There are SO MANY CUTE carriers out there! Right?!? BUT ARE THEY GOOD FOR YOUR CAT? Which ones are the best cat carriers for vet visits?
OK, cat people. Here’s the deal. If you Google “best cat carriers for vet visits” you are going to get tons of articles written by individuals who are not veterinarians. The writers probably like cats. They may even love cats! But they are not in a vet’s shoes. They are not standing at the exam table (or sitting on the floor, like I often do), wanting to interact with your cat in a non-threatening way.
As veterinarians one of our jobs is to educate. As a feline-veterinarian, my entire professional life’s focus is to be an advocate for the cat. Our goals when recommending a cat carrier are to 1) reduce stress and 2) keep your cat safe. If it’s beautiful or cool or unique, that’s a bonus.
Now, some cats are super chill, right?
You take them to the vet, open the carrier door and out they walk. They flop down on their back and demand attention. If this is your cat, great! It may make little difference what carrier they travel in. You’re lucky because you can pick whatever carrier you and your cat like.
But chances are this is not your cat. Many cats are nervous Nellies when it comes to vet visits and it’s our job to make the experience as comfortable as possible for them.
And if you’re not sure (maybe your kitty is just quiet in the carrier), assume she is nervous! I often wonder what’s going through a cat’s mind when they are suddenly picked up and taken to the vet. It’s like a little alien abduction! I’d be nervous too. Wouldn’t you?
In my feline-only veterinary practice, I have over 8,000 cat visits per year. That’s over 8,000 carriers that come through my doors. That’s a lot! And just when I think I’ve seen them all, something new comes along.
What are the qualities of the best cat carriers for vet visits?
The #1 feature of a good cat carrier is an easily removable top!
This allows a cat who is fearful, anxious or in pain to stay in the bottom half of the carrier IF THEY CHOOSE. In our hospital (and other cat-friendly practices), we often perform the exam with the cat remaining in the bottom of the carrier. However, if the cat wants to come out and explore the room, great! But it’s his choice.
I said the top needs to be easily removable. This means that the screws or attachments need to be 1) not rusted and 2) easy to open. And no zip ties, please! Nothing is worse than having a fearful cat in a carrier that is rusted and zip-tied shut.
Carriers with removable tops are often “hard” carriers (exceptions exist…see my list below). You can easily put a towel or small cat bed inside to make it cozy for your kitty. This is also an advantage if your cat pees, poops or vomits in the carrier as they are so much easier to clean!
See this purple carrier above? I’m loving that it has four easy to use clips on the front plus side clips. The cat has a nice towel inside. I would first open the carrier door and give her the choice to come out. If not, fine! I’d then remove the carrier top, offer a tasty snack and follow her lead.
What to avoid when choosing a cat carrier for your nervous cat!
Soft Carriers (Handy and lightweight…OK for some…but not for everyone!)
Yes, I know they are lightweight and stylish. But even the soft-sided, top-entry carriers can be hard to work with because the entire top doesn’t come off and I can only do so much. I cannot cover your kitty with a towel (so she can hide) and slowly peek at what I want to examine. We never, never, never want to have to pull or dump a cat out of a carrier!
These soft carriers are some of the worst when dealing with a really scared cat who shows her fear by becoming aggressive. The carriers often collapse and it can be hard to remove the cat without making things worse. In addition, if you have a soft cat carrier and your cat pees, poops or vomits (which happens all the time), it’s going to be a mess.
See the carrier above? Cute, right? Yeah, I love the style too. BUT this was a cat who was SO scared that she was hissing and screaming. Her owners could not administer the oral sedative that I had prescribed, so I needed to give her an injection to sedate her for a proper exam. Look at the tiny little entry on top. There just wasn’t an easy way.
People often choose soft carriers for travel to somewhere other than the vet’s office. That’s fine, IF 1) your cat seems relaxed inside and 2) you’ve prepared for the bathroom accidents that could happen. I used to have a Sherpa carrier that worked great for my relaxed cat Jack!
The Backpack Carrier
Oh, here we go. These carriers simply don’t have enough space and they often have a clear covering on the back. Sure, everyone gets to see your cute cat, but he may be terrified on the inside! Cats like to hide. It helps them to feel safe.
These backpack carriers are the opposite of that. I KNOW they are popular. I KNOW they are cute! But they are just not the best cat carrier for vet visits. Now, I also acknowledge that for some people this may be the best option. Especially if you live in a city where you walk everywhere and toting around a carrier is not ideal. In that case, get a backpack carrier without the full clear window on the back.
Here are some of the best cat carriers for vet visits… and why!
*FTC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the links, I will get a small commission at NO additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I believe in! I am an affiliate for both Amazon and other online retailers. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
The ultimate luxury cat carrier! It’s kind of semi-hard sided. But it DOES have a removable top via zipper! The bottom is a cozy cat bed and you can even leave it out at home for your cat to relax and feel comfortable in. See the featured image at the top of this post? That’s my red Sleepypod (there are so many colors). Biscuit is inside but you can’t see her because she’s black. This is one of the easiest carriers to get a cat into because you just put her in the “bed” then put the top over her. Again, this is not a hard carrier so I like to line mine with pee pads in case of an accident. If something does happen there are two internal layers that can be washed. If you do happen to get urine in the “carrier” itself you’ll need to soak it really well with an odor remover.
This carrier is similar to the Sleepypod, but just a little different style and lower price point. The top is easily removable and there’s a second window to access the cat. Cats also like to have the window removed and use the carrier as a “hiding hut.” The Doc & Phoebe’s brand was developed by a fellow veterinarian and cat advocate Dr. Liz Bales. She knows what cats like! The brand also offers environmental enrichment focused products that encourage natural cat behaviors like hunting. PS – for other “hiding” options, check out my post on the awesome Cattasaurus Cat Cave!
The Sleepypod Atom (my exception to the rule!)
Can you tell that I’m a fan of Sleepypod? I said no soft carriers for nervous cats, right? Not so fast… If you want a soft carrier, look at how this top opens all the way from the left to the right! While I couldn’t remove the top, I could actually unzip the top all the way and examine this guy! Amazing. Again, it’s soft on the inside so take precautions if your cat likes to hold his bladder until he gets in the carrier. These are airline approved and my #1 travel carrier. And they are beautiful. So there’s that. Oh, there’s a slightly bigger version called the Sleepypod Air that is for cats up to 18# if your kitty is on the larger side.
Just the basics. The Amazon Basics 2-Door Top Load
This is one of the most popular carriers I see in practice. It’s an excellent carrier and meets every single one of my recommendations. Easily removable top. Hard sided / bottom. Nice big size (kitty can move around). Great ventilation. Can you see that it has a second entry in the top? That’s a good way to get your cat inside without having to remove the entire top. I approve.
Want a smaller carrier that still fits the bill? I love this MidWest Homes carrier.
A cat recently came into my clinic in this carrier. I loved it so much that I took a picture and looked it up later. This carrier is lightweight and no nonsense! It is so easy to assemble with just 6 tabs on the front only (amazingly there are no clips on the sides or rear needed). It does come in multiple sizes, which is nice. This carrier was perfect for my patient to remain in her carrier for her exam. The top came off so quickly! Check out the video on the product link to see how easy it is to put together.
The Van Ness Calm Carrier – a unique cat-friendly design!
This carrier slides open from the back. Perfect for accessing the cat while keeping her in the bottom and slipping a towel or blanket over her head to keep her covered up. Again, getting your cat into the carrier in the first place can be a challenge. But sliding the top over her may work better in your household. It’s got a nice, secure door and easy to clean.
The Catit Cabrio Cat Carrier – like a cat spaceship, but better!
If this isn’t cool, I don’t know what is. The top splits in half and opens to the sides. The handle is integrated so you don’t have to worry about it breaking or popping off. You can also thread your seat belt through it. Lots of ventilation. Easy to open. No screws to rust or lose. Plus cute little food and water dishes on the inside. I’ve known and trusted the Catit brand for years, dating back to when I purchased my first cat fountain. I really can’t find a downside to this carrier. It’s just awesome.
That’s my list. I’m picky. These are not the ONLY good carriers that exist, but I really like these choices. Like I said, is it good for your cat? Give your carrier a once-over and think about it from your cat’s point of view.
The AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) has an awesome handout called Visiting your Veterinarian: Getting your Cat to the Veterinary Practice. Check it out to read up on tips on training your cat to the carrier to ultimately reduce their stress level. Also, talk to your veterinarian about tips and possibly even supplements (or medications) that can help your cat have a better veterinary visit!
As a feline-veterinarian I’ve seen everything from Amazon boxes to beach bags being used as cat carriers. In the end, find something that works for you, your cat AND your veterinarian!
What kind of carrier do you have and why do you love it?