Aristotle had a very neat Greek word for animate life forms, zoon. Ancient Greek zao reportedly meant "I live".
Nobody would say "I live" meaning a kitten, though these can be lovely, animating themselves on wool. Contemporary English translations of the Greek zoon as merely an animal might lack some necessary substance.
For many philosophers, both ancient and modern, man is regarded as the "representational animal" or homo symbolicum, the creature whose distinct character is the creation and the manipulation of signs — things that "stand for" or "take the place of" something else, says Wikipedia on representation and arts, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representation_%28arts%29
In translation, we may think about connotations and denotations. Connotation can suggest a meaning apart from the very defined object. Denotation needs to provide "direct and specific meaning as distinct from additional suggestion".
For the Greek zoon, restricting the term to an animal denotation could be unjust. Importantly, the word animal comes from Latin, not Greek. As regards connotations, not only formal and official language uses might find them sensitive.
Overall word-for-word translation is impossible, anyway. Languages differ too much. Even if phrases translate closely, we always have to think how they refer. Reading Aristotle, I take the translated “animal” for an “animate
life form”. Three words to translate one are better than a ... blunder. The good thing is that languages also "come to terms".
A phrase may translate longer in language A than in language B, yet when you take a paragraph or passage in Polish and American English for example, both can be about the same length.
Feel welcome to compare.
(Perseus gives some further details on the Latin "animalis". The "animans" and "animal" happened to be used in contrast to plants and humans. An animal by behavioral predilection was termed a "bestia" in Latin. )