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A well-designed cat carrier can make getting a feisty feline from Point A to Point B less stressful. Whether you're headed to the vet or the airport, a good carrier will have a handful of essential features for the convenience and comfort of both cat and human.
To narrow down the most important qualities to look for in a pet carrier, I spoke with Lindsey Wolko, founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Virginia, and Dr. Gwen Gadd, a fear-free certified veterinarian at East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. They highlighted the importance of having a loading door, plenty of ventilation, exterior pockets, and comfortable straps or handles.
Over the course of a year, I evaluated 30 different cat carriers, including airline-friendly, budget, and backpack styles. All but one, the Good2Go Expandable Carrier, were provided as review samples by their manufacturers. My two cats submitted their opinions on the carriers, both at home and on visits to the vet. Read more about how we tested the carriers plus how to introduce your cat to their new carrier and safely travel by car with your cat.
Learn more about how we test pet products at Insider Reviews here.
Best cat carrier overall: Mr. Peanut's Gold Series Expandable Carrier, $66 from Mr. Peanut's The durable Mr. Peanut's Gold Series Expandable Carrier is designed for convenient, comfortable travel with an extendable compartment that provides your cat with more space on the road.
Best budget cat carrier: Elite Field Soft-Sided Airline Approved Carrier, $28.59 from Chewy The Elite Field Soft-Sided Airline Approved Carrier has just about all of the features you might want for everyday or long distance travel at an affordable price.
Best cat carrier for car travel: Away Pet Carrier, $225 from Away The third-party crash-tested Away Pet Carrier is loaded with features for the safety, comfort, and convenience of you and your cat.
Best hard-shell cat carrier: Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel, $24.26 from Chewy The sturdy, spacious Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel has self-locking doors on its front and top sides for easy loading and unloading.
Best backpack cat carrier: Gen7Pets Geometric Roller-Carrier, $75.41 from Chewy The Gen7Pets Geometric Roller-Carrier is comfortable to wear and converts instantly into a rolling suitcase when your shoulders need a break.
The durable Mr. Peanut's Gold Series Expandable Carrier is designed for convenient, comfortable travel with an extendable compartment that provides your cat with more space on the road.
Pros: Front- and top-loading, expandable compartment, luggage strap, detachable shoulder strap, washable bolster bed, five colors options, folds flat for storage
Cons: Not third-party crash-tested, no official warranty
Whether you're traveling with your cat by plane, car, or public transportation, Mr. Peanut's Gold Series Expandable Carrier helps take the hassle out of the journey. It has nearly all of the features we considered for this guide and is also one of our favorite airline cat carriers.
For your feline companion, it is outfitted with a plush bed, privacy flap, and zip-out atrium that expands the carrier's width by more than 50%. For you, there is a shoulder strap, carry handle, exterior pocket, luggage strap, detachable name tag, and an interior safety tether to prevent your cat from bolting.
My favorite thing about this carrier is its expandable mesh atrium. My cats liked stretching out into the extra space while napping inside. This feature can't be used in flight or while driving, but you can give your cat more space while waiting at the airport or vet's office.
The Gold Series remained well balanced on top of a carry-on and the padded shoulder strap was easy to adjust and comfortable on my shoulder. The mesh was perfectly intact after our scratch test with the exception of some slight discoloration. Stomping on the bag multiple times flattened its interior frame slightly, but it took just a few seconds to push it back out to its original form. The zippers worked smoothly too.
On a vet visit, my cat unleashed his own goop test on the removable bed. Though the bed is labeled hand-wash only, I threw it in the washer and air-dried it. It not only came completely clean, but it also looked essentially brand new.
The carrier adheres to most in-cabin airline restrictions. The frame is not flexible but has enough give to fit beneath slightly lower seats. Although it has safety seat belt attachments, it has not been third-party crash-tested. For this reason, the most secure spot to place your cat is at the foot of the backseat on the passenger side. It fit snugly there in my compact car.
Mr. Peanut's donates their carriers and a portion of sales to animal rescues and aid organizations through their Pay a Shelter Pet Forward program.
The Elite Field Soft-Sided Airline Approved Carrier has just about all of the features you might want for everyday or long distance travel at an affordable price.
Pros: Padded detachable shoulder strap, padded carry handle, secure luggage strap, multiple pockets, washable interior mat, collapses flat for storage, comes in six colors and two sizes
Cons: Not top-loading, seam of interior mat ripped in washing, no warranty
For a reliable soft-sided carrier that will keep your cat safe and comfortable on short journeys and long-distance travel days alike, Elite Field's Soft-Sided Airline Approved Carrier fits the bill. Inside, this bag is fitted with a soft fleece mat and safety tether. A luggage strap, detachable padded shoulder strap, and padded carry handle make getting your cat to their destination easy. Best of all, this carrier is less than half the cost of our best overall pick.
In testing, the Elite Field carrier proved to be highly durable. In our goop test, it wiped completely clean and its fleece mat came out of the washer with no stains. Our scratch test resulted in no damage, and the zipper was smooth. The biggest flaw was a seam along the side of the mat that tore in the washing machine but did not affect its usefulness.
This carrier has more ventilation than most of those we tested. It also has five pockets, including one which unzips to convert into a luggage strap, and two small zipper holes through which you can pet or feed your cat without danger of escape. The bag collapses flat for storage but does not have a top-loading entry or a warranty. When carried by the shoulder strap, this carrier does bend inward an inch or two.
The Elite Field comes in two sizes, both of which fit under the seat at United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Although this carrier has a seatbelt loop, it has not been third-party crash-tested for car travel. All in all, while this carrier isn't perfect, its durable, comfortable design is a great deal.
The third-party crash-tested Away Pet Carrier is loaded with features for the safety, comfort, and convenience of you and your cat.
Pros: Front- and top-loading carrier, third-party crash-tested and safety certified, secure luggage strap, washable interior sherpa bed, padded shoulder strap, excellent ventilation, one-year warranty
Cons: Pricey, does not fold flat for storage
Having earned a five-star crash-test certification from the Center for Pet Safety, the Away Pet Carrier is an ideal choice for frequent travel or long car rides. Although it is the most expensive carrier we tested for this guide, it has all of the features we deemed essential, including a luggage strap, excellent ventilation, a padded shoulder strap, and two exterior pockets. Because it also fits the dimensions of most in-cabin airline requirements, it's versatile enough for journeys requiring multiple modes of transportation.
The Away Carrier has a washable sherpa bolster bed and safety tether inside. On its exterior, there is a roll-down privacy flap on the front door, luggage strap, and two zipper pockets, one of which runs the entire length of the right side.
Perhaps the carrier's most important feature, though, is the seat belt attachment. While many carriers have seat belt straps or latches, relatively few have been third-party crash-tested. Away's bag was not only crash tested in 2020, it earned a five-star safety certification for pets up to 18 pounds.
In our testing, the Away Carrier came out unscathed. It was plenty spacious for even the larger of my two cats, a zaftig 12-pounder. It was also easy to transport. The padded shoulder strap is a little slippery and did have to be readjusted occasionally. Because it's made from leather, the handle is not as comfortable to hold as some of the other carriers I tested, which have thicker nylon handles.
Although it doesn't fold flat for storage, the Away Carrier comes with a drawstring bag to keep it free from dust and debris, as well as a few additional goodies, including a small plush airplane, a bandana, and a collapsible silicone water bowl. The carrier can be monogrammed for an additional $35.
The sturdy, spacious Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel has self-locking doors on its front and top sides for easy loading and unloading.
Pros: Made from heavy-duty 95% recycled plastic; strong, sturdy design with bolts lining three sides of carrier; self-locking wire mesh doors on front and top; affordable
Cons: Requires assembly, somewhat heavy at 3.8 pounds for the 19-inch kennel and 6.43 pounds for the 24-inch; no mat or safety tether; only two color options; not safety-tested for car travel
If you have a cat that fears the tight confinement of a soft-sided carrier, the Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel is an excellent option for transporting them from Point A to Point B. This hard-shell carrier has a simple two-piece design that secures together with bolts around its exterior.
There is a folding plastic handle at the top. Both doors on the kennel have spring-loaded latches that lock them securely in place and, along with holes that wrap around the top half of the carrier, provide ventilation. The 24-inch carrier was extremely spacious for even my 12-pound cat. Both doors were large enough for stress-free entry and were easy to open and close one-handed.
The kennel passed our goop test with flying colors. The mess I smeared on its interior and exterior, then left to dry for 48 hours, wiped completely clean in an instant. When dropped, it did not fare as well as its soft-sided counterparts. It didn't suffer any structural damage, but the back panel of its top half cracked and the handle popped off the top door. I was able to snap the handle back in place, and the back remains intact enough to prevent a pet from escaping. It's important to note that this kennel's competitor, the Petmate Two-Door Top-Load Kennel, broke in almost the same way but held on to its handle.
In fact, everything about this kennel is so similar to the Petmate that they may as well be the same product. I was able to pinpoint only three differences between them: Frisco's carrier comes in two colors instead of four, it costs almost $10 less, and it is slightly heavier — a little over a half pound each for the 19- and 24-inch models.
While this kennel is missing a few of the features I looked for in the soft carriers, namely a safety tether, soft interior mat, and ID tag, it's a well-made, affordable option for cats who need more space during travel.
The Gen7Pets Geometric Roller-Carrier is comfortable to wear and converts instantly into a rolling suitcase when your shoulders need a break.
Pros: Combination backpack and rolling carrier, two zippered doors for loading, machine-washable sherpa mats, telescoping suitcase handle, available in two sizes, folds flat for storage, one-year limited warranty
Cons: Does not fit in-cabin airline requirements, not safety-tested for car travel, heavier than other backpack carriers we tested
Gen7Pets Geometric Roller-Carrier takes the hassle out of traveling with a cat by providing two convenient ways for them to get around: on your back or rolling at your side. The sturdy carrier has two loading doors at the front and zippered pockets on its sides. There is a handle at the top of the bag for quick lifting and four wheels at the bottom. Soft machine-washable sherpa mats attach to the base and back of the interior with Velcro.
In backpack mode, this carrier has two adjustable shoulder straps that clip to D-rings at the bottom of the back side. It takes just a few seconds to convert the bag into rolling mode by unclipping the backpack straps, tucking them into their storage pocket, and pulling out the telescoping suitcase handle. I was surprised to find that, despite the size and weight of the large carrier, it was equally as comfortable on my back as the other backpack carriers I tested. Its padded straps were easy to adjust and it did not bounce against my lower back.
The backpack is also comfortable to pull behind you or at your side. It skidded occasionally on a rock or stick but mostly moved smoothly over sidewalks, pavement, and ramps. For cat comfort when rolling, the bag has a "smart-level platform" to change the angle of the carrier's base.
The Geometric Roller Backpack's front mesh panels can be rolled down for easy feeding and watering and an interior tether can be used to keep your cat from escaping. Although there are seat belt straps on the back, this carrier has not been third-party crash-tested, so they should not be used.
In testing, this backpack proved durable. The stomp test reshaped the internal wire frame, but I was able to push it back in place in under a minute. In the scratch test, the carrier's mesh showed no signs of breakage and the loading door zipped smoothly. The goop I spread on the bag cleaned up easily, leaving only a small spot of discoloration, and the interior mat came out of the washing machine looking like new.
The large carrier was very spacious and comfortable for my cats, but at 6.8 pounds, it was a bit heavy to carry by the plastic handle at its top. It is also too large to fit under the seat in the cabin of an airplane, as is the smaller version of the carrier. While some may find it too bulky, its size, shape, and versatility make frequent travel with a cat convenient and comfortable for both of you.
All of the carriers evaluated in this guide went through four tests: a basic comparison of features, a drop test, a goop test, and a cat-approval test.
Feature comparison: Interviews with Wolko and Gadd helped me determine the essential features a cat carrier should have. I created a scoring system for the soft-sided carriers based on the qualities listed below. Hard-sided carriers were subject to slightly different criteria. The bags that scored the highest went on to additional testing.
In the "What to consider when shopping for a pet carrier" slide, I describe each of these features in more detail: shape and design, interior mat, loading doors, carrying straps and handles, pockets, ventilation, interior safety tether, no-escape petting hole, ID tag, luggage strap, dimensions and in-cabin airline capability, safety certifications, storage
Drop, stomp, and roll test: In this test, I brought the carriers that did best in the features comparison to a local park. I placed a 10-pound weight inside each bag and, with the help of my partner, dropped each one twice from a 10-foot-tall play structure, first releasing it straight down, then flipping it end on end.
Once on the ground, I rolled the bags several times with the weight still inside, looking for any damage to the stitching, mesh, or zippers. Later, I conducted the stomp test at home, placing each carrier on a rug, then stomping on it a dozen times with bare feet, noting whether the frame changed shape or the bag showed any damage.
Goop test: Because it's not uncommon for cats to vomit or defecate in their carrier, I devised the goop test to determine how easy the carriers were to clean. I made my goop by mashing together cat kibble, canned food, and water with a mortar and pestle, then spread a tablespoon on the exterior walls, the interior walls, and the mats of the contenders. After 48 hours, I used dish soap and water to wipe the goop from the walls and cleaned the mats in the washing machine or by hand, depending on care instructions.
In-cabin airline fit test: I measured the exterior of each carrier to determine whether it would fit under the seat in the cabin of most major airlines. I used United Airlines' recommended maximum dimensions for a soft-sided pet carrier of 18 inches long, 11 inches wide, and 11 inches tall as the standard by which to assess them.
Ventilation test: Wolko explained that a carrier's ventilation is important for preventing a cat from overheating during travel. I measured the mesh panels on each carrier and calculated the percentage of the total surface area they comprised. Those with more ventilation were scored higher than those with limited mesh.
Walk test: I took each of the top soft-sided carriers on a 15-minute walk around my neighborhood, carrying a 10-pound weight inside. Each was carried using its shoulder strap and held at the front of my body, as if I had precious cat cargo inside. The last block of the walk, I switched to using the bags' hand-carry straps.
Throughout the walk, I paid attention to how comfortable the carrier was to carry by shoulder and by hand, as well as how well it held its shape as it bounced against my legs. I took the same walk with the backpack carriers, noting how well the backpack fit against my back and how comfortable its straps were.
Luggage test: I placed each of the top carriers with luggage straps on top of a standard rolling suitcase and walked a single city block, pulling them off of a curb and going up a steeply ramped driveway entrance along the way. I watched closely to see how well the carrier remained balanced with a 10-pound weight inside.
Scrape test: To test the durability of the mesh, I scraped a section of each bag 50 times with a fork, noting any damage or discoloration.
Zip test: I tested the durability of each carrier's zipper by completely zipping and unzipping one of its loading entrances 50 times, noting any changes in the zipper's ability to smoothly run its course.
Cat-approval test: Over a period of several weeks, I left the top carriers sitting open around the house to assess their comfort. I frequently found my cats nestled inside fast asleep. Any carrier they didn't choose to enter on their own, I baited with treats to encourage their entry and relaxation to see how well they fit inside.
Vet test: A few of the carriers — Mr. Peanut's Gold Series Expandable Carrier, Bergan Comfort Carrier, Good2Go Expandable Carrier, and Mr. Peanut's Backpack Carrier — were put to the test on trips to the vet. Because I was unable to test all of the top carriers in this way, I considered what I learned from these trips to be supplemental information. This included how well they fit at the foot of my car's back seat on the passenger side, how well my cat fit inside the carrier, and in one case, how it held up to cleaning when one of my cats vomited and defecated on the trip.
A high-quality cat carrier needs to be comfortable, convenient, and safe for use by both human and cat. After speaking with Wolko and Gadd, I determined the following features to be the most important:
Shape and design: A carrier should be large enough for a cat to comfortably lie down and turn around but not so large that they don't feel secure, according to Gadd. Because they are made with airline cabin dimensions in mind, most cat carriers nail this, but some vary in how cramped or spacious they are. Some cat carriers have built-in expandable sections that can double or even triple the size of a carrier. These are ideal for giving your pet the opportunity to safely stretch out on long travel days.
Loading doors: Gadd recommends carriers that have two doors. Because cats like options, they may prefer to enter and exit out of different openings. And if they refuse to come out, it may be easier to gently lift them from a door in the top of the carrier than to drag them out the door in the front, Gadd said.
Floor mat: Most carriers come with some type of soft floor mat. Ideally, a floor mat will be machine washable and can be attached to the interior of the bag to prevent it from sliding around.
Pockets: Pockets are essential for keeping your cat's gear as well as yours close at hand. A good cat carrier should have more than one pocket and at least one should be secured by a zipper, button, or hook-and-loop closure.
Straps and handles: A quality carrier should have both a removable shoulder strap, preferably padded for comfort, and a double handle for lifting. A button or hook-and-loop strap that wraps around and secures the handles is helpful for keeping them balanced and out of the way.
Ventilation: Mesh panels fitted into the sides or top of a carrier provide much-needed ventilation. Too many of them, though, can make a frightened cat feel overly exposed. Wolko said a good general rule of thumb is for mesh to cover approximately half of the carrier. Some carriers feature a privacy flap that can be lifted or lowered depending on temperature and a cat's specific needs.
Interior safety tether: A cat that does not want to be in a carrier may shoot out of its open door when it's time for a break. An interior safety tether can prevent them from door dashing. "We recommend only connecting to the collar or harness when you stop to feed or water your pet," Wolko said. "The tether inside the carrier should not be used during active travel, as the pet can become tangled." Some carriers that do not have a full safety tether have an interior D-ring to which a leash can be secured.
Luggage strap: For easy airport maneuvering, look for a carrier with a luggage strap that can be slipped over a telescoping suitcase handle. "That's a huge convenience," said Wolko, and something she likes to see. Some carriers also have exterior straps for securing to a car seat belt. However, Wolko explained that unless the carrier has been crash-tested and third-party safety certified by an organization like the Center for Pet Safety, a cat carrier should always be placed on the floor of a vehicle beneath the back seat instead of on the seat, itself. "It minimizes the impact and provides a lot of protection," she said. "If you do get into a sudden stop, they're not going to fly all over the place."
Airline-friendly dimensions: Most carriers these days are made with airline cabin regulations in mind. However, airlines differ in the carrier sizes they'll accept on a flight. For example, on Southwest Airlines a carrier can only be 18.5 inches by 8.5 inches by 13.5 inches whereas on United Airlines a carrier must be no larger than 18 inches by 11 inches by 11 inches. If you plan to fly with your pet, investigate your preferred airline's requirements before purchasing a carrier.
Crash-tested safety certification: A crash-tested safety certification is important if you plan to travel by car with your cat's carrier placed on the seat. Just because a carrier has a seat belt strap doesn't mean it's safe to transport them that way. While independent companies may crash-test their products, the Center for Pet Safety is the leader in crash-testing and safety-certifying pet carriers. In collaboration with Subaru of America, Inc., the Center for Pet Safety conducts specially designed crash tests with dummy dogs to study a carrier's structural integrity and the reliability of its doors and latches.
Storage: Unless you're frequently traveling with your cat, look for a carrier that can be quickly and easily deconstructed to fold flat for storage.
ID tag: Because you never know when you might accidentally end up separated from your best friend. It's also crucial for any traveling pet to wear a collar with ID tags in case they become separated from their carrier.
To get a cat to love their carrier, it's important that pulling it out of a closet doesn't predict something your cat would prefer to avoid, like a visit to the vet. By leaving the carrier accessible at all times, it can be paired with the positive experiences that turn a carrier into a safe, snuggly, magical place to be.
Begin by giving the open carrier a permanent spot in an area of the home where your cat likes to relax. "Make it comfortable," Gadd said. "Leave the door open or even take the top off, then play games around the carrier so it isn't scary to them." Wolko also suggests throwing treats and toys into the carrier to make the space rewarding.
When your cat is no longer intimidated by the carrier, begin closing the door while they are inside for short periods of time, just a few seconds or a few minutes, depending on the cat. Over time, gradually increase the period for which they are enclosed. Pairing these sessions with a Lickimat spread with a cat-friendly treat paste like Churu can help them to feel better about confinement. Spritzing the carrier with a pheromone spray 15 to 30 minutes before the cat enters can also help promote calm, according to Gadd.
When it's time to actually travel, Gadd recommends placing a piece of clothing with your scent on it inside the carrier and covering the exterior with a towel or blanket. Instead of dangling the carrier by its handles, lift it from the bottom and hold it against your body for a more secure ride.
If your cat experiences anxiety in the carrier, talk to your vet about an anxiety-decreasing medication for travel. Signs of anxiety include crying, panting, vomiting, defecating, or pushing their face against the carrier's interior. Some cats who experience these symptoms may be suffering from car sickness in addition to, or instead of, anxiety. The vet can help there, too, by prescribing an anti-nausea medication.
Although several of the cat carriers tested for this guide were outfitted with straps for attaching to a car seat belt, Wolko recommends against using them unless the carrier has been crash-tested and safety certified. "It's counterintuitive, but you do not want to strap them in with a seat belt," she explained. This is especially important if you are using a hard-sided carrier. When strapped in, a collision or sudden stop can cause a plastic kennel to flex, fracture, or even break apart.
If your carrier has not been crash-tested or safety certified, the safest way to travel with a cat in the car is to place them on the floor behind the driver or passenger seat, said Wolko. In that location they are less likely to shift around or take a tumble if you have to stop short or get into a collision.
For car travel, Wolko also recommends selecting a carrier that is not a dark color and has plenty of ventilation. "We don't recommend black carriers in general because when you're in the sunshine, it absorbs heat," she explained. All but our budget pick, the Frisco Travel Carrier, are available in colors other than black.
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