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Choosing the Right Cat Carrier: Size, Material & Other Considerations

Kathryn Copeland

July 17, 2021

Whether your cat is going to the vet or on a trip across the country, finding the right cat carrier is essential. There are a number of considerations you will need to make—how big it is, what kind of material, and even how you close it up. Taking your cat on an airplane has specific rules that need to be followed as well.

We’ll discuss everything about cat carriers so you can make an informed decision that will work out for both you and your cat.

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How Big Should a Cat Carrier Be?

This is the most crucial part of finding the right carrier for your cat. Particularly if your cat is going to be spending a long time in it, you certainly want him to be comfortable (or at least as comfortable as he can be given the circumstances).

As a general rule, your cat should be able to sit, stand, and turn around inside his carrier. Essentially, it should be about one and a half times your cat’s size. But you also don’t want it to be too big as carrying it can prove to be difficult and unbalanced. Your poor cat will end up sliding around inside, which can add to an already stressful situation.

If you have a kitten, just find a regular-sized carrier that you believe will fit him when he becomes an adult (if you know how big your cat’s parents are, that might be one way for you to figure out how big your own cat will get). You can place a small blanket or towel in the bottom of the carrier that will not only be more comfortable but should help prevent your kitten from sliding around.

cat inside carrier
Image Credit: Pixabay

What If You’re Travelling a Long Distance?

If you’re planning on bringing your cat on a longer car drive than just across town to the vets, you’ll need to start looking at larger carriers. Be sure the cat carrier is large enough for your cat, as well as water and food bowls.

If you’re actually driving across the country and expect to be on the road for days, you will want to consider a traveling carrier that can fit not only the food and water bowls but also a bed and small litter box. You can look into carriers that are meant for dogs.

What If You Have More Than One Cat?

This calls for one carrier for each cat, even if it’s a short trip to the vets. No matter how sweet your cats are with each other, when in a stressful situation and crammed together in a small space, they might turn on each other. Two smaller carriers versus one large one is always your best bet.

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What Kind of Material Should It Be?

There are several styles of cat carriers to choose from that also come in a variety of materials and colors.

Hard Plastic

Hard plastic is the most common type of cat carrier (also called kennels). It’s also one of the best. They’re very sturdy and tend to come in larger sizes so your cat can move around comfortably, and they typically have a removable top so you can clean them more easily.

Frisco Two Door Top Load Plastic cat carrier_Chewy

Soft Material

Soft carriers tend to be made from durable materials such as nylon or polyester with mesh. They are not as sturdy or usually as large as the plastic carriers, and they are more difficult to clean if there are any accidents. It’s also a lot more challenging to get a struggling cat inside one, and zipping it closed on an escape artist can be difficult.

On the other hand, if you get the right size, these carriers can be used as one of your carry-ons during air travel. Always check with the airlines first about what size the carrier should be.

There are also soft carriers that come in the form of a sling or bag, but these are definitely not designed for long-distance travel. They tend to be small but allow your cat’s head to stay out while it keeps your cat’s body confined.

woman with her cat inside a carrier

Backpacks

Just like regular backpacks, these are carriers that you can carry on your back, or if they come with wheels, you can extend a handle and roll it along the ground behind you. These tend to be somewhat similar to the soft carriers but have the added advantage of various options for carrying your cat around.

The disadvantage of the wheeled backpacks is that many cats might not like the sound and bumpiness of the wheels on the pavement. They are also not easy to clean, like the soft carriers.

Some of these carriers can be worn on your back, rolled on the pavement, and can also be used as a car seat and airline approved. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, so you just need to spend some time figuring out which carrier is the right one for your cat.

cat in a backpack
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Cardboard

This is not a carrier that is considered a permanent one. You usually get one when you adopt a cat from a shelter or rescue group. They are easily soiled, and many cats can chew their way out of the cardboard, which can be dangerous while you’re driving. That, or they can push their way through the opening, which isn’t as secure as the others on this list.

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What Are the Options for Closing the Carrier?

There are many different ways to close your carrier, but of course, it depends on what kind of carrier you’re interested in.

One Door

The hard plastic carriers tend to have just one door. If your cat is reluctant to go inside the carrier, you can try putting it on its end with the door facing upwards and let gravity work to your advantage by lowering your cat in vertically. This usually requires someone helping by holding the carrier steady.

SportPet Cat Carrier, X-Large

Two or More Doors

The advantage to having extra doors is rather than using another person to hold the carrier upwards while you lower your cat in, many carriers (particularly the soft ones) have doors on the top, so lowering your cat in is easier.

Fastenings

Keeping in mind your cat’s behavior, you should think about how the carrier is fastened. Hard carriers tend to have latches, which are quite secure, and these carriers are pretty difficult for cats to escape from.

Soft carriers tend to have zippers, which are definitely more challenging to close if your cat is desperately trying to get out of the carrier you’ve just wrestled him into.

cat carrier for travel

Seat Belt Loop

Some carriers come with the option of a seat belt loop so you can attach the carrier to your existing seat belts. Some of these carriers also include a tether inside that can be attached to your cat’s collar, but this option is probably more suitable for dogs.

Washable

Some soft carriers are machine washable, particularly the sling-like bags, which makes cleaning even easier. Others are water-resistant, which can help the cleanup process as well so if you’re considering a soft carrier, look for these features. Otherwise, the hard carriers are usually the easiest to clean.

Airline Approved

Whether or not you travel a lot, having your cat near you while on a plane can make the trip less stressful for you both. These carriers are usually soft and can only be a specific size so they can fit under the seat. Many carriers advertise they are airline approved but always double-check with the airline you’re traveling with for the measurements before you purchase your carrier.

cat beside luggage
Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock

How Do You Pick the Right Carrier?

So, you know what the options are, but there’s a lot to think about and choose from.

Overall, the carrier needs to be big enough for your cat and be a cozy, safe place. You’ll want to be able to clean any messes up easily, and it should be well ventilated.

Next, you need to think about what you need the carrier for. If it’s just for short jaunts to the vets, you want it to be comfortable and, hopefully, for your cat to view it as a safe place. But you’ll need to go bigger for longer driving distances and smaller for airplanes. You might even need to get more than one if you travel with your cat frequently.

Some Final Thoughts

One way for your cat to feel more comfortable with his carrier is to leave it out at all times. Then you might want to look at carriers that are more stylish (as long as they are still the right size and comfort level) so you don’t mind it always being in plain sight. If you place some treats and toys inside, your cat might start to view it as a cozy place to sleep and play.

You might also want to cover your carrier with a towel since cats love to hide when they are stressed out. Just be sure the ventilation is still good. You can also spray the towel with a pheromone spray meant for cats, which can help calm them down.

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Conclusion

We’ve given you a lot of different options to consider. Once you’ve found the right carrier for your needs, be sure to add a soft blanket or towel to add to the coziness. Cats love routine, so when you place them in a carrier and put them in a car to go to the vet, they are bound to be stressed and might fight against being placed in the carrier, which is why this purchase is an important one.

You understand your cat better than anyone else, so as long as you find a suitable carrier for your furry friend and you follow some of the advice we’ve provided, the drive (or flight) and eventual visit should be a little easier for you both.


Featured Image Credit: alenka2194, Shutterstock

Kathryn Copeland

Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.


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