The Best Cat Carriers – A Comprehensive Review & Guide For 2019

cat in carrier

Do you dread taking your cat to the vet? What about airline travel for your furry friend. If you’re like me, coaxing my cat into a carrier is always a long process. Then I worry if the cat carrier is up to the job and if little Houdini can get out?

I’ve been thinking about the situation lately, and I’ve come up with a list of carriers that I know will make this necessary evil much less stressful for both of us.

In this article, I’ll let you in on a few secrets to make your cat’s journey smoother, after all, vet trips aren’t the only times you might want to secure your cat.

My Picks

Soft carriers:

·      Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline Approved Pet Carrier

·      Premium Airline Approved Expandable Pet Carrier

Rigid carriers:

·      Petmate Soft-Sided Kennel Cab Pet Carrier

·      EliteField Soft Sided Pet Carrier (3 Year Warranty, Airline Approved)

Budget friendly:

·      Petmate Soft-Sided Kennel Cab Pet Carrier

·      EliteField Soft Sided Pet Carrier (Airline Approved)

What Is A Cat Carrier?

To call a cat carrier just ‘a box’ would be a huge disservice. Apart from the obvious security and durability difficulties you’d face with a cardboard box, a carrier is so much more.

In essence, a secure rectangular crate, with at least one opening door, that securely contains one or two cats – some cat carriers can also be used for toy/small dogs, but not at the same time. 

But, I hear you ask ‘wouldn’t a box do?’. Not really, depending on why you need a carrier. In an emergency a box will do, but if you’re traveling in a car/train/plane etc, then you need a proper carrier to keep your beloved cat safe and secure. 

If you need to transport an injured cat, or keep them locked up out of the way for any reason, a purpose built carrier will also allow your cat room to move around and sleep comfortably, without compromising ventilation or overheating.

tabby cat laying in basket

How To Choose The Right Cat Carrier

How do you choose the right cat carrier? Here’s a handy checklist to ensure the carrier offers all you need to keep your cat safe.

Size:

1.5 times the size of your cat is the recommended sizing guide. What about kittens? Don’t worry; they’ll grow into their adult carrier, just put a thicker blanket in the bottom for now.

Buying a full-size carrier will save you money, and they’ll be more comfortable having grown used to it from kittenhood.

Construction:

The carrier should be structurally sound, and easy to clean – here are your options below.

Soft carriers:

Look for carriers made from Nylon with a sturdy base. You can check the base by placing a heavy book inside and lifting it up. If the carrier sags, it’s no good.

Where possible, look for zippered openings, rather than clips, and ideally should open at one end and have a top opening.

·Rigid carriers:

Go for durable plastics that are UV stabilized, have a sturdy handle and doors with strong locks – metal doors are stronger than those with plastic doors. To check the carriers’ construction, add a heavy book or two and lift it up.

If the handle or doors uncomfortable or loose, keep searching. Ideally, where possible look for carriers with an additional top opening.

Openings:

The door/gate locks should be tight and relatively difficult to open – they should not spring open too easily as these could come loose or be knocked by accident.

rigid cat carrier
soft cat carrier

Ventilation:

Carriers with plenty of ventilation will be more comfortable for your cat as this will provide them with plenty of fresh air to stop them overheating, and they’ll be able to see what’s going on around them.

Can It Fit More Than One Cat:

Do you have more than one cat, or an expectant mother? A larger carrier will be a better choice as you can carry more than one cat per carrier, remember the 1.5 times sizing guide. 

Comfort:

This will mostly be determined by size, and by what you place underneath your cat. I recommend a washable, or replaceable, comfortable blanket or litter mat for added comfort.

Budget:

Cat carriers range in price from tens of dollars, to hundreds, depending on the style, materials, features, and size. You could spend hundreds, and some do, but honestly, wouldn’t you rather indulge yourself and your cat with treats?

Airline or travel Friendly:

If you intend to use your cat carrier for travel, short or long distance, look for carriers that are airline approved.

Pro Tip: If your carrier isn’t airline approved your airline will refuse to carry your cat, and will want to charge you additional fees to use an approved carrier.

Top Picks for Cat Carriers:

Here are my favorite carriers, I’ve included rigid and soft carriers, and also those approved for airlines.

Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline Approved Pet Carrier

I love the Sherpa’s style, it’s inviting, it looks like a luxury travel carrier for my cat. Hey, if I’m traveling in style, so should my cat! It’s 18” long, 11” wide, and 10.5” high, so kitty’s as comfortable in his carrier as I am in my seat.

Oh, and for long or night flights the Sherpa has privacy flaps, so he can fully relax. The locking zippers also stop me from stressing about him getting out, and if he’s restless I can always check on him through the top or front doors. 

Other points I’m a fan of is the inner spring wire frame that keeps the carrier in shape. The Sherpa has mesh windows for ventilation, adjustable non-slip carry straps for your comfort, and it has a replaceable liner – great in case there are any ‘whoops’ moments. 

For trips that are a little more adventurous, I’m worried about the robustness of this carrier, that’s when I’d use a rigid carrier.

Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe Airline Approved

Pros:

  • Looks great
  • Large Cat Carrier
  • Airline Friendly

Cons:

  • Not very robust

Premium Airline Approved Expandable Pet Carrier

Now, if you’re looking for a soft-sided cat carrier with a little extra, the Pet Peppy expanding carrier is purr-fect for any cat traveling in style. It has a plush faux-fleece liner and bonus water bowl that’s included. 

Don’t worry about kitty being squished, this carrier is a whopping 18” long and 11” wide, need more room? No problem, it expands with two 10” wings for extra kitty-comfort.

Other points I love about this carrier is the extra storage pocket, padded shoulder-carry strap, and dual entry access. It’s perfect for traveling in either a car or a plane. When you’re not using the carrier it folds right up, making very easy to store away. 

If you want a lower maintenance carrier, you should consider the liner carefully, if any mess is made cleaning the liner could become a pain in the neck.

Premium Airline Approved Expandable

Pros:

  • Expandable
  • Bonus water bowl
  • Comes with storage pocket
  • Folds for flat storage

Cons:

  • Could be a high maintenance carrier

Petmate Two Door Top Load Dog/Cat Kennel

I just love this Petmate cat carrier. It’s a great all-around carrier that offers two wide doors – top and front – and a comfortable handle. I also love that it has an easy to open latch system, easy for me, difficult for kitty. 

Did I mention it also comes in four colors, is airline approved, and manufactured in the USA. Not only that, the Petmate is ideal for owners with more than one cat as it’s a huge 24” long and 16.8” x 14.5” square.

I also love that this carrier is easy to clean, a quick wipe and I’m done! It’s easy to store as it splits into two – simply undo the connectors and invert the top into the base. I’d say it’s the most common seen cat carrier there is.

Petmate Two Door Top Load Dog/Cat carrier

Pros:

  • Best allrounder
  • Top entry door
  • Easy to clean
  • Airline Approved

Cons:

  • Aesthetics, although I’m nit picking here.

FRiEQ Hard Cover Pet Carrier – Pet Travel Kennel for Cats 

Now, if your kitty is a tubby tabby, then something a little larger might be better. For larger cats I love the FRiEQ hardcover carrier as it’s 23x16x15”, so there’s plenty of room and ventilation for him inside, and no chance of him overheating.

Another great feature is its foldable-flat-pack design, it takes up less space when in storage, yet oh-so cozy and comfortable for kitty when in use. On top of this, it has a waterproof top and bottom, and is super easy to clean in case of accidents.

The only downside is it’s front loading only, which means getting your kitty in might be tricky at times.

FRiEQ Hard Cover Pet Carrier - Pet Travel Kennel for Cats

Pros:

  • Suits bigger cats
  • Foldable flat pack design
  • Waterproof top and bottom

Cons:

  • Front loading only

Petmate Soft-Sided Kennel Cab Pet Carrier

This is my backup carrier, why? Because this Petmate carrier is strong, convenient for transport, and durable enough for many journeys. It’s a soft-sided carrier, opens at the front and top, has mesh sides, and has a robust shoulder strap and carry handles. 

It’s not the prettiest carrier, I’ll give you that, but what it lacks in visual appeal it makes up for in size. It measures 20×11.5×12”, has an exterior storage pocket, and an easy to clean liner, what more could you want in a budget carrier. 

It does have thin handle/shoulder straps, lowering carrying comfort a little.

Petmate Soft-Sided Kennel Cab

Pros:

  • Strong construction
  • Front and top opening

Cons:

  • Not very attractive
  • Thin handle and straps

EliteField Soft Sided Pet Carrier (Airline Approved)

Personally, I dread long haul flights or car trips, because they’re uncomfortable. But, at least I know with the EliteField my cat will feel like he’s traveling in first class, even if I’m not. 

It’s designed to be airline approved, so that’s great, it also measures 17x9x12” so he’s able to lay down fully, what a lucky guy. It has a padded shoulder strap, and two side carry handles, and a band that slips over my suitcase handle making carrying him even easier.

It’s made from a durable and waterproof material, has a removable fleece liner and rigid floor. I don’t have to worry about him overheating as it offers plenty of ventilation, and although only loads from the front there is a rear access for concerned travelers. 

My only concern is some purchasers have noted a strong odor when the carrier is new, but, with a three year warranty you can always return it with a 100% money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work out. 

EliteField Soft Sided Pet Carrier Airline Approved

Pros:

  • Looks great
  • Airline Approved
  • Waterproof

Cons:

  • Users note a strong material smell

How To Prepare Your Cat For Travel

First, introduce your cat to the carrier by leaving the carrier out and with the door open. Try not to shove your cat towards it, let your cat approach in its own time. After all, it’s a box, what cat could ever ignore a new box. 

white cat in cardboard box

Try placing a favorite blanket or toy inside the carrier, this will be more inviting and less threatening. If your cat needs encouragement, try leaving some of their favorite treats out, maybe scatter a few inside. 

As your cat becomes used to the carrier you can practice closing the door. To start with close it slightly, but not fully. This will be less threatening to your cat. Next time, close the door a little longer, then longer again. Always leaving the door unlocked, so if your cat feels the need to get out they can. 

Eventually your cat will be comfortable enough in the carrier for you to shut the door fully. Congratulations, your cat is fully acclimated!

Pro Tip: Do not close the door while your cat is eating in the carrier; this can be scary and cause further feeding issues. 

By this point your cat should be starting to feel pretty comfortable in their carrier. You might even have found them napping in there like I have.

Now, when it comes to getting kitty in the carrier on the day of travel, the smoothest way to get them in the carrier is to stand the carrier on its end with the door open. 

Then, pick up your cat so its back aligns with your chest, paws and claws facing out. Place one hand around your cat’s front arms, holding them outwards, and the other hand under its bottom, and lower them into the carrier.

Pro Tip: Need to get kitty into the carrier quickly for an emergency? Try wrapping them in a towel, wrap them securely like a baby, and lower them into the carrier as described above.

Preparing For & Preventing Spills And Accidents

Some cats will urinate in a carrier due to anxiety. Placing a newspaper, or something absorbent like travel pads or a towel, in the bottom of the carrier will help with this unfortunate situation.

A preventative you can try is spritzing a feline pheromone spray across the bedding as this lowers stress. Another option for longer journeys is calmatives and sedatives; there are several available these include both natural and chemical pills or liquids. 

These medications are usually prescribed by your vet, and are administered by you shortly before travel. See our other articles about medicating your cat for handy tips.

Other Types Of Cat Carriers

Are traditional carriers your only choice? No! There are cat backpacks, which may be easier to carry for some with dexterity issues. Or, if that’s not suitable, there’s also a pet-pram style carrier. It’s similar to a child’s pram and allows you to push your cat around. 

Our Winner For The Best Cat Carrier

Soft: Sherpa Travel Original Deluxe

Much like my cat, I was drawn to it, and found myself nosing around to get to know it. I love its size, large enough for comfort yet small enough to travel well, and it has a replaceable liner.

Its mesh sides means plenty of fresh air, is airline approved, has a top and front door, is easy to carry, and comes in a range of colors.

Rigid: Petmate

For longer trips where Mr. H travels separately I like this carrier. It’s airline approved as well, but being rigid plastic it offers a little more security to keep him safe.

With steel doors, both top and front, and a cat-proof lock, there’s no way H is standing Houdini. It comes in a range of colors, ample ventilation, and a sturdy carry handle.

FAQ’s

Are cat carriers necessary? Legally, no, however, cat carriers are safer for both you and your cat when traveling. 

What styles are there? Generally, there are two styles. Rigid plastic and soft Nylon are the most common.

How much are they? Cat carriers are affordable and range from approximately $30 up. Price will depend on style, features, and size.