Updated October 30, 2023
When we think of road-trip buddies, we typically think of dogs. Some kitties may go out on a leash, but they typically don’t join us for beach days or cafe outings. Many are content to stay home and bask in a sun puddle alone. But sometimes, your cat must go somewhere, such as to the vet or with you on a cross-country move.
Cat carriers are essential to keep your kitty safe, sound, and in one place during travel. There are several types of cat carriers on the market that cater to different needs. Hard carriers feel safe but some can be bulky. Soft fabric carriers are easier to store but offer varying levels of protection. Some are designed for small dogs and cats alike. It can get confusing.
To help you make the best pick for your kitty, living space, and travel needs, we scoured the internet, consulted with vets (and an actual cat), and narrowed the list of best cat carriers.
This feline carrier will make cats and TSA agents smile, which is no small task. The soft-sided carrier has a unique design, allowing users to zip and fold it to meet their kitty’s needs. It’s soft-sided but sturdy, providing protection throughout your travels, and it is also airline-approved. Tons of flaps and pockets leave room for paperwork, passports, medical records, and other important documents.
|✓ Airline approved||✗ All-zip design took some time to assemble|
|✓ Mesh-but-sturdy sides||✗ Expanding it takes practice|
|✓ Pockets for extra storage|
Petmate’s cat carrier takes the fuss out of one aspect of traveling with a feline. Many other cat carriers on this list have extra frills like pockets, removable straps, and soft sides. But Petmmate’s hard shell design —though a bit bulkier — protects your cat during turbulence. The easy-squeeze latch is more straightforward than a zip closure, making it an ideal cat carrier for people with squirmy kitties who dislike leaving home. It can also fit a small dog, making this option for multi-pet families.
|✓ Solid structure of shell and door makes for comforting safety features||✗ Assembly required|
|✓ Easy to clean||✗ Somewhat bulky|
|✓ Straightforward squeeze latch allows for easy access|
This cat carrier has multiple easy entry points at the top and through a front zip door. The mesh windows allow for ventilation. A removable shoulder strap and top handles give cat parents options to carry what they need depending on their other luggage. Pockets leave room to stash important travel and medical documents. Be sure to measure properly, as the medium may be too small for larger tabbies.
|✓ Airline approved||✗ Packaging was easily damaged by rain|
|✓ No assembly required||✗ Runs small|
|✓ Machine washable liner|
This cat carrier expands and contracts easily. But, though it can get small enough to store in a tiny corner of your closet, it’s full of features. A removable shoulder strap leaves the carrier with multiple ways to walk their cat into and out of buildings. Numerous pockets make lugging an extra bag unnecessary. The fun blue color is a bonus, and it looks more like a gym bag than a carrier. The only downsides are that it’s a bit small for a larger cat and came scrunched up. Expanding it and allowing it to take shape should nix that before you have to use it.
|✓ Multiple pockets for added storage||✗ Took a while to take shape out of the box|
|✓ Blue color is unique||✗ Runs small|
|✓ Removable straps for ease of carrying|
Forget aches and pains while carrying your cat from the parking lot to the vet or airport. Pet Gear’s I-Go2 is like a modern-day suitcase. You can roll it or carry it like a backpack. Our product reviewer test-drove it and said it was smooth. But you’ll want to test it on your particular cat, as not all may appreciate the wheels.
|✓ Ergo-friendly wheel and backpack design||✗ Medium is snug for larger cats|
|✓ Durable||✗ Mesh covering could be destroyed by a feisty kitty’s claws|
|✓ Adjustable straps|
This cat carrier gives cats a window to the great outdoors — a perk for some, though Dr. Erica Irish says it may be stressful for anxious cats. The backpack design makes the carrier easy on humans, and Dr. Dwight Alleyne notes that it extends to provide more room for larger cats.
|✓ Comfortable for pet parents||✗ Anxious cats may get stressed with nowhere to hide|
|✓ Clear design allows humans to see pets and cats to see their surroundings||✗ Can get warm, risking overheating|
|✓ Cats can breathe air holes|
This carrier has a little bit of a lot of things. The roomy design can fit two cats — perfect for two inseparable felines. Velcro tabs and multiple pockets leave room for leashes, harnesses, treats, and paperwork. It also unzips all the way around, making storage a breeze.
|✓ Easy assembly||✗ Not much hiding space for cats|
|✓ Roomy||✗ All-zip design requires quick hands if a fast cat detests carriers|
|✓ Tons of storage space|
Cat carriers can be bulky and heavy, leaving humans with tired or strained muscles. But PetAmi’s Premium Backpack Dog & Cat carrier’s backpack, with its lightweight design, nixes that issue. The top-loading entry is easy to use, and the mesh ventilation gives the cat breathing room.
|✓ Backpack design alleviates human aches and pains||✗ Runs small|
|✓ Top-loading design for ease of entry||✗ Ideal for outdoor travel|
|✓ Mesh ventilation|
Keep muscles from straining and garner a few laughs as you strut through the parking lot with the BestPet Dog Cage 3 Wheels Stroller. Dr. Alleyne says the stroller design makes it convenient to transport a pet, though he notes it’s a bit harder to store than a soft-sided carrier. Dr. Irish likes the coverage, saying it gives the kitty room to hide.
|✓ Novel design||✗ Somewhat bulky|
|✓ Coverage for anxious cats||✗ Can be tricky to store|
|✓ Fun purple color|
Cats aren’t always down for a car ride, let alone a flight. The idea of leaving their safe space — the home you share together — can be anxiety-inducing for a kitty. There are ways to make the ordeal comfier and safer for your kitty by choosing the right carrier. Consider these tips.
Function — How will you be using this carrier? Just trips to the vet? Air travel? If you’re taking a flight, be sure to get an airline-approved carrier.
Measure — Dimensions usually involve height, width, and length. You want the kitty to have some breathing room, so it should be 1.5 times larger than the cat. Some items we reviewed, like the Bergan Coastal Pet Carrier, offered solid features but were too small for most cats and better suited to a pet such as a rabbit.
Consider comfort — Fuzzy beds provide built-in comfort. If the carrier doesn’t have those, be sure to add a blanket or towel.
Extra features — Pockets and removable straps add convenience. Soft sides are typically easier to store, and some carriers come in fun colors for stylish kitties and humans.
Full disclosure: Your cat may put up a protest every time you try to put them into a carrier. But you may be able to make it more of a whimper than an all-out ordeal.
Get them used to it — Put the carrier out with the door open a couple of weeks before your trip. Let the kitty sniff it and climb in or out.
Put a favorite treat or toy inside — It will show them the carrier is a welcoming space.
Close the door — After the cat has gone into the carrier a few times with the door open, close it and leave it shut for a minute or two. Then, open it.
Praise your cat — Give your feline friend plenty of pets, treats, and toys.
The betterpet lab developed a set of criteria and then put them to the test in real-world situations. Those factors included:
The writers, editors, and staff of betterpet are pet parents, and we know the value of accurate, trustworthy information. Because of this, the content we create is reviewed and approved by our vets. We tested these cat carriers so that when we say a carrier is best, it comes from firsthand experience.
You may not plan to take your cat on multiple adventures. But cat carriers are still essential. Cat carriers keep your kitties safe and in one place during trips. Some are approved for air travel.
It depends on your cat. Soft-size carriers often have breathable mesh windows and cozy built-in beds. But some prefer hard shell carriers. You may need to test a few to find the best one for your cat.
The best cat carrier depends on each feline-human pair. The lifestyles and travel needs of you and your cat play a factor. Some prefer soft-side ones, which also tend to be easier to store. But hard shell designs are also popular, easy to clean, and safe.