‘Manita de gato’ – Meaning / In English

Have you ever had to do your hair and/or makeup super quickly? Well, there’s actually a Mexican expression for such an occasion: ‘manita de gato’.

‘Manita de gato’ is literally a ‘cat’s paw’ and it’s used when someone has to get ready quickly and they only have time to apply a quick layer of makeup or a hasty spray of perfume in order to look (and possibly smell!) presentable.

The origin of this expression comes from the habit that cats have of suddenly stopping in their tracks to give themselves a quick lick / groom.

Uses / Meanings of ‘manita de gato’ in Mexican Spanish

  • When someone gets ready very quickly

  • When we clean something superficially

When someone gets ready very quickly

We say that someone gives themselves a ‘manita de gato’ when they need to get ready really quickly and don’t have time for a full-blown grooming session or to put on lots of makeup.

A perfect example would be when, during a date at a restaurant, a woman goes to the toilet to touch up her makeup. In Mexico she would be giving herself a ‘manita de gato’.

Elsa – Daniel, te quieren ver en la oficina de inmediato para una entrevista de trabajo.

Daniel – Va, me doy una manita de gato y llego lo antes posible.

Elsa – Daniel, they want to see you at the office right now for a job interview.

Daniel – I’ll get ready quickly and be there as soon as possible.

Paulina, ¿piensas irte así a la escuela? Por lo menos date una manita de gato; estás toda fachosa.

Paulina, are you going to school like that? At least tidy yourself up a bit; you look super disheveled.

Sandra – Amiga, Pablo me llamó; quiere invitarme a cenar después del trabajo. ¿Qué hago?

Teresa – ¡Tú rífate*! Nada más date un manita de gato y ¡listo!

Sandra – Sis, Pablo called me; he wants to take me out to dinner after work. What do I do?

Teresa – Go for it! Spruce yourself up a little and you’ll be good to go!

*Erika’s note – the expression rífate is used to encourage someone to complete a given task (even if it’s somewhat risky or complicated).

When we clean something superficially

‘Manita de gato’ also works when we clean something (i.e., an object) up a bit to make it look more presentable.

Ya vendí mi vieja computadora. Le dí una manita de gato y lucía como nueva.

I’ve already sold my old computer. I just cleaned it up a little bit and it looked as good as new.

Si quieres invitar a tus amigos a la casa, me ayudas a arreglarla un poquito; aunque sea le damos una manita de gato para que se vea mejor.

If you want to invite your friends over, help me tidy up the house; even if we just spruce things up a bit.

Erika’s note – un poquito is the diminutive form of ‘un poco’. Make sure to check out our article on the difference between the two!

‘Manita de gato’ pronunciation

Manita’ is said like ‘mah’, ‘nee’ and ‘tah’.

‘De’ sounds like ‘deh’ and ‘gato’ is pronounced ‘gah’ + ‘toh’.

/ mah-nee-tah deh gah-toh /

Similar words / expressions to ‘manita de gato’


‘Chaineada’ is an anglicism derived from the word ‘shine’ and it means to clean or remove dirt from something.

This is a VERY colloquial Mexican expression and although it’s normally used when something needs a quick clean, it can also be used like ‘manita de gato’ (i.e., when referring to a person).

Ya le hace falta una chaineada al coche, está todo sucio.

The car needs to be cleaned, it’s really dirty.


This is a synonym of ‘manita de gato’.

It’s the diminutive form of ‘arreglada’ which translates to something along the lines of ‘fix up’ in English.

Ok, te voy a invitar a desayunar, pero date una arregladita primero.

Ok, I’m going to take you for breakfast, but fix yourself up a bit first.

Final thoughts

‘Manita de gato’ is a super cute expression and you can use it in most contexts and situations without sounding rude or offensive.

Always keep in mind that if you tell someone to give themselves a ‘manita de gato’, you’re basically saying that they’re looking a little scruffy … so definitely tread lightly!

If you wanna learn more Mexican expressions related to animals, make sure to check out my piece on the word gallo. You’ll be surprised how many different meanings it has!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

And some cheeky vids ...

What ya looking for?