare than the other French “cat” terms on our list, and you might also hear it used as a specific cat’s name.

Mistigri is also the name of a popular card game, usually played by children and families. The game involves getting matching pairs of cards and trying not to end up with the “mistigri”, a card that doesn’t match with any others.

There are lots of decks for Mistigri, and many are cat-themed, as you can see if you do an online search for “mistigri” or “mistigri jeu”.

The “tomcat”: un matou

Un matou is a tomcat in French. You’ll often hear the phrase un gros matou (a big tomcat). This term may be used for any male cat, whether or not he’s neutered.

Common types and breeds of cat in French

Closeup of brown Maine Coon cat with white and black markings whose tongue is out, licking his nose.

Now that we’ve looked at the most common ways to say “cat” in French, you might be wondering how to talk about specific kinds of cats.

For several years, the most common cat breed in France has been the Maine Coon (le Maine coon). You can see the rest of the most popular cat breeds in France on this recent list.

That said, while you’ll see that purebred cats number in the tens of thousands in France, the total number of pet cats has been counted at around 14 million, which suggests that a majority of cats in France are not purebred cats.

Whether they’re purebred or mixed, here are some of the most common types of cats you’ll hear about in France:

  • un chat tigré – a tabby/striped cat
  • un chat noir – a black cat. Note that traditionally in France, as in many other Western cultures, black cats are considered bad luck, but today they’re also appreciated by many.
  • un chat persan – a Persian cat
  • un chat de gouttière – a cat that’s  not a pure breed. Literally “gutter cat”, this can sometimes also be used the way “alley cat” is in English – that is, a cat who lives outside and has it kind of rough.
  • un chat de race – a purebred cat.
  • un chat européen – a European shorthair
  • un chat domestique – a domestic cat
  • un chat d’intérieur – an indoor cat
  • le Chat Botté – Puss in Boots (Literally: The Cat in Boots). He makes this list because one of the earliest and most famous versions of his story was published by French writer Charles Perrault in 1697, in his book Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités, also known as Contes de ma mère l’Oye, which you can read for free online (Le Chat Botté starts at page 67).

Don’t see your favorite cat breed or type of cat on this list? You can do an online search for “races de chat”. Or go to the breed’s page on Wikipedia in English and switch the language to French.

Essential French cat vocabulary

A closeup of a gray cat licking one of its front paws, its eyes happily closed.

Here are some cat-related words you might want to know in French!

  • un animal domestique/un animal de compagnie – a pet. There’s no shorter word for this in French.
  • miaou – meow (the sound)
  • miauler – to meow
  • ronron – purr (the sound)
  • ronronner – to purr
  • cracher – to hiss
  • le pelage – coat (of fur). Ex: Ce chat a un beau pelage. (This cat has beautiful fur/a beautiful coat.)
  • le poil – another word for coat (of fur). Un chat à poil long is a long-haired cat; un chat à poil court is a short-haired cat.
  • les poils -“hairs”, in this case, cat hair(s), aka what the clothing of a lot of us cat owners are covered in! Ex: Dans le métro, Jean a remarqué que sa veste était couverte de poils de chat. (In the Metro, Jean noticed that his jacket was covered in cat fur.)
  • la gueule – muzzle/mouth. Gueule is a very complicated French word because it’s considered vulgar if you use it for a person. That’s why there are expressions like Ta gueule (Shut the hell up). But used with an actual animal, this is a perfectly neutral word. Ex: Le chat avait une souris dans sa guele (The cat had a mouse in its mouth.)
  • les moustaches – whiskers. Ex: Les moustaches d’un chat sont souvent blanches ou noires, mais certains chats ont des moustaches bicolores. (A cat’s whiskers are usually white or black, but some cats have whiskers that are both colors.)
  • une patte – a paw
  • la queue – tail. Be careful because this word can also mean “penis”, so pay attention to context.
  • une griffe/les griffes – a claw/claws. Note that declawing cats for non-medical reasons is illegal in France.
  • griffer – to scratch
  • un coup de griffe – a swipe of the claws. Ex: J’ai essayé de caresser le ventre de leur chat et il m’a donné un coup de griffe. (I tried to pet their cat’s belly et he swiped me with his claws.)
  • un griffoir – a scratching post/cat scratcher
  • un arbre à chat – a cat tree/scratching post
  • faire sa toilette – to clean oneself. Note that this expression is used for a cat licking itself clean, but it’s also used for a person cleaning themself up.
  • malaxer/pétrir – to knead, or, as many of us cat fans say in English, to “make biscuits”.
  • des croquettes – hard food
  • la nourriture (humide) – (wet) food
  • une friandise – a treat (something to eat)
  • l’herbe à chat OR l’herbe aux chats – catnip. According to Wikipedia, there is a slight difference in ingredients for each term in the French spoken in France, but not in Quebec. Still, most cat people in France probably don’t differentiate, either.
  • la stérilisation – spaying or neutering. Ex: La stérilisation est un bon moyen de limiter la surpopulation de chatons, et de plus elle augmente l’espérance de vie d’un chat. (Spaying or neutering is a good way to limit the overpopulation of kittens, and on top of that it increases a cat’s life expectancy.)
  • stérilisé(e) – spayed or neutered. There are a few other terms for “neutered” that you might come across, including castré and châtré.  
  • la litière – litter OR a litter box. If you have to specify, un bac à litière works for “a litter box”.
  • une chatière – cat door/cat flap
  • une puce – an ID chip. This chip, implanted under a cat’s skin, allows him or her to be identified at any vet’s office in the country, in case he or she runs away. The chip is scanned and reveals a number and an owner’s name associated with it.
  • un blep– a blep (an internet slang word for when a cat’s tongue adorably stays sticking out).
  • chamedi – Caturday (chat (cat) + medi (urday)). The day for social media users to post cat photos and cat memes (well, more than they might usually do…). Note that since this is internet slang, many French people, especially of younger generations, might opt to just use the English term “Caturday” instead.
  • une langue de chat – a vanilla-flavored cookie whose shape and rough texture resemble its name, a cat’s tongue. You can learn more about langues de chat in this interesting Wikipedia article.

Five common French cat expressions

A cream-colored cat with black and orange markings on her face and some brown stripes on her chest, front legs, and back, is outdoors. She stares fixedly at something in the distance. Her eyes are a very unusual turquoise color with a lot of white.

As in English (and many other languages), there are a number of common French expressions and idioms that involve cats. Here are five you’ll most likely come across:

  • Les chiens ne font pas des chats.The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That is, a child resembles their parent – so in this case, a cat will make a cat, not a dog.
  • avoir un chat dans la gorge – to have a frog in your throat. In other words, to have a funny voice because your throat is irritated.
  • s’entendre comme chien et chatto not get along, to always be fighting with each other. Ex: Son frère et lui s’entendent comme chien et chat. (He and his brother don’t get along/always fight.)
  • avoir d’autres chats à fouetter – to have other fish to fry. Literally “to have other cats to whip,” this expression is a bit less nice than its English equivalent! Ex: Laisse tomber. J’ai d’autres chats à fouetter. (Forget about it. I have other fish to fry.) You may also hear a similar expression: Il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat. (It’s not a big deal.)
  • Quand le chat n’est pas là, les souris dansent. – When the cat’s away, the mice will play.

You can find some other French “cat” expressions on this WordReference list. You can also find French “cat”-related expressions on this Wiktionnaire page.

French cat puns

In French, chat sounds like a funny way to say ça (this/that), which makes it perfect for all sorts of puns. Most commonly, you might come across a greeting card with a cat that says Chat va ? , a play on Ça va? (How are you?/How’s it going?).

But just about any ça phrase or expression could work.

And in fact, the word chat can also be substituted for any other word that has the sound ça or sa in it. That’s why, as you may have noticed, Caturday in English is chamedi (chat (cat) + medi (urday) in French — although since French people often keep internet lingo in the original English, you’ll probably see Caturday used, too.

As in English, though, remember that these puns will often be seen as silly at best and corny at worst, so use them sparingly, and maybe only with fellow cat (and pun) fans.

You can find more cat puns in French by doing an online search for “chat jeu de mots”.

The most popular French cat names

An orange tabby sits on the top of a wall with what seems like a patio behind him. His green eyes are slightly squinted as he looks of into the sunny distance. He is majestic.

Although we often think of the French as dog owners, since 1996, cats have been the most common pet in France.

According to most sources, there are about 14 million pet cats in France today.

The five most common cat names in France in 2023 are:

  • Simba
  • Nala
  • Tigrou (Tigger)
  • Ruby
  • Romy

Clear evidence that the French love Disney as much as many other cultures do!

Some other popular French cat names include:

But many French cat owners and shelters opt for other choices, too. You’ll come across names like Minou, as well as a gamut of human names. For instance, my own cat was named Arsène by the shelter where we adopted him. Since I love Arsène Lupin, I was thrilled!  

If you want to check out some other common cat names, or cat name ideas in French, do an internet search for “nom chat” or “idée prénom chat”.

Do the French like cats?

Cats are the most popular pet in France, so most French people like them. But there are always those who don’t – or even people who have a phobia of cats.

There’s also a tragic problem in France, which affects all pets, not just cats. Numbers vary widely, but every year anywhere from around 10,000 to as many as 200,000 pets are abandoned, often during vacation periods. It’s a dark side of French pet ownership, although of course there are so many other French pet owners who truly care for their pets and would never abandon them.

Animals are sometimes still seen a bit differently in France than they are in many Anglo-Saxon countries. We might talk about “furchildren” but in France, especially the countryside, animals are often seen as having a job (mousing, for cats) and being expendable.

And the concept of the “crazy cat lady” (a club of which I am a proud member!) doesn’t exist in the popular imagination here, even though there are plenty of us in France.

Still, take heart. In France today, you’ll more likely meet people who love (or at least like) cats, like the millions of households who have pet cats. Animal rights have vastly improved under French law in recent years. And there are many famous French animal rights activists and rescue groups and organizations, including la Fondation Brigitte Bardot and the group 30 millions d’amis, among numerous others.

You’ll find a few cat cafes in major French cities, and cat puns and cute cat cards everywhere. Stay long enough in Paris and you’ll start to find ghosts of emblematic cats like the chat noir who inspired the famous Montmartre cafe. You’ll meet people who love their cats, people who feed and help strays, run or volunteer at shelters, or share cat memes online.

So, while there are some French people who don’t care about cats, they seem to be the minority. Cats are beloved by lots of French people, and recognized by French law as living creatures who shouldn’t be harmed.

Where can I learn more French cat vocabulary?

A short-haired white kitten with slight gray markings on nose and head leans on a table with its front paws, looking with wide eyes at something. We can assume he's standing on his back paws.

A good way to learn more French cat vocabulary is by visiting websites about cats and watching French cat documentaries.

You can find French cat websites by doing a search like “site web chat” or “informations sur les chats”.

You can watch cat documentaries in French by going to YouTube and searching for “documentaire chat ”, or if you want, swap out the general term “chat” with your preferred breed or, one of my favorite kind of documentary subjects, chatons. You may also be able to find cat documentaries in French or with a French audio version available on streaming services like Netflix.

Another good source of French cat vocabulary are French books and French cat magazines.

For French cat books, you can search for “livre chat” or “roman chat”. If you prefer short stories, search for “nouvelle chat”.

For French magazines about cats,  an online search for “magazine chat” will give you lots of results. Many of these magazines are available online, though often in a limited capacity. Otherwise, you can check our article on French magazines for ways you might be able to subscribe to them from overseas.

Fellow cat (and French) fans, I hope this article gave you your feline fix! If you have a cat, please give them une caresse (a pet) from me. And if you’d like to help cats, contact your local shelter to see if you can donate or volunteer.

Chat suffit pour aujourd’hui. (“Cat’s enough” for today.) Au revoir les amis !

Must reads

  1. What are the best French learning apps in 2024?
  2. The 16 best websites and apps for French conversation practice
  3. Duolingo French review: The good, the bad and the ugly

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.