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The average cat doesn’t love to travel outside their home unless they’re roaming free. Because they consider themselves vulnerable to predators like dogs and other wild animals, leaving home can cause them some hesitancy and anxiety. When we do need to take them somewhere, such as the veterinarian or a kennel, we want them to be as safe and comfortable as possible.
Choosing the right cat carrier is the first step to providing them that sense of security and love when traveling outside your home. Consider the types of trips you take with your cat to determine whether the best cat carrier for you is soft or hard sided, a backpack, or specifically designed for car or air travel.
“The safest carrier is made of sturdy plastic with access doors on the top and the side. A rigid carrier protects your cat from any external impact,” explains Registered Veterinary Technician Jaime Lyn Bast. “Cats are easily stressed by jostling and disturbances during transport, and hard-sided cat carriers make it easier to maintain consistent, level support." The carrier must be large enough for your cat to stand up and turn around comfortably, but small enough that they feel secure and avoid excessive movement during the ride she says.
Below are the best cat carriers on the market today.
Best Overall: Henkelion Carrier for Small Medium Cats
Dimensions: 17 x 11 x 11 inches | Weight: 2 pounds
TSA and airline approved
Folds flat for easy storage
Determined cats can chew through the mesh
The Henkelion Cat Carrier takes the Best Overall spot, in part, because it is popular with cat owners, reasonably affordable and is TSA and airline approved. This soft-sided carrier has breathable mesh on three sides allows for good visibility and airflow. It’s lightweight yet sturdy polyester fabric is also waterproof. Two loop handles allow for balanced carrying, add security in the car as a dual seat belt, or as a luggage strap. An adjustable shoulder strap can be used to carry it hands-free. This carrier and its cozy fleece removable pet bed can be machine-washable. Ideal for cats up to 15 pounds, it comes in five solid colors.
Self-locking zippers and a built in leash help you travel with confidence knowing your cat can’t accidentally escape. You can load your kitty either through the top, side, or the end as well as the bonus side pocket.
Best Budget: Petco Cardboard Cat Carrier
Dimensions: 18.5 x 9 x 12 inches | Weight: 1.2 pounds
Lightweight, yet sturdy
Flattens for easy storage
Some cats can claw their way out by pulling on the handle
Can't be cleaned if your cat has an accident
When your cat rarely leaves the house, you may not want to spend much on a carrier. The Petco Cardboard Cat Carrier is an affordable solution. Ventilated and easy to assemble and disassemble without tools, this is an economical way to bring your kitty to vet visits. Designed with a built-in handle, this carrier is top loading. For added comfort, you can place a towel or small cat bed in the bottom. Petco sells this simple carrier for under $15.
Best Backpack: Mancro Cat Backpack
Dimensions: 14 x 10 x 15 inches | Weight: 3.7 pounds
Plenty of room
Will stand upright on its own
Doesn’t sit well if worn on your front
We have tried three different cat backpacks. Although we like the plastic bubble style backpack carriers that are popular right now, that style isn’t large enough for bigger cats. Also, that the straps fell apart in only a couple of months and that the plastic bubble gets too hot when in direct sunlight. We also don't recommend an all-mesh pack, because looking through the mesh caused cats to get motion sickness.
Our favorite of the three we tried is the Mancro Expandable Cat Backpack Carrier for a number of reasons. It’s suitable for large cats and small, even when it’s not expanded. The pack holds its form and sits upright when you set it down, so it’s easier to put your cat in and out. When opening the zippers and expanding the back, the interior size of the pack is doubled, which gives your cat more space to stretch out in the airport or plane, in the car, or other circumstances when you’re not actually wearing the backpack.
The cat loved being able to see out of the clear front and sides. The pack also has a built-in leash that can connect to your cat’s collar or harness, allowing you to open the top so your cat can ride with an unobstructed view (if your cat will stay in while its open). This pack also has excellent ventilation with holes in the clear sides and a mesh top. A bonus is that it folds flat when not in use.
If you like to put your pack on front so you can see their cat while strolling, this might not be the best fit. The pack is definitely designed to be worn on the back because it doesn’t sit well on the body when worn in the front.
Best for Airplanes: Sleepypod Air
Dimensions: 22 x 10.5 x 10 inches (reduces to 16 x 10.5 x 10 inches) | Weight: 4.3 pounds
It’s wonderful to be able to take your pet with you when you fly, especially if they are small enough to travel in the cabin by your side. When you do, try the Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier.
To deal with highly variable airplane size restrictions, the Sleepypod Air’s sides contract and expand in size to accommodate various airline size restrictions. Better yet, it can be made small enough to fit under the seat in front of you during takeoff and landing and then expanded during the flight to give your cat more leg room. It comes with a removable and machine-washable ultra plush cushion for a cozy pet bed away from home.
With mesh on three sides for air flow, this carrier is sturdy and well-made with luggage-grade nylon, but also lightweight so carrying it won’t wear you out. It comes with a shoulder strap, but in the airport you can use the bonus feature—a zippered trolley pocket on the carrier’s side that, when opened, enables you to slide the carrier over the telescoping handle of your roller luggage so you can walk easily to your flight.
It's certified by the rigorous third-party non-profit Center for Pet Safety for pets up to 18 pounds. Your cat can enter this carrier from the end or the side, and when it's not in use, the carrier folds flat for easy storage.
There’s also safety features for car trips to and from the airport. Buckles on the front and back secure the carrier using the seat belt in your car’s back seat, transforming Sleepypod Air into a crash tested car seat.
Best for Cars: Petmate Two-Door Top-Load Pet Kennel
Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.8 x 14.5 inches (medium) | Weight: 6.4 pounds
Sturdy yet lightweight
Four colors to choose from
The latch mechanism is sometimes problematic
Can be awkward to carry
For the car, you need a carrier that will both contain your cat and protect them in the event of an accident. The Petmate Two Door Top Load Cat & Dog Kennel is a reasonably priced carrier that will keep them safer in the event of an accident than a soft-sided carrier. The sturdy plastic and steel wire construction will give you peace of mind while not being too heavy. This carrier has doors on the top and the front. It’s often much easier to load a cat in from the top, especially one who is not so excited about heading in.
While being well-ventilated, this carrier also provides plenty of cover to help your cat feel protected if car trips cause them anxiety. The dual-spring loaded latch closes securely and can’t be bumped open. Available in four stylish colors, the medium kennel holds up to 20 pounds. Plus, it comes with a one year limited warranty.
"I find this carrier can be a bit bulky and awkward to carry, but it's very sturdy, so I feel reassured on car trips. It's easy to wipe down, but I recommend placing a soft towel or blanket inside to give your cat a little extra comfort."—Margaret Badore, The Spruce Pets Senior Editor
Best Soft Carrier: Sherpa The Original Sherpa
Dimensions: 17 x 11 x 10.5 inches (medium) | Weight: 4.1 pounds
Comes with Guaranteed On-Board Program
One end can conform to airline under-seat
Can lay flat for easy storage
Must fill out forms for Guaranteed On-Board Program
Soft carriers are ideal when you don’t need a crash-proof rigid structure. Most are collapsible and are often lighter than a plastic kennel. We like the Sherpa Original Deluxe Airline-Approved Pet Carrier because it has a number of valuable features while remaining affordable. The medium carrier, for cats up to 16 pounds, has quilted nylon and mesh panels for good ventilation and some visibility for your cat. A seat belt security strap will keep the carrier secure in the car while doubling as a luggage strap for easy transport in the airport or train station. Top and side entry options make it easier to comfortably load your cat into the carrier. Its locking zippers prevent accidental escape.
Air travelers love the spring wire frame that allows the rear end of the carrier to be pushed down several inches to conform to airline under-seat requirements. It’s also equipped with a large side-zippered pocket that can hold travel documents, treats, or anything else your pet may need. The padded, adjustable shoulder strap makes it easier to carry hands-free. Plus, Sherpa includes a cozy, removable, and machine-washable faux lambskin liner.
If you travel with your cat by air often, you’ll appreciate Sherpa’s Guaranteed On-Board Program included with small and medium carriers. The program provides with step-by-step instructions to ensure your pet and carrier are compliant with the airline rules and regulations. If you’re denied boarding due to your carrier, Worldwise will refund the cost of your airline flight and your pet airline travel fee.
This carrier is available in four tasteful colors and also in small and large sizes. Sherpa products are also designed to meet child safety standards so you know your fur baby will be safe, too.
Best Splurge: Pet Gear 360 Travel System Dog & Cat Stroller
Dimensions: 20 x 12 x 18.5 inches (carrier portion only) | Weight: 20.5 pounds
Three functions in one purchase
Easy conversion between forms
Folds flat for easy storage
Some owners report the plastic latch can break too easily
If your cat likes to get out to see the wider world, they can ride in style in the Pet Gear View 360 Dog & Cat Stroller. This three-in-one system can be converted between a stroller, carrier, and car booster seat. The washable fleece interior cushion keeps your cat comfortable and secure. Mesh windows all the way around regulate temperature and allow you to check on your fur baby. The carrier and frames are lightweight and include a tether that can be clipped onto their harness for added security while traveling. When used as a carrier, pet owners appreciate the padded handle and how easily the carrier clicks into the stroller frame and booster seat frame without any extra tools.
The carrier has a push button entry located on each side of the carrier, giving you easy access to your pet without having to mess with zippers. The top provides shade from direct sun to keep your cat’s temperature just right. If that wasn’t enough, it also comes in four colors.
Our Best Overall, the soft yet sturdy Henkelion Cat Carrier (view at Amazon), is an all-purpose, lightweight and breathable carrier for the car, the airport, and everywhere in between. To get your cat out on the trail for some safe exploration, try the spacious Mancro Expandable Cat Backpack Carrier (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in a Cat Carrier
Look for easy-to-clean surfaces, recommends Registered Veterinary Technician Jaime Lyn Bast. "Lingering odors will be offensive to your cat," she says. Check to see if any removable fabric or foam padding is machine-washable.
Look for a carrier with top and side loading options. "Many cats prefer one option over the other," says Bast. If your carrier also has a removable top and door, it may be possible for your cat to remain in the lower portion of their carrier during veterinary examinations.
The ideal cat carrier should also have easy-to-use latches or zippers, according to Bast. "You should be able to open the crate easily with one hand."
"A visual barrier helps your cat feel protected from outside threats," says Bast. If you have a rigid carrier cage with a lot of places to look out, can also try covering it with a sheet or towel to help your cat feel secure.
What is the best way to put a cat into a carrier?
“Ideally, you should train your cat to become comfortable with their carrier by leaving it out and placing blankets, toys, and treats inside. Once your cat forms a positive association with the carrier, you can entice them with treats to willingly enter,” suggests Jaime. “However, if you have not had a chance to train your cat, or they do not voluntarily enter their carrier, you will have to place them inside."
Cats commonly resent their carriers due to pain and fear associated with improper loading she says. Always handle your cat gently and calmly to prevent panic. "When lifting your cat, support their body to avoid causing fear or discomfort. Gently lower your cat inside the carrier from above or, if using the side door, guide them in backwards (i.e., rear-end first). If your cat struggles, you can wrap them snugly in a towel, slide them inside like a swaddled baby, and then unwrap them.”
How can I help my cat stay calm in their carrier?
“Your cat will be comfortable in their carrier if they identify it as an extension of their territory,” notes Jaime. “To achieve this, the carrier must be a predictable part of the home and an attractive hangout for your cat." Here are her training tips:
• Place the crate near your cat’s favorite resting spot.
• Remove the top and door initially, if necessary.
• Place a cozy blanket inside the carrier, sprayed with a synthetic feline pheromone to attract and calm your cat.
• Periodically place toys and treats inside the carrier for your cat to discover.
• Feed your cat near, and then inside the carrier.
• Close the door briefly with your cat inside, then open the door.
“Gradually increase the time your cat spends in the carrier, so long as they remain calm,” says Jaime. “If your cat panics, take a step back and progress more slowly.”
To help your cat remain calm during veterinary visits:
• Do not feed your cat in the hours preceding a car ride to prevent nausea.
• Drape a towel misted with feline pheromones over the carrier to create a visual barrier.
• Keep the carrier elevated on a chair or counter, and away from curious dogs.
What is the safest way for a cat to travel in a car?
“Cats should never travel loose in the car," explains Jaime. "Unrestrained cats may distract the driver, impede driving, and risk severe injury, escape, or death in an accident." For car travel, keep your cat in a secure carrier on the floor behind the driver's seat. This location provides better security and stability during a sudden stop, turn or collision, she says. “Carriers placed on the backseat may be tossed about on the ride or fall off the seat, distressing and potentially injuring the cat.”
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
This piece was written by Lorraine Wilde who has had at least two cat companions in her home for the past 35 years including some special needs kitties.
When researching each product and brand, Lorraine evaluated the type and quality of each product, customer reviews, the company’s research, development, and business ethics. We also asked cat owners about their experiences with using cat carriers in the real world. Additionally, we consulted Registered Veterinary Technician and professional dog trainer (KPA-CTP) Jaime Lyn Bast. Jaime has more than 10 years of technician experience, including a busy specialty referral hospital. Jaime and her cocker spaniel, Tutti Fruitti, also compete in various dog sports.
Lorraine also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in environmental science. She is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy and informed choices to protect our pets.