Cat Carriers

cat carrier

When you need to take your cat to the vet, or if you’re moving house with a cat, you’ll need a cat carrier. But there are so many cat carrier brands and models that it’s difficult to know where to start.

What kinds of cat carrier can you buy? There are soft cat carriers and hard cat carriers. You can also get cheap cardboard cat carriers, which aren’t durable, but you won’t need to store afterwards. Cages, pet strollers and even cat backpacks could all work too. Pick a carrier that’s big enough for your cat or they’ll be miserable the whole time.

Buying the right cat carrier can make all the difference. If your cat is happy to get inside, then taking them to the vet won’t be anywhere near as stressful. For more info on training, consult one of our many guides.

Catmart: Cat Carrier Guide

Cats are a little suspicious of cat carriers. They’re intelligent creatures, and they’ve worked out that when we want them to get inside one, it’s rarely for reasons they’re going to enjoy. We use them for visits to the vet, and we all know how our feline friends feel about those journeys. We use them when we’ve moving home, and our cats hate changes in their routine, or changes to the environment they’re familiar with.

cat carriers

Hard sided cat carrier. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Sometimes we use them to take our cats somewhere else to stay a while when we go on vacation. Because of that, they associate them with abandonment. Even if we’re not using a cat carrier for any of these reasons, they still restrict our cat’s freedom to roam as they please. How would you feel if someone locked you in a box for an hour and told you it was for your own good?

If we want our cats to co-operate with us, we have to do our best to find a cat carrier that meets their approval. In this guide, we’re going to look at the options available. We’ll help you find the one that suits your cat best – or the one they hate the least! So whether it’s a plastic cat carrier, a wicker cat carrier, a large cat carrier or a small cat carrier – or even a backpack cat carrier where they can poke their head out like an astronaut – let us help you find the perfect solution. When you’re done here you might be interested in our cat carrier reviews. First off, let’s look at those types of cat carrier in more detail.

TypeSoft Cat CarriersHard Sided Cat CarriersCardboard Cat Carriers
Cage Cat CarriersPet StrollerBubble Cat Carriers
Best Carrier
BrandAmazonBasicsAmazonBasicsOasisPaws & PalsPaws & PalsAnzone
Our Score7/107/106/108/1010/109/10

Types Of Cat Carriers

1) Soft Cat Carriers

Description: A carrier made of softer materials, like a holdall. They can be carried by a handle, or over the shoulder like a regular bag. They feature a breathable mesh fabric for ventilation and viewing.

Pros: Easy to carry, and lightweight.  No banging, scratching or cracking unlike hard sided models. Because of their size, if you’re looking for an airline approved cat carrier, this is probably the way to go.

Cons: Because the carrier is made of material instead of a hard surface, they’re harder to clean, and they can’t take as much weight. If your cat gets a little nervous when travelling or weighs more than the average, this might not be the ideal option for you.

Typical price: Generally $20-30 depending on the size and features of the model you’re looking at. They’re around the same price as the hard sided alternative.

2) Hard Sided Cat Carriers

cat carriers

Let’s hope your cat loves cat carriers this much. Image courtesy of Trish Hamme.

Description: This is probably what comes to mind when you think ‘cat carrier’. It’s a box with hard sides made from plastic, and has a cage either at the front or on top for loading your cat in and out. The best quality cat carriers will have a few more options, too.

Pros: Solid and functional. Plastic sides feature plenty of ventilation holes, plus a cage on the front so your cat can look out on the world during transport. The doors are fitted with latches and screws, so they’re difficult for even the most clever cats to escape from. This makes them a good bet for secure transport. They also wipe clean, so they don’t need much maintenance from you. The best made ones are strong cat carriers.

Cons: Durability can become a problem. Plastic cracks and breaks if it gets banged or dropped. You’re only ever one slip away from needing a new one. Also there’s no two ways about it – they make it look like you’ve put your cat in prison!

Typical price: $20-30, although you’ll pay more if you want deluxe options, for example spaces for litter and food. They won’t be the cheapest cat carrier, but nor will they be the most expensive. Remember that durable cat carriers last longer; which makes for good long term economy.

3) Cardboard Cat Carriers

Description: If you got your cat from a rescue center or pet shop, this is probably what you took them home in. It’s a cardboard box that folds up at the top a bit like a milk carton. They’re low priced, lightweight, very basic.

Pros: They do the basic job. They have holes in them for ventilation and visibility, and they’re easy to fold down and store away. They’re perfect for one way trips. They’re also environmentally friendly.

Cons: Durability. This is not a strong cat carrier. If the carrier gets wet from either inside or out, it weakens the cardboard. They’re also more prone to attack. A determined cat trying to scratch and bite its way out from the inside will eventually succeed. Because they’re always a risk of escape, cardboard cat carriers are not airline approved. They shouldn’t be considered a long term solution. If you’re looking at a long journey, you’ll want an alternative cat carrier.

Typical price: Less than $5. They’re only intended for temporary use, and they’re priced accordingly. This is, without a doubt, the cheapest cat carrier. It’s also definitely not the best quality cat carrier!

4) Cage Cat Carriers

Description: This is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a bird cage, but designed for cats instead!

Pros: Ventilation and visibility are total non issues because your cat can see everything around it. It’s also exposed to the air. They’re lightweight cat carriers because they only consist of the (usually wire) cage bars and the handle. A cage carrier with a solid frame is almost impossible to escape from as long as the lock is secured. They also make a good cat carrier for big cats; they tend to be spacious. The construction makes for a sturdy cat carrier.

Cons: Your own personal safety might be an issue! If you have a cat that gets stressed by travel, and is likely to scratch at you, it can get you from anywhere in the cage. This includes when you move your hand close to the door to let it out. There’s also a potential hygiene issue. If your cat decides it needs to answer a call of nature during your journey, there’s nowhere for it to go but out of the cage.

Typical price: $30-40. They cost a little more than the soft or plastic options because the material is more expensive.

5) Pet Stroller

Description: The ideal option for pets and owners who enjoy the life of luxury. Push your cat around on wheels like a real fur baby! Cat strollers are just like pushchairs for babies, only smaller.

Pros: This is a luxury cat carrier! The perfect solution for owners who struggle to lift a carrier around, or just don’t want to. They’re made of the same materials as soft cat carriers, and open and close with a zip. Some models have extra features like a tray underneath for carrying other pet essentials. Because the carrier is on wheels it doesn’t rock or sway as we walk. This gives you a better chance of having a calm cat when you reach your destination! They make for a good kitten carrier.

Cons: The size and the storage space are the only two major negatives. They’re the largest of the options we discuss here, and don’t fold down or store away as easily as the other carriers. They aren’t airline approved. They’re also not big enough for every cat. Check reviews and product descriptions to make sure your stroller is big enough for your cat.

Typical Price: $40 and up. The lower priced models are basically a soft cat carrier on wheels. The more expensive models have extra features, like rain guards and storage trays.

6) Bubble Cat Carriers

For the cat who dreams of being an astronaut! These are very fashionable at the moment, and come in plastic or fabric styles. They look like the backpack you used to wear to school, with a plastic or mesh dome at the top so your cat can look out as you travel.

Because the straps sit on both shoulders they’re easy to carry, and they’re also lightweight. Nervous cats may not like them so much though – because they’re on your back, they can’t see you to get reassurance as they move along. They’re also more likely to shake back and forth and up and down as you move than any other form of cat transport, so if your cat suffers from motion sickness, you may want to look at other options.

Description: For the cat who dreams of being an astronaut! These are very fashionable at the moment. Coming in plastic or fabric styles, they look like the backpack you used to wear to school. A plastic or mesh dome at the top allows your cat to see and be seen.

Pros: Because the straps sit on both shoulders they’re easy to carry, and they’re also lightweight. They’re a very fashionable accessory, and they let everybody see how cute your cat is as you walk along. They’re small and compact, so storage isn’t an issue. Usually airline approved. Often come as top loading cat carriers.

Cons: They’re more of a fashionable cat carrier than a practical cat carrier. Nervous cats might not like them so much. Because they’re on your back, they can’t see you to get reassurance that everything’s OK. They’re also more likely to shake around as you walk than any of the other options we’ve looked at here.

If your cat suffers from motion sickness, you may want to look at the alternatives. They’re also a non starter if you want a cat carrier for big cats. They might make a good kitten carrier though! Given how different they are, we’re not sure they should be classified as a cat carrier at all. They’re more of an alternative cat carrier.

Typical price: They seem to average out at $40 or above. We’re not sure why – maybe it’s the price you pay for fashion!

How Big Should Cat Carriers Be?

cat carriers

Adding a favorite cushion Helps. This cat looks calm. Or calmish, anyway! Image courtesy of Wikimedia

It’s easy to make a mistake with this. A lot of people think that the bigger the cat carrier is, the more space there is for your cat to move around, and the happier they’ll be because of it. This isn’t always true. Cats just love getting into small, cozy places. Think how many times you’ve put a box down in your house, and turned around five minutes later to find your cat has crawled into it, even though it doesn’t really fit!

There’s also the risk of injury that comes with a space that’s too big. Inside a cat carrier that’s too large, your cat can slide and bounce, hitting against the outer walls of the container as you turn around corners or go over bumps in the road. This will give you a scared, stressed and agitated cat who will either try to escape, or run for the hills the moment the doors are opened.

This is not to say that you should go for the smallest cat carriers you can find. A carrier that’s too small will lead to your cat feeling restricted and trapped, and that’s not good for their stress levels either. A perfectly proportioned cat carrier should have enough room for your cat to sit, stand, and turn around. If you’re going on a long journey, leaving just enough space to fit in food and water supplies and a small litter box is a good idea, too. In fact, some cat carriers even provide space for these as part of the construction.

There are no such things as specific cat carriers for large cats and cat carriers for small cats, they just come in a range of sizes and it’s down to you to pick the best one for your furry friend. We suggest that a good cat carrier should be around one and a half times the size of your cat – small enough for them to feel snug and secure, but large enough that they don’t feel boxed in. And if you’re buying for a kitten, remember they grow very quickly!

How Do I Get My Cat Into A Carrier?

There are so many theories in this, it should be a course at university. It’s been studied extensively at laboratory level. We’ve used some of that knowledge to help us here. All cats have their own personalities, and depending on their mood they can always make this process easier or harder for you. We all know that transporting your cat around can be as stressful for you as it is for your fur baby, and even the most calm of cats can turn into an angry, scratchy ball of rage if you try to wrestle with it. There’s no one “right” answer to this question, so we’ll share all the wisdom we’ve learned with you instead. Try it out and mix and match until you have a happy traveling cat.

Your cat should never see the carrier purely as a mode of transport. If the only time it ever sees the carrier is when it’s about to go on a trip somewhere, it will associate it with disruption, and quickly learn to hate it. The cat needs to see the carrier as part of its day to day life, and have positive experiences with it. This means that it needs to be stored somewhere the cat can walk in or out of it whenever it feels like it. If the carrier doesn’t suddenly start moving every time the cat is inside it, it will learn to feel safe and secure with it as much as its favorite sleeping space. This process can take a little time, so get started as soon as you’ve purchased your carrier.

  • First off, let the cat explore the carrier on its own terms. Leave it somewhere you and your cat spend time together, with all the doors open, so it can come and go as it pleases. On or close to a place it rests or sleeps is a good choice, because these are the parts of the home where your cat feels the most secure.
  • If your cat has a favorite toy or blanket, put them in the carrier so it has to walk in and find them. It may bring them back out again, but with repetition, it gets used to entering and leaving the carrier of its own accord with no negative consequences. It may even choose to stay in there with its favorite things.
  • As with teaching your cat any behaviors, bribery works too! Put a few treats and snacks in there so its curiosity is rewarded when it does go in for a look. Over time, you may even find your cat waiting in or by the door of the carrier, looking at you and expecting a treat for being there.
  • For nervous cats, pheromone sprays work well. The purpose of the spray is to relax the cat and keep it calm, so if the carrier has a few sprays of a suitable product inside it, it will naturally become a place the cat associates with rest and comfort.
  • If you have a playful cat, training it for carrier use can become part of playtime. Throw a toy in there so it follows it in. Top loading cat carriers can be good for this, because you can dangle a wand toy over the opening and your cat will jump in to chase after it.
  • If all else fails, move your cat’s food and water from their usual feeding place to the entrance of the carrier. After each successful meal, move them a bit at a time until they’re inside the carrier, and then all the way to the back. Take care if you decide to use this method; if your cat stops eating or eats less than normal, move them back where they came from and start again, moving them a short distance each time. A cat with a reduced appetite might be a stressed cat, and a stressed cat won’t learn anything.

All of the above advice is great for teaching your cat to accept the carrier, and even start to enjoy spending time inside it. All of that can easily change the moment we try to move the carrier with the cat inside it. Some cats will panic the moment we shut the doors, even before we pick it up. So now we move on to the next stage: teaching your cat to accept being in there when it’s moving, or when it can’t get out.

  • With your cat safely inside the carrier and in a sleeping or resting state, close the doors or zip it up. As soon as your cat notices this has been done, open it immediately and reward it with some love and attention, or maybe even a treat. Repeat this step several times. Your cat needs to know nothing bad is going to happen just because it can’t get out for a while.
  • Leave the period between your cat noticing the doors are closed, and you opening the doors, a few seconds longer each time. If it meows or prods at the door, leave it a little while before you open it. Your cat needs to know it’s not going to be in there forever, but equally it needs to accept that you won’t let it out as soon as it asks.
  • Here’s the really difficult part. Wait until your cat sits or lays back down in the carrier, pick it up, and walk a few paces with it. Don’t lift it high up, because that’s almost sure to cause panic. Just a foot or so off the ground is fine. Don’t move quickly, or with big strides – a few gentle steps is fine. As soon as you’re done, put the carrier back down, open the doors, and reward your cat with love and attention.
  • Once your cat accepts being moved around like this without complaint, slowly start increasing the height and the distance walked each time. It’s vital that you don’t rush this stage – if you panic your cat then all of your good work up to this point will be undone. If your cat starts showing obvious signs of distress, go back to the previous height and distance and repeat it a few more times until they’re calm. Training your cat to accept movement in this way can take a few days or even weeks, and every cat should be allowed to move at its own pace. You know your cat better than anyone else does, and you know when it isn’t happy. Keep giving them treats, and rewarding them for good behavior, and they’ll eventually start accepting the carrier being moved to where it needs to go.

Can You Put Two Cats In A Cat Carrier?

The technical answer is yes, but the practical answer is often no. Cats are territorial animals, and they don’t welcome sharing an enclosed space with another cat, even if they’re usually friends. You can buy cat carriers for two cats, and if you own two little angels you might be fine, but it’s usually better to get one for each of them.

Even if one of the cats is a good traveler, the other one can stress it out if it isn’t. Also if you’re planning a trip to the vets, a cat which has just been jabbed with a needle is likely to be in a bad mood, and might take it out on its carrier buddy. In short, two cats in a tight space where stress is a factor are likely to fight, and that’s a headache you can do without.

What If My Cat Is Sick?

You already know that cats are like people in a lot of ways, and just like people, they can get travel sickness! Vomiting, urination or defecation are obvious signs of travel sickness in cats, but a cat that’s crying a lot more than normal is also trying to tell you that it’s not enjoying the trip. Even a cat that’s very still might be feeling travel sick – if your cat is normally active and curious, but stays completely still while being transported, this might be a stress reaction. So what can we do to help them?

For the majority of cats, travel sickness is caused by nervousness and anxiety. If they don’t travel often, then being in a car can be very upsetting for them because they’re not used to the way cars move, or how air pressure inside a car is different to how it is in their normal life. Plane travel can be doubly stressful for the exact same reasons. House cats suffer more than any others because they’re not used to being outside the home, let alone in a moving vehicle. Cats are creatures of routine, and unexpected changes to routine are likely to upset them. By reducing anxiety, we can reduce travel sickness. Let’s look at some ideas.

Reducing Anxiety in Cats

  • cat carriers

    The end goal is a cat who looks as relaxed in a carrier as this handsome chap. Image courtesy of Flickr

    Research has shown that if your cat arrives at the vets already stressed, it makes the experience worse. If your cat only ever sees the carrier when it’s about to go somewhere, it will associate it with travel and become anxious. Instead of the carrier being the device that takes them traveling, it should be the thing that comforts them while they travel. Revisit all the training steps we talked about above, and get them used to being in and around the carrier again.

  • Medication is an option to calm or sedate your cat before transport. A bit of Rescue Remedy in your cat’s water before the beginning of the journey might work – Rescue Remedy is a herbal solution known for its calming qualities. Feliway might work too – it’s a pheromone that calms and reassures stressed cats, and if you spray some inside the carrier your cat might find it happier place to spend time. More heavy duty medications, such as tranquilizers or antihistamines, might be an option too. If you’re considering medication of this kind we recommend you speak to your vet before starting treatment.
  • Your cat may need to get used to the car in the same way it needed to get used to being in the carrier, so that means you need to help. Once your cat is used to being moved around in the carrier, take it to the car and put it next to you in the passenger seat. Let it stay there with you for a while, and then take it back inside the house. Once you’ve repeated this a few times, turn the engine on. Let your cat get used to the noise and the feel of being in the car with the engine running. This might take a few goes. Finally, start taking it on a quick trip around the block, and then back to the house. Over time, you’re reinforcing the idea that your cat isn’t always being taken somewhere it doesn’t want to go, and the car isn’t something to be afraid of. As always, reward good behavior with treats, love and attention.

Cat Carriers: Hints and Tips

Last but not least, let’s take a look at all the little pieces of advice we’ve received.

  1. A familiar towel or blanket is a good thing to put inside a hard cat carrier. Your cat will welcome the presence of a familiar item. It’s also a lot more comfortable than trying to rest on the plastic floor. You’ll also be glad of it if your cat urinates during travel.
  2. Carriers that open from the top or the side give you more options. A cat that doesn’t like being loaded in face first may have no objections to being lowered in from above, and vice versa.
  3. Keep the carrier clean, and in good condition. Cat carriers that smells bad, or are full of rough sharp edges, are not a fun place to be. Your cat isn’t going to want to get in there, and you shouldn’t blame it. Plastic cat carriers can become worn over time. It’s important that they’re replaced when they’re no longer welcoming places for your pet.
  4. If your cat panics whilst on the move, it may not actually want to see the outside world at all. Strange sights and sounds can be overwhelming for your cat, especially if they can’t go and investigate them. Covering the lookout points with a towel or a cloth might actually calm them down and reassure them.
  5. Make a cat burrito! Sometimes, a cat will scratch and bite the moment it sees a cat carrier. They’ll do it even if you’re kind and gentle about it, and you’ve followed all the advice listed here. If this sounds like your cat, then the burrito approach might be your only option. Wrap your unsuspecting cat up in a towel or a blanket just like you would with a baby, and gently place them inside the carrier. They might not like it very much, but at least you got them in there without injuring yourself or your cat.

So, Which Cat Carriers Are Best?

Well, isn’t that the six million dollar question? Let’s be straight. There isn’t a definite right or wrong answer to this. All of the cat carriers have their own pros and cons, and we’ve outlined those for you above. The type that’s best for you depends on the type of person you are, and your cat’s personality. Here’s what we think are the factors that should make up your mind.

For a Short Trip…

If you’re just making a one way trip, or a short one-off ‘there and back’ trip, go for a cardboard cat carrier. This is what they’re designed for, and it’s much cheaper than investing in any of the other carrier types. If you know you need to make a short journey, and you’re confident that you won’t need to take your cat anywhere else for a while, cardboard cat carriers are the right choice for you. Just don’t be tempted to keep it and use it again, they damage and degrade very quickly.

For a Flight…

If you’re planning to take your cat on a flight, you’ll probably want to give more thought to soft cat carriers. They’re also a good option if you want something that’s light, and convenient to carry. Just be prepared to put in the extra effort when cleaning them.

For Almost Anything…

For most purposes, you can’t go wrong with hard cat carriers. They’re solid, they’re durable, there’s little risk of escape, and they wipe clean. There’s a reason why they’re the standard model for cat transport, and it’s because they’re a dependable model. They’re also the only model that easily allows you to include food and litter for your cat. On top of that, they’re also durable cat carriers.

For Easy Cleaning…

Cage cat carriers are the way to go if you want something that’s solid, but also lightweight. Same goes for metal cat carriers (which tend to be the same thing anyway). They’re also good if you don’t want to go through the process of cleaning every time it’s used. Just be aware that your cat is always exposed to the elements. Things may get messy if it decides it wants to go the toilet.

For Elderly Pets…

If you have an elderly or very nervous cat, look no further than the pet stroller. This is also definitely the right option if physically lifting or carrying cat carriers around is an issue for you. They guarantee a smooth, easy ride for you and your cat. Just make sure you have the storage space to put it away, and be aware it can’t go on flights with you.

For Fashion…

If your passion is fashion and you want your cat to be seen, get a bubble cat carrier. They’re easier to carry than any option other than the stroller. They’re also light, compact, and airline approved, so there’s plenty of positive points for you. They just might not be quite so comfortable for your cat!

We hope you’re now one step closer to finding the cat carriers that suit you and your pet. If you’re still not sure, why not check out our top 5 cat carriers? Happy hunting!