Traveling With a Cat on Board: How to Choose The Best Carrier for Your Cat

 
When it’s time to go on a trip, every owner faces the same dilemma – do I bring my cat with me or not? It can be devastating to watch a cat meow and shiver on the back seat of the car, but sometimes it’s the only option.

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So, how do you ensure that everything goes smoothly? 

The truth is, you probably can’t; all you can do is provide safety and comfort to your beloved pet – you can start by choosing the best cat carrier for car travel.
Read on to learn everything a cat owner should know before taking their cat on a car trip.

 

Why Cats Hate Car Trips  

We know you think of your cat as more than just a pet – most people think of them as family members. However, you need to remember that they are, in fact, animals that rely on past experiences. If your cat's first car ride wasn't a pleasant thing to remember – which is the case for most animals – chances are you'll have to put in some work to change her attitude towards car traveling.
Think about the first car ride your cat has gone to; were you there to comfort her? Was it when she left her first home, the place where she was born and everything she’s ever known? Or was it an unpleasant trip to the vet?
You must be wondering where all these questions are coming from, but trust us, these are some important things to consider. Try to understand your cat; imagine if you were only capable of relying on experience and, for example, associated car rides with unpleasant trips to the dentists. You wouldn’t be so thrilled about cars either, wouldn’t you? That’s the same reason why cars make cats so nervous.
Another thing is that cats are creatures of habit; on top of that, they are incredibly territorial. What may seem to you as just another car ride will be a huge deal for your kitty that spends a lot of her time establishing and maintaining territorial boundaries; going out into the unknown can be very scary for a cat.

Tips for a Safer Car Trip Every Cat Owner Needs To Know

  • Buy a Cat Carrier – You already know how important this is or you wouldn’t be here trying to figure out which cat carrier is the best option for car travel.
  • Provide Good Air Circulation – That is a mandatory thing to do; you need to make sure that proper ventilation is available. You know how hot it gets in the car during the summer? Well, imagine having a fur in those conditions. Even if you cover the carrier with a light blanket to help your cat calm down, make sure you leave at least one side of it uncovered to provide air circulation inside the carrier. Oh, and one more thing: never leave your cat alone in a parked car – those horror stories about animals getting heatstrokes are true, and they can happen to you if you’re not careful enough.
  • Secure the Cat Carrier – First of all, always place the carrier in the backseat of the car – airbags can be dangerous for the pet in a travel crate in case they deploy. Once you’ve put the carrier in the back seat, you need to secure it with a seatbelt; sudden car movements can cause an unsecured carrier to slide all over the place or even tumble over. With the crate securely fastened, you’ll avoid any unnecessary injuries. Some carriers have a seatbelt strap securer, and some don’t; if you have the one that doesn’t, it’s still pretty easy to position the belt around it.
  • Avoid Feeding Before the Trip – A few hours before the trip you should stop providing water and food for your cat. We know it may seem a bit cruel to ban your cat from eating or drinking for a few hours, but this is a way you’ll minimize the chances of accidents occurring in the carrier. Also, there will be no need to make frequent potty breaks; it would be best if your cat already used the litter box before the trip. 
  • ID Tags and Microchips – That is one of the most important things you need to do before even thinking of taking your cat on a trip with you. Imagine the heartbreak of coming back from your vacation without your beloved pet; just thinking about it makes us tear up a bit. A lot of cats and dogs end up in shelters only because their owners never thought this could ever happen to them. To prevent this, have an ID tag securely attached to your kitty’s collar or, better yet, have her microchipped. That way you’ll be quickly reunited with your pet in case of an unfortunate event like this occurs. 

Is Traveling Without a Carrier Ever a Good Idea?

While it can be done, traveling without a carrier is always a risky thing to do. If she gets too spooked, she might try to hide under the pedals or interfere with your driving in some other way, and if you suddenly step on the brakes, your feline friend might get severely injured.
If you can’t afford to get a crate right now or the car trip is a one-time thing, there are still some ways to bring your cat along. These solutions are far from ideal, but we thought it would be a good idea to offer you some of the safest alternatives.

  • Cat Harness – If you want this method to succeed, you need to make sure your cat got used to the harness – you’ll need at least a week of practicing walking your cat with a harness before going on the actual trip. 
  • A Duffel Bag – You could get away with using a large duffel bag, too, one that’s made out of nylon (because it allows some air circulation). However, you need to remember that this is only acceptable if you’re going on a short trip – a quick vet visit, for example; long-distance car travel, on the other hand, is a bad idea. 

Once again, we’d like to remind you that, even though these options are better than letting your cat roam around the vehicle as she pleases, they are still only semi-safe and can fail rather quickly. If you’re looking for real safety, then a cat carrier is something you should buy.

What To Do if Your Cat Simply Won’t Calm Down?

Sometimes, despite all your efforts, you won’t be able to make your cat feel comfortable during a car ride. So, what do you do then?
There are two things you could try:

  • Pheromone Spray – These products are meant to calm cats down in stressful environments; you use them by spraying them on a blanket or towel that you plan on placing in the carrier. It will induce a state of relaxation and calmness in your cat, so that the ride will go smoothly. 
  • Sedation – If nothing else seems to help, you could talk to your vet about sedation medication. The idea is to give a light sedative to your cat before going on the trip, but, as we said, you should only use this as a last resort.

Choosing a Carrier

 When you’re going on a trip, you look for a comfortable, safe way to get to your desired destination; the same should apply to your cat. With the right carrier, you’ll provide the much-needed security for your pet and make the entire trip more pleasant for both of you. That’s why choosing the correct one is a worthwhile investment.
Let’s see what are the most important things to consider before making a purchase.

How Big is the Carrier?

When it comes to the size of the carrier, it’s usually recommended to get one that will allow your kitty to lay down, sit and turn around comfortably. However, you don’t want to overdo it, either – the carrier should be about one and a half times bigger than your cat; anything over that will turn out to be too big for your cat. In case of long car trips, you should consider getting one that can fit two travel-size bowls in – one for water, and the other for food.

Design and Materials

  • Hard-Sided Carriers – If you’re looking for sturdiness and durability, then this type of carrier is an ideal choice for you. They are typically made of plastic, and they have a metal or plastic gate on the front, as well as a lot of air vents on the sides. These are an excellent solution for those of you that plan on frequently bringing your feline friend along for the ride. One of the main advantages is that it's easy to clean these carriers if potty accidents occur (without retaining any odor) and, on top of that, they will protect your kitty in case something heavy falls on it due to the bumpy ride. 
  • Soft-Sided Carriers – These carriers are usually made of nylon, and while being durable enough, they don’t provide the same sturdiness the hard-sided ones do. In case you’re one of the lucky ones that have a cat that deals with car travel rather well – stay calm and relaxed throughout the trip – then a soft-sided carrier might be a good solution for you. The thing is, most cats aren’t like this and if they get stressed enough, they’ll try to claw their way out – and most likely succeed.
    The main advantages of soft-sided carriers are that they come in all kinds of different styles and colors, so they look a lot better are also relatively lightweight compared to the hard plastic ones.
  • Cardboard Carriers – These carriers are meant to be a temporary solution, and you should use them as such - don’t think that you don’t need a new carrier just because you have a cardboard one. If you adopted your cat from a shelter, you were probably given this type of carrier, but that doesn’t mean you should continue using it; it was intended only a means of transporting your kitten to her new home.

How Easy it is to Get the Cat into the Carrier: Single vs. Multiple Openings

Having multiple doors on the carrier will make it a lot easier to guide your cat inside; a frightened cat will react better if she feels like she has several „escape routes.“ Ideally, there should be an opening on the side and top of the carrier – getting the cat in and out of it will be a lot less stressful. Another plus of having several openings is that they provide added air circulation inside the carrier.

Can the Carrier be Easily Cleaned in case of Accidents? 

Some kitties are prone to car sickness or even potty accidents caused by all the stress - that's why you should buy a carrier that you can easily clean. While many fabric carriers come with a removable base, in situations like this, hard plastic carriers are your best bet – they can easily be washed and wiped off; the fabric ones will most likely need to be washed in a machine.

Top 5 Cat Carriers for Car Travel – Our Reviews 


1. Pawfect Pets Pet Travel Carrier – Suitable for Both Cats and Small Dogs

97
/100

Editor's rating: 97/100
Price: $39.95

As far as we’re concerned, the Pawfect Pets carrier is probably the best options out there – both for cat and dog owners. Yes, you read that right – it’s suitable for both, which makes it an ideal choice for those that own a cat as well as a small dog. Of course, we’re not saying you should place them in the carrier at the same time, no matter how good they get along – that’s just a recipe for disaster.
The rounded edges of the carrier give it a more elegant, purse-like shape; who said cat carriers couldn’t be stylish?
We previously mentioned that agitated cats are likely to try and claw their way out of the carrier, which probably made you question if getting a soft-sided carrier is a good idea. However, this particular model promises you won’t be surprised by a sudden visit from your little backseat passenger that managed to tear a hole in the mesh. Not only the mesh, but the entire carrier is made from materials capable of withstanding the damage your kitty’s claws are capable of dealing.
Most importantly, the carrier is airline approved, so in case of an emergency that would require you to fly back home, your beloved pet will stay by your side the entire time, since the carrier fits comfortably under the seat.


Pros:

  • Approved by most airlines
  • Suitable for both cats and dogs 
  • Reinforced fabric and claw-defense mesh can handle all the scratching 
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    Mesh windows on all four sides and the top for excellent ventilation
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    It comes with two padded mats easily switched in case of any accidents
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    The zippers have buckles to prevent accidental opening 

Cons:

  • It doesn’t hold its shape when you use the shoulder strap

2. Premium Airline Approved Expandable Pet Carrier by Pet Peppy – Expands on Both Sides


92
100

Editor's rating: 92/100
Price: $35.95

Here we have something completely different – a soft-sided cat carrier that expands on both sides to give your pet enough room. We said that too much space is a bad thing, which is true, but if your cat is on the larger side, it will appreciate the extra room for stretching and will, in fact, feel a bit more relaxed – feeling constricted in a small space would only make her more anxious. Of course, if you think that would be too much space for your cat, you can keep the sides closed; in that case, the carrier looks a lot like a duffel bag.
Another way to use this expandable model is to place two cats in it; however, you need to be careful when you’re putting two cats in the same carrier – this should only be an option if you know they get along well and don't stress about the car traveling that much.
Because the sides, as well as the top, are made out of a mesh, it will provide excellent airflow throughout the carrier which is, as we said, one of the essential features in cat carriers.
The carrier is also airline approved, so it’s suitable for both car and airplane travel; you won’t need to buy more than one carrier depending on the means of transportation.


Pros:

  • It can be folded flat when not in use
  • Both sides expand for added comfort 
  • It’s relatively affordable 
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    When expanded, sides provide even more ventilation 
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    Airplane approved
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    Excellent choice when switching between cars and planes 

Cons:

  • It needs more stability on top, as well as the sides

3. Sherpa Deluxe Pet Carriers – Durable, Yet Affordable

95 
100

Editor 's rating: 95/100
Price: $29.49

The Sherpa Deluxe cat carrier is a model that’s been around for years now, and there’s a reason for it – it’s an airline approved, sturdy, and affordable, so it seems pretty understandable why it’s been a choice of many pet owners around the world.
The mesh opening on the sides of the carrier will provide excellent air circulation for your pet; this is an essential feature if you're planning a long-distance car ride, especially on a hot summer day. On the other hand, if your cat requires some privacy, there’s no need to bring a blanket to cover the carrier – it’s already equipped with roll-down flaps that can be opened or closed according to your pet’s mood.
Like we said earlier, it’s necessary for the carrier to be secured in the back seat of the car; that’s why this model has a convenient seatbelt strap. If you ever wish to bring your cat on a plain with you, this model is approved by most airlines, which is a huge plus. The spring wire frame will allow for the carrier to be slightly pushed down (by a few inches) so that you can place it under your seat.


Pros:

  • The carrier is airline approved
  • It’s affordable, yet durable
  • It has a seatbelt strap for added security 
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    The mesh screens will provide ventilation
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    Roll-down flaps will give your pet some peace and privacy 
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    The spring wire frame makes it easy to place the carrier under the seat

Cons:

  • The mesh tears easily
  • The shoulder strap makes it hard to keep the carrier even

4. Necoichi Portable Cat Cage – Ideal for Two Cats On Board

88
100

Editor 's rating: 88/100
Price: $44.99


When it comes to exciting designs, the Necoichi models take the cake. Their cat carriers are not only simple to use and durable but cute-looking, too.
The main advantage? It’s big enough to fit two cats and a portable litter box comfortably; that’s a serious comfort level if you ask us. We know what you’re thinking right now – where am I supposed to store a cat carrier that big when I’m not using it?
Luckily for you, the manufacturer thought about that and made an entirely collapsible carrier, so when you’re not using it, you can quickly fold it and store it anywhere in the house; once you do need it, it will pop-open (pretty much the same way a pop-up tent would). And despite its size, it remains as lightweight as possible.
One of the main issues might be the price; the difference between this model and our budget pick might not seem drastic, but it still exists, and while there are undoubtedly some more expensive carriers on the market, this one is our favorite. Of course, we completely understand if you’re not willing to spend this much on a cat carrier – there are plenty of other options out there, but in case you are – the one to keep your eye on is the Necoichi's Portable Cat Cage.


Pros:

  • Two cats can comfortably fit in it
  • It has room for a litter box
  • It’s spacious and lightweight
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    The carrier is fully collapsible for efficient use of storage space
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    Easy to set it up
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    It has a lovely design

Cons:

  • The material is thin – some cats may claw their way out of it
  • Smart cats will figure out how to open the zippers

5. SportPet Designs Travel Cat Carrier – Sturdy, But Small

85
100

Editor 's rating: 85/100
Price: $32.95

If the car ride you’re planning won’t be a long one, then you should probably opt for this carrier by SportPet Designs – it is sturdy and durable, but it won’t provide a lot of space for your cat. That’s the only reason why we wouldn’t recommend it for longer trips – your cat just won’t have enough room to move around. It would, however, work well for a kitten, even during long car rides, giving it plenty of space and a substantial air flow due to the many openings on all four sides of the carrier.
The plastic is, as we said earlier, always a better option for nervous cats, because there’s no way for them to claw their way out, and if they get car sick or have a potty accident, it will be easy to clean the entire carrier. Another advantage is that it will protect your kitty far better than a soft-sided one in case something falls on it; of course, we hope it won’t get to that.
One of its most striking features is its large side-opening doors; your cat is more likely to feel comfortable walking into a carrier on her own with an opening that big.


Pros:

  • The use of plastic makes it very durable and sturdy
  • Easy to clean up in case of accidents and car sickness
  • It’s affordable
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    Has a large number of opening for air circulation
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    Wide side-opening door makes it easy to get your cat to walk in
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    There’s no way for your cat to claw her way out 

Cons:

  • It doesn’t offer enough space for long-distance rides

​In Conclusion

You have to realize that the first few car rides probably won’t be a pleasant experience for either you or your feline friend; it’s up to you to make your cat feel as safe as possible by providing an adequate cat carrier. While it won’t magically improve your cat’s attitude towards car trips, it will make the entire experience a lot more comfortable and, most importantly, safer.
In our opinion, the best one is the Pawfect Pets Pet Travel Carrier; coming up in close second place is the Premium Airline Approved Expandable Pet Carrier by Pet Peppy – both of these cat carriers offer fantastic design and comfort features, that will make car travel a lot easier for you and your pet.
Meta description: Cats are not fans of cars, but with the best cat carrier for car travel you can make the experience more pleasant for both you and your beloved pet.

About the Author Evelyn

My name is Evelyn, creator of PlaywithMeow!, I created Play with Meow to connect, share and inspire other cat lovers around the world, hoping we all utilize this community to make a better life for our cats.

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