Animals exhibit an extraordinary diversity of life history strategies. These realized combinations of survival, development and reproduction are predicted to be constrained by physiological limitations and by trade-offs in resource allocation. However, our understanding of these patterns is restricted to a few taxonomic groups. Using demographic data from 121 species, ranging from humans to sponges, we test whether such trade-offs universally shape animal life history strategies. We show that, after accounting for body mass and phylogenetic relatedness, 71% of the variation in animal life history strategies can be explained by life history traits associated with the fast-slow continuum (pace of life) and with a second axis defined by the distribution of age-specific mortality hazards and the spread of reproduction. While we found that life history strategies are associated with metabolic rate and ecological modes of life, surprisingly similar life history strategies can be found across the phylogenetic and physiological diversity of animals.