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The 12 Very Best Cat Carriers

From soft-sided duffels to space-age-y backpacks.

Photo: Marcus McDonald
Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

Cat owners know how difficult it can be to travel just about anywhere with their feline friend. Wrangling a nervous animal into a pet carrier can often be a bit of a nightmare. Not only do you have to worry about your pet getting stressed, but you want them to be as safe as possible — while also following airplane regulations, if you’re flying.

There are tons of carrier designs on the market, but the best cat carrier is always the one that feels cozy, comfortable, and peaceful for your cat. “If you can find a carrier that your cat is not terrified of, that’s it: That’s the gold standard,” says Kerrie McKeon, resident cat expert at the animal-welfare and adoption organization Bideawee. “You can’t do better than that.” So we spoke to McKeon and nine other veterinarians, cat behavioral experts, and passionate cat owners about the carriers they recommend, to help you narrow down the crowded field.

What we’re looking for

Soft vs. hard sided

Carriers can either be soft sided — made from flexible materials like nylon, polyester, or microfiber — or hard sided with a rigid, durable shell. Hard-sided carriers are sturdier and easier to clean, so they may be a better fit if your cat gets aggressive, suffers from motion sickness, or is prone to having accidents when nervous. However, since hard-sided carriers are more solid and bulky, it’s usually best to choose a soft-sided carrier if you’re planning to take your cat on a flight or road trip where they need to be stowed away into tight spaces. A soft-sided carrier is lighter and easier to store than a hard carrier, but could be more easily damaged by sharp claws and teeth and may not provide as much protection as a hard-sided carrier. Whether you ultimately end up with a soft-sided or hard-sided carrier, look for one with “both a top-load option and a front-load option,” advises McKeon. “Putting them in through the front can be hard if they’re trying to back up against you, but dropping them down through the top can be an easier option.”

Style

While traditional handheld, duffel-style carriers are typically your best bet for vet visits or situations where you need to transport your cat from Point A to Point B as painlessly as possible, the carrier market has evolved in recent years to include some intriguing new designs. Some carriers now come with wheels, similar to rolling luggage, that allow you to pull your cat along rather than hoist it. Although it’s going to be “a much bumpier ride,” according to cat behavior consultant Dr. Mikel Delgado, a carrier with wheels can be helpful for cat owners with limited physical strength or mobility issues. Cat backpacks, often featuring a space-agey bubble peephole with ventilated openings, allow you to haul your cat on your back; they don’t allow as much room for your cat to move around, so they aren’t recommended for traveling long distances, but they’re perfect for taking your cat on quicker trips, especially ones where you need to keep your hands free. Finally, if your cat enjoys seeing the sights and getting some fresh air but is a little reluctant to explore the world on their own, they might enjoy being pushed in a cat stroller.

Size

A lean, petite cat will require a different-size carrier than, ahem, a chonkier specimen. The perfect cat carrier will be roomy enough for your cat to stand, turn around, and lie down in, but not so big that they might slide around in it, which can cause them to become stressed. Your cat should feel snug, secure, and settled in their carrier. Not all brands offer multiple sizes, but most list the carrier’s dimensions and weight limits; knowing the general size and weight of your cat is a good place to start.

Best cat carrier overall

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Duffel | Size: Two sizes with max weights of 7 and 15 pounds

All four cat experts we spoke to recommended Sleepypod carriers, with Kate Benjamin, founder of the stylish cat-gear website Hauspanther, calling it the “Cadillac of cat carriers.” (Note: It also comes with a Cadillac-level price tag.) It functions as three products in one: a carrier, a pet bed, and a car seat, which means that your cat will be comfortable and safe while traveling.

Experts also recommend introducing the carrier to your cat before you need to actually use it for transport. “For a cat to feel comfortable going out in a carrier, they need to be familiar with the carrier itself. So if you set it up at home as a bed or a hideaway and let the cat hang out in the carrier, their scent will be added to it, and that will help reduce their stress,” says Benjamin. When uncovered, the Sleepypod looks like a soft, plush, inviting bed, but it also comes with a removable mesh dome that can be zipped on top to turn it into an enclosed carrier. The design has also been tested for “car accidents, and demonstrated that they can protect your pet even when they’re strapped in with a seatbelt,” says Dr. Delgado. It comes in both regular and miniature sizes, as well as a TSA-compliant option that collapses for easy storage when not in use, all certified by the Center for Pet Safety.

Best (less expensive) cat carrier

Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier
From $38
From $38

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Duffel | Size: Small, medium, and large sizes with max weights of 8, 16, and 22 pounds

For a more budget-friendly alternative to the Sleepypod, Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo crowned this Sherpa carrier the best overall dog carrier, but it works just as well for cats. Corsillo was actually gifted the carrier by a friend who had used it for her cat for several years; Corsillo herself has owned it “for around five years now, and it still looks pretty much brand-new,” she writes. It has openings that allow for both top and front entry; it boasts an easy-to-clean, water-resistant lining and machine-washable bedding; and according to veterinarian John Iovino, its mesh side panels allow for ventilation and offer “a chance for you to see your pet to make sure everything is okay.”

Benjamin is also a fan. She says she owns “a ton of different carriers,” and her Sherpa is one that she’ll “always grab out of the closet” because it’s “really durable. The cat is comfortable inside. You can take pieces out to clean it. It’s great.” Plus, since Sherpa partners with several major airlines through a program called Guaranteed on Board, you can rest assured that the small and medium sizes of this carrier are flight-friendly and “your pet travels will go by without a hitch,” says Samantha Schwab, the former resident pet expert at Chewy.

Best hard-sided cat carrier

Petmate Two-Door Top Load
$41
$41

Soft vs. hard sided: Hard | Style: Duffel | Size: One size with a max weight of 15 pounds

Both the Sleepypod and the Sherpa are soft sided, but if you’re looking for a hard-sided carrier, McKeon suggests this one from Petmate. It has both top-load and front-load options for easy access, and is robust enough to contain a cat that may potentially become stressed and agitated by carriers in general. “The rigid sides means the cat can interact with it and it won’t collapse,” says Dr. Brian Evans, veterinarian and clinical director at Dutch, a 24/7 online vet-care service.

This carrier doesn’t come with any interior padding, but to make it more comfortable and easier to clean in the event of an accident, Dr. Evans suggests inserting a liner “as a way to collect any liquid that may get produced during these trips and make sure any padding is machine washable.” Additionally, hard-sided carriers may be the better choice for cat owners who live alone, because “you can prop it up against a wall and [put the cat inside by] yourself,” McKeon notes. “With a soft carrier, because of the zippering all the way around, a cat can just shoot out of the carrier. It’s really hard to do solo. So for one person, a plastic carrier is the way to go because it has its own structure.”

Best expandable cat carrier

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Duffel | Size: Small, medium, and large sizes with max weights of 7, 13, and 15 pounds

This Petsfit carrier, which made our list of the best airline-approved pet carriers, is especially suited for long-haul travel. Keep the expandable mesh side panels zipped up while going through security to comply with airline regulations, then expand them out once you’re on the plane to allow your cat a little more room to stretch out. It also comes with a lightweight, flexible wire structure that can be compressed under a seat, as well as a comfy washable fleece mat. The carrier is available in three sizes; the small and medium options are likely to fit on most planes, but if your pet requires the large size, we recommend double-checking your airline’s size guidelines beforehand.

Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio owns two of these carriers, one for each of her two cats, and used them for a cross-country move a few years ago. She notes that you do have to “squish the carrier down a bit to fit them under some airline seats, but the frame, while flexible, is really strong.” She cautions that “you also have to give up some legroom to actually expand the carrier on a flight, but if your cat needs the space, it’s a nice feature to have.” In keeping with Benjamin’s advice, the carriers now live under her bed expanded and unzipped, and her cats like to use them “as a safe space when they want to hide or go to sleep in a very secure-feeling spot.”

Best expandable cat carrier for multiple cats

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Kennel | Size: One size, no max carry weight listed

This dual-compartment carrier is “more like a soft kennel that fits in the back of your car,” says communications manager Carolyn Rehm, who runs an Instagram account for her cats, Broccoli and Dilly. The two sections can be zipped together to form one large chamber, with enough room to hold up to four cats, or you can leave them separated so that each cat can have their own personal space. Since the carrier fits neatly into a car trunk or backseat, with built-in straps that safely connect to a seatbelt to prevent it from sliding around, Rehm has found it very handy “in case we need to travel last minute with the cats and it’s a long car ride, we want them to have room to move and be able to fit a litter box as well.” It also comes with a washable mat and an optional hammock for lounging.

Most stylish cat carrier

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Duffel | Size: One size with a max weight of 18 pounds

Premium pet-product brand Diggs recently released the Passenger, a very sleek and stylish nylon carrier that’s suited for cats and dogs up to 18 pounds. Available in a slew of sophisticated colorways (navy, slate, charcoal, and blush), at first glance it appears to resemble a regular weekender, something you’d see any JPMorgan lackey carrying on a trip upstate; a closer inspection, however, reveals details designed to make it a comfortable home away from home for your pet. There are safety considerations, including an interior collar-tether clip and exterior clips that attach to a seatbelt if you’re traveling by car, and thoughtful touches such as a detachable cross-body strap and a front pocket for storing essentials.

Diggs sent the Passenger my way for testing, and within 30 seconds of unboxing it, my roommate’s cat, Harry, who’d wandered over to see what all the fuss was about, was curled up inside and purring contentedly — zero bribing, threatening, or cajoling necessary. I attribute his alacrity to the soft, bouncy cushion on the bottom of the carrier, which can be fitted with a specially sized pee pad to assist in the cleanup of any accidents that happen on the road (you can buy the pads on the Diggs website.) As a cherry on top, the carrier is airline compliant and, like the SleepyPod, certified by the Center for Pet Safety.

Most stylish mesh cat carrier

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Duffel | Size: One size with a max weight of 16 pounds

The Diggs carrier above is mostly solid and opaque, with two small mesh panels on the top and side. If your cat requires more airflow or gets anxious if they’re unable to see their surroundings, you may want to opt for this Wild One carrier, which is equipped with larger mesh panels (and is a favorite of musician Lauv). “A lot of my issue with cat carriers is that there’s not enough breathability, especially when your cat is under an airplane seat,” says content creator Billie-Rae Grant, owner of a cat named Goblin. She likes this carrier for its all-around mesh design and for how “chic and minimal it is. I find a lot of pet accessories are just the same old basic designs, but this one is really cute to carry around.” Though ostensibly meant for small dogs, it can easily fit cats up to 16 pounds; Grant travels with Goblin fairly often and has never had any problems with it.

Best backpack-style cat carrier

Soft vs. hard sided: Hard | Style: Backpack | Size: One size with a max weight of 16 pounds

Sherpa also makes a sturdy, good-looking cat backpack that we included on our list of the best gifts for cat lovers — and it just so happens to be favored by avowed cat lady Taylor Swift. It comes recommended by McKeon for its hardy zippers and straps that ensure the backpack is both comfortable for you and difficult for your cat to bust out of.

Vulture’s former senior Snapchat editor Devon Sherer tested it out with her cats and reported that it was “as life-changing as it looks.” Both of Sherer’s cats preferred it “to the more standard, duffel-esque bag since they are up higher and can see things better”; they would even get into it voluntarily when it wasn’t in use and “glare at me through the bubble window,” Sherer says. Though backpack carriers can be useful for short jaunts (such as a trip Sherer took to Fire Island), they’re not advised for long journeys since they’re less roomy and it’s more difficult for you to monitor your pet. When transporting your cat in a backpack, Dr. Delgado advises owners to avoid “swinging it around or carrying it by the handle” and to support the bottom as much as possible.

Best airline-approved backpack-style cat carrier

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Backpack | Size: One size with a max weight of 14 pounds

However, if need to tote your cat on your back through airport security, this Mr. Peanut backpack carrier is airline-approved, can be stowed on its side under an airplane seat the way a duffel would, and comes with convenient pockets for you to stash items like a laptop and water bottle. Erika Lorbes, owner of Instagram “catfluencer” Nori, says both she and Nori feel more comfortable with backpack-style carriers because Nori can “poke her head out and look around” and it doesn’t bump into Lorbes’s side as she totes it around. She appreciates that the Aspen model is made of soft and breathable mesh, which makes it easy to compress into tight spaces and allows Nori to see what’s going on outside. She says it is roomy enough for Nori to sit up when the backpack is upright and lay down when it’s tipped on its side, and comes with a removable faux-fur lining that’s “so nice and comfortable [that Nori] naps in it.”

Best rolling- and backpack-style cat carrier

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Rolling and backpack | Size: One size with a max weight of 15 pounds

Rolling-suitcase-style cat carriers are a great choice for senior people “who have health issues that prevent them from being able to carry the cat” or for “very big cats that are hopefully not hugely overweight, but are large and heavy,” says McKeon. This carrier comes with a luggage handle that allows you to wheel it along, but there are also straps on the back that let you carry it as a backpack if your cat doesn’t love the rolling motion. “If you think about what the experience is like for your cat in that carrier, it’s gonna be a much bumpier ride that close to the ground,” Dr. Delgado says. The convertibility of this carrier means that you can switch between the two modes to give both you and your cat a break. One enthusiastic Amazon reviewer bought this carrier for their 15-pound cat who “gets too heavy to carry” and uses it to “bring him out on walks and adventures without having to hurt my back,” they write. “The carrier is extremely light and weightless, the mesh is sturdy, and it is easy to roll with my cat in it. Definitely a great product!”

Best cat stroller

Soft vs. hard sided: Soft | Style: Stroller | Size: One size with a max weight of 45 pounds

Pet Gear’s strollers come recommended by both Dr. Evans and Dr. Delgado for their sophisticated shock absorption and secure design. “I’ve seen strollers that were not made very well and had some gaps in the enclosure part, so a cat could theoretically escape. You really want to make sure that it’s completely sealed and there’s no small spaces that they could squeeze out of,” Dr. Delgado advises. This stroller features an easy locking mechanism as well as an interior collar tether for extra protection that guarantees your cat will remain safely ensconced, while still providing panoramic vinyl mesh windows so they can watch the world go by. While some cats may not enjoy the experience of bumping along, for those who don’t mind it, “it can be a safe and fun way to give your cats outdoor enrichment and activity,” Dr. Delgado says.

Best “in a pinch” cat carrier

Soft vs. hard sided: Hard-sided cardboard | Style: Duffel | Size: One size; no weight restrictions listed but recommended for smaller/lighter pets

Finally, if you’re short on space or cash (or both), a cardboard carrier is an easy and economical option, so long as you’re only making the occasional drive to the vet and not hauling your cat cross-country. Trolio used one when her cats were “younger and smaller and we lived in a one-bedroom apartment.” She found it easy to make the glorified cardboard box more comfortable “by putting a towel or blanket inside,” and appreciated that it could “fold super-flat when we weren’t using it and we could store it behind a dresser.” It’s also less of a headache if your cat has a tendency to pee when nervous, since it’s “technically disposable if you need it to be — and then you can just wash whatever bedding you’ve put inside,” Trolio says. However, if your cat is on the stouter side, cardboard may not work for you, as it’s a bit unwieldy and “not the easiest thing to carry.”

Our experts:

• Dr. Brian Evans, veterinarian and clinical director at Dutch
• Devon Sherer, former Vulture senior Snapchat editor
• Erika Lorbes, owner of “catfluencer” Nori
• Billie-Rae Grant, owner of “catfluencer” Goblin
• Carolyn Rehm, owner of “catfluencers” Broccoli and Dilly
• Jen Trolio, Strategist senior editor
• John Iovino, veterinarian and contributor to the Wildest
• Kate Benjamin, founder of the cat-gear website Hauspanther
• Kerrie McKeon, resident cat expert at Bideawee
Liza Corsillo, Strategist senior writer
Dr. Mikel Delgado, cat behavior consultant
• Samantha Schwab, former resident pet expert at Chewy

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The 12 Very Best Cat Carriers