In this buying guide, you’ll learn about the different types of cat carriers on the market, which qualities set the best carriers apart, and how to choose one that’s right for your cat.
Because every trip has slightly different requirements, our list of top carriers includes the best choices for various activities and needs including car travel, plane trips, and short trips to the veterinarian.
At a Glance: Best Cat Carriers To Buy
We spent hours researching the cat carrier market to learn what makes for a safe and convenient cat carrier. In the comparison table below, you’ll find a quick overview of our top picks including some highlights of our favorite features. We’ll go into greater depth about each product later in the article.
- Meets most major airline requirements
- Covered by Sherpa’s Guaranteed On Board program
- Comes in small, medium, and large sizes for cats up to 22 lbs
- Designed to fit under the seats in most airlines
- Available in fourteen colors
- Smart design and rugged construction
- A great value buy
- Collapsible for easy storage
- Excellent breathability
- Designed for use on most airliners
- Lockable zipper clasp for security
- Multiple storage pockets
Top Picks Explained
How We Chose Our Top Picks?
To begin our search for the best cat carriers, we reviewed the results of the Center for Pet Safety’s 2015 Carrier Study. In partnership with Subaru of America, the Center for Pet Safety conducted a test of the top pet carriers on the market to determine their safety.
Here are the top three goals of this study:
- To independently evaluate the current-state travel carrier products and carrier connection products that claim “testing,” “crash testing,” or “crash protection.”
- To examine the safety, structural integrity, and crashworthiness of carriers where the manufacturer makes no clams of “testing,” “crash testing,” or “crash protection.”
- To determine the top performing carrier brands.
To complete this study, the Center for Pet Safety tested eight different pet carriers from popular brands like Sleepypod, PetMate, and Kurgo. We used the results of this study to get an idea of what features and materials to look for in a safe and secure cat carrier for car travel.
We also spent time researching in-cabin requirements for airline travel with pets as well as the safety of traveling with your pet stored in the cargo hold.
Note: In conducting our initial research, we’ve determined that traveling with your cat in-cabin is significantly safer than storing your cat in the cargo hold. Fortunately, most cats are small enough to meet in-cabin requirements for air travel.
Now that you have a better idea what kind of testing and research we completed to write this review, let’s jump into the details.
Types of Cat Carriers
Whether you’re traveling with your cat or transporting your cat during a move, it’s essential to have a quality cat carrier. Before you start shopping for a cat carrier, however, it’s important to know what’s out there. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of cat carriers on the market.
Hard Plastic Carriers
Hard plastic carriers appeal to casual users who pop their cat into the carrier once a year or less. They’re convenient, easy to handle, and secure. Unlike some soft carriers that can’t hold up to clawing, it’s virtually impossible for a cat to break out of a hard carrier.
Hard carriers are a good choice for those who want maximum ease-of-use. If your cat has a tendency to get carsick or has anxiety-induced accidents, you’ll appreciate that hard carriers are easy to clean. You can spray them out with a hose and let them dry in the sun.
Because they are large and don’t compress underneath the seat, hard carriers aren’t the best choice for airline transport. They tend to shatter during pet carrier crash tests, so if you’re concerned about safety or going for longer, more frequent car trips, soft carriers are a better choice.
We’ll talk about that more in the next section.
Compared to hard carriers, soft cat carrier bags are a better choice for cats who are always on-the-go or traveling long distances. Plane travelers will appreciate that soft carriers can slide under the seat as carry-on luggage, and car travelers will like that soft cat carriers score better in Center for Pet Safety crash testing.
If your cat is an unhappy traveler, be aware that soft carriers are harder to clean out than hard ones. They’re also easier for cats to escape from. Ambitious cats can claw their way through mesh windows or even unzip the doors on their own.
Roller Carriers and Backpacks
Cat carriers with wheels are perfect for people who like the ease of dragging a roller suitcase. These carriers are typically built with plenty of storage space for cat care essentials and have soft, comfortable interiors. The main drawback of a roller carrier is the fact that some cats are scared by the sound of wheels rolling over the ground, especially on uneven surfaces.
Some roller carriers convert into backpacks, which allows you to easily transition between activities and different terrain.
While usually not designed for airline or automotive use, backpack cat carriers are ideal for people who want to go for walks and hikes with their cat. The pack is a refuge in the case of a wildlife or dog encounter and gives your cat a place to rest their legs.
Choosing the Best Cat Carrier
The Best Cat Carriers Are Right for the Job
Before you choose a cat carrier, ask yourself a few questions about the places it will go.
Are you going on a trip by plane? Crossing the country in a car? Are you looking for disposable cardboard cat carriers for temporary rescue use, or do you just need a basic carrier that will get your cat to the veterinarian and back a few times a year?
Defining your needs will help you identify the best carrier for your situation.
People often think of their cat’s carrier like a child’s car seat, assuming because the carrier is designed and approved for use in an automotive vehicle, it will keep their cat from flying through the windshield if they get into a wreck. Unfortunately, this assumption is wrong.
First of all, most carriers aren’t tested by an independent organization.
As revealed by the Center for Pet Safety’s 2015 crash testing of several pet carriers, most “car-ready” carriers will not protect your cat in the case of a crash. In fact, most plastic crates bust into shards on impact, launching broken pieces of plastic and metal parts across the car. These could injure all occupants of the vehicle.
If you’re traveling with your cat in a car, choose a crash-tested and CPS-certified carrier if possible. There are only a few crash-tested models on the market, and they’re all expensive.
If you can’t get one of these premium carriers, do your best to secure your cat’s carrier and position it safely in your vehicle. According to Lindsey A. Wolko, founder of the Center for Pet Safety, the safest place for your cat in the car is on the floor behind the front seat.
Alternatively, you can use a seatbelt to strap the carrier in place on one of the back seats. While this will help you out if there’s an abrupt stop at low speeds, most carrier straps will snap if there’s a high-speed collision.
You may be aware of the risks of traveling with your pet in the plane’s cargo hold. Fortunately, feline travelers are small enough to qualify as carry-on luggage and can slide under the seat in front of you. When traveling with your cat by plane, your challenge is to find a carrier that fits in this space.
Soft carriers are best for airline travel because they’re flexible enough to crumple down slightly to accommodate the height of the seat ahead of you. Some cat carriers are marketed as “airline approved”, but this term isn’t necessarily a free pass to in-cabin transport.
The term usually just means that the carrier can contain moisture. If your cat has to “go” during the flight, it won’t leak onto the floor of the plane.
A better way to ensure that the carrier is the right size is to compare its dimensions to your airline’s under-seat space and maximum sizes for in-cabin carriers. Using US airlines as a guide, the average under-seat dimensions are 17” x 11” x 9”, but this will vary by airline and your seat on the plane.
Qualities of a Great Carrier
- They’re easy to clean – Plastic carriers should have smooth interior surfaces that won’t collect grime over time and are easy to wipe out. Soft carriers should have machine-washable removable padding and the body should stand up to at least a wet rag and soap.
- They’re strong and durable – The best cat carriers have sturdy floors that won’t sag under your cat’s weight. In addition to sturdy bottoms, your cat’s carrier should be constructed from tough materials and won’t rip or unravel. Look for windows made from rubberized mesh rather than fabric. It’s stronger and can handle a little claw action.
- They’re easy to get your cat in and out of – It shouldn’t be difficult to slip your cat into the carrier and help them get out once you reach your destination. Note that many veterinarians prefer to handle their patients while still in the carrier. Multiple entryways, top entry designs, and zip-off walls make this process easier.
- They’re the right size for your cat – The carrier should be relatively snug and secure and shouldn’t let your cat slosh around during transport. At the same time, your cat should have 3 to 4 inches of space on all sides so they can stand up and turn around without crouching and contortion.
The Best Rated Cat Carriers Reviewed
Here are our picks for the best cat carriers on the market.
Our top choice is a soft cat carrier that’s airline approved and crash-tested for car safety.
Making It Fun: How To Help Your Cat Get Used to the Cat Carrier
Instead of cajoling or manhandling your cat into the carrier when it’s time to go to the vet or on a trip, why not help them to enjoy it? Here are a few ways to make carrier time more fun.
Introduce It as a Bed
Leave the carrier in a well-loved part of your house, place familiar blankets or a pillow inside of it, and let your cat use it as a bed or hideout. By the day of the trip, your cat should be familiar with the carrier and think of it as a comforting extension of their home.
While some carriers are collapsible and easy to slide onto the top shelf of a closet when not in use, I don’t recommend this practice for several reasons.
If a carrier remains folded and shelved most days of the year, your cat will never get to know it outside of stressful situations. If they never see it until five minutes before they’re toted into the car, your cat will inevitably associate the carrier with that stressful event.
Secondly, having a cat carrier at the ready is an important aspect of emergency preparedness. If you need to evacuate your home suddenly, you should be able to pop your cat in their carrier and go.
Give It a Familiar Scent
As mentioned in the previous tip, familiar scents will help your cat soften toward the new carrier. By placing well-loved blankets, towels, a cat bed, or even your own clothes inside the carrier, you tell your cat “this is yours.”
Use a Pheromone Spray
If all goes well, your cat will eventually mark the carrier with their own facial pheromones. In the meantime, you can use a synthetic pheromone spray to soothe your cat and identify the carrier as a safe place to be.
- Best Large Cat Carriers for Travel Reviewed
- Moving Cats to a New Home: A Step-by-Step Guide
- The 10 Best Cat Backpacks for 2023
Frequently Asked Questions
Do cats prefer hard or soft carriers?
It’s difficult to say whether cats have a preference for hard versus soft carriers but there are a few factors to consider. Many cats find travel stressful which means they may be prone to clawing or chewing – a hard-sided carrier may stand up to this treatment better. That being said, soft carriers are better for plane travel, so it really depends on the situation.
What is the best size carrier for a cat?
When shopping for cat carriers, look for one that is about 1 ½ times larger than your cat. Your cat should be able to lie down and comfortably turn around in the carrier, but it shouldn’t be so large that he slides around during travel.
How do I get my cat in the carrier?
Acclimating your cat to the carrier can help make your life easier when it’s time to put him in. When it’s time to put your cat in the carrier, place it upright with the open door facing the ceiling and place your cat in then close the door and gently lower it into the proper horizontal position.