What is the Best Cat Carrier for Your Feline Friend?

So you’re in the market for cat carrier and you want to make sure you get one that is just right for your cat right? You’re probably asking yourself ‘What is the best cat carrier out there for my cat?’ There are a lot of things to consider when you’re looking to determine cat carriers and each type of carrier has benefits of its own.

Different types of carriers are also optimal for different types of travel.  But before we get into the specifics of individual carriers I wanted to actually run through the major reasons you might want a carrier, the types of carriers that exist and then get into how to select one. After that I’ve also provided a few recommendations of my own in each of the major categories. I hope you find this helpful, feel free to skip to whatever parts of the post are relevant for you!

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Key Reasons to Have a Cat Carrier

veterinarian visitBelow is a short list of the major reasons you might need a cat carrier. It is by no means comprehensive, but it covers the big ones.

  • Vet Visits: Hopefully you’re getting your cat to the vet on a yearly basis. A carrier is a must have to transport your cat back and forth from vet visits. This includes both standard checkups and shots as well as any random sickness or injury that might arise.
  • Moving: If you happen to be moving sometime in the near future a carrier can be really handy. Cats generally don’t travel well so a carrier is a huge plus.
  • Vacation: If you happen to go on vacation and you bring your cat along in the car a carrier is a must have.
  • Natural Disasters: If a the area you live in gets hit by a tornado, hurricane or flood having a carrier can mean all the difference in getting your cat to safety.
  • Adopting/Purchasing A Cat: If you’re acquiring a new feline friend bringing your own carrier along is a bonus! I of course recommend adopting a cat from a shelter or the city pound, but your own carrier is a bonus even if you’re purchasing your cat from a breeder too!
  • A Safe Spot For Your Cat: While this may seem counter intuitive because most cats are known to dislike carriers, if you do it right a cat carrier can be considered a very safe and relaxing spot for your cat. Many carriers are snug, warm, comfortable and they also provide protection from multiple sides so nothing can approach your cat without being seen. These are all key things cats look for in a place to sleep or a place to hide if they need one.

Now that we know the major reasons for needing a cat carrier let’s take a look at the most common types of carriers that exist and determine which might be right for you!


Types of Cat Carriers

There are several different kinds of carriers on the market and each one has perks and drawbacks.  Below I’ve given a high level description of each of the major types. Further down you’ll find a high level comparison of the major benefits of each different type of carrier and the potential shortcomings as well.

Cardboard Carriers:

The most common place you’ll find a cardboard carrier is at an adoption center or an animal shelter. Cardboard carriers are meant to be a very temporary solution to get your cat from the adoption center to your home. This should definitely not be considered a permanent solution for a laundry list of reasons, but the biggest two are that cardboard carriers are flimsy and they aren’t comfortable to hold.

One additional item to consider is that they don’t provide a great deal of ventilation which is key for any carrier and you can’t simply open a small portion of the carrier because the whole top is the only entry/exit point. To reiterate, you should only use this in unique circumstances.

hard cat carrierHard Carriers:

Hard carriers are probably the most common carrier around. They are generally made of a combination of plastic and metal. The frame itself is usually plastic with the door being made of a lightweight metal.  Hard carriers are very firm and provide a nice secure surface/place for your cat to travel.

The biggest concern with hard carriers is that they aren’t very comfortable to travel with (for the human!), even short distances. They typically have one big handle on the top and that is the only way to hold or move the carrier. This can make them irritating if you have to move your cat a long distance because hard carriers are typically heavier and they’ll be banging against your hips or legs with every step. One other thing that always freaks me out from a safety standpoint is I worry the handle will give and rip the top off letting the cat out while I’m outside.

soft sided carrierSoft Sided Carriers:

Soft sided carriers are probably the second most common type of carriers, hard plastic carriers being the most common. Soft sided carriers are traditionally made of nylon or some derivation of it which makes them flexible and lightweight. They also usually have a solid set of short straps for easy carrying directly in your hand, but more importantly they have a larger and longer shoulder strap to let the weight rest instead of actively having to hold it up. This means they are a heck of a lot easier for you as an owner to carry around.

Generally soft sided carriers are comfortable for cats as well because they come with in included pad or piece of lambswool to stick inside on the bottom. Soft sided carriers come with all sorts of other features to make them better for different kinds of travel, for example the one on the left has fold down covers for the vents so you can help minimize outside sensory overload for your cat at stressful times.

There are also soft carriers that have cool features like pop out sides to expand the size of the carrier when it is stationary.  They are also great for storage purposes because they break down easily, many completely collapse in on themselves into a flat pancake style setup.

Soft carriers aren’t perfect by any means though. One key thing to keep in mind is that since they aren’t made of firm materials they can leave your cat to bounce around/dip up and down quite a bit as you move which might result in an unhappy cat or a motion sick cat. Be sure to check how firm the bottom is before purchase.

Backpack Carriers:

Backpack carriers are definitely somewhat of a novelty in the market right now, they are a variation on soft sided carriers. You can find all different sorts of them from ones that have a single bubble window on the back so your cat can see out to full on ‘soft style’ carriers with backpack straps so you can more easily hold your cat and walk around with them.  If you have trouble with the standard single shoulder strap on the soft carrier this might be a good option for you to consider, but be sure to get one with good ventilation.

Another common use for backpack style carriers is for adventure cats. Adventure cats are those types of cats that are commonly out in the open following their owner around on foot during hikes and walks (usually on a harness/leash).  The backpack carrier is a great spot to deposit your feline friend if a less than ideal situation appears that could endanger your kitty.

Cat in Stroller CarrierSuitcase/Stroller Carriers: Rolling carriers are generally another variation on soft sided carriers, on wheels. Rolling carriers were developed for folks that have difficulty carrying heavy objects around. Given that some of our cats these days are getting in the area of 20 lbs or more (I’m looking at you Maine Coon owners!) they can be pretty tough to lug around on a single shoulder strip.  Rolling carriers tend to be a bit larger than a traditional soft carrier and they also take away the strain of carrying the cat yourself by laying all the weight on the wheels just like a rolling suitcase.

My biggest gripe with these kinds of carriers is that the wheels are often tiny so they get stuck easily on pavement. On top of this the wheels are often made of plastic instead of rubber to keep things cheaper and this makes a ton of noise when you roll it. Most cats aren’t a fan of being in the carrier to begin with, loud noises don’t help with keeping them calm.

Cat in Stroller Image Courtesy of Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue


Which is the Right Type of Carrier?

There’s no single right answer to this question. The right carrier for you and your furry friend is going to be different than the one I choose.  We all have different priorities and different cats too. I live downtown and I walk my cats to the vet, but other than that they hardly leave the house. This leads me to use a soft sided carrier because it is easy to throw the single strap over my shoulder and walk, but it also breaks down super easily and can be stowed away in my closet.

You might on the other hand need a carrier that fits a much larger cat that mine and your kitty might be less relaxed when traveling so more likely to claw the sides of the carrier. You might even have a cat that gets sick really easily during transport. This might lead you to a hard carrier for ease of cleaning.

So instead of me trying to pick the best carrier for you, let’s get you educated on picking the right carrier for yourself and your situation. These are the major areas of consideration you should keep in mind when selecting a carrier for yourself and your cat. I’ve put them in order of importance as well, primarily focused on the comfort and happiness of your cat:

  1. Size: 
    • Be sure that your carrier is the appropriate size for your cat.  Your cat should be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down easily in the carrier.  The picture to the right is of my foster cat Buzz in the carrier for my tiny cat Beast. While he can lay down in the carrier he certainly can’t stand in it comfortably.  This carrier is not a great fit for Buzz.
    • If you’re going further than simply the vet’s office you should also ensure your cat can have a meal and drink inside. The key thing you want to avoid is a super large carrier as a smaller space feels more secure for your cat, especially in an unfamiliar environment like in a plane or in a car.
  2. Sturdiness / Durability:
    • A hard carrier is far more durable than any soft carrier. It has a firm floor/base that won’t move or give at all for your cat which is reassuring from a security standpoint.  Soft carriers typically have some give to them which can scare your cat while you are carrying it.
    • If you’re unsure on the specific carrier then drop a few heavy objects in it in the pet store and walk around with it on your shoulder to see how it reacts. If the carrier seems really flimsy for a cat of your size definitely find something else.
  3. Ventilation:
    • Your cat wants and needs plenty of ventilation.  I’ve seen several backpack type carriers that only have one tiny little vent on them. This can be extremely dangerous for your cat, especially in hot weather. Ensure you have lots of vents and make sure your cat isn’t left in a carrier in hot weather for long periods of time!
    • Note a lot of carriers also have vents that can be covered/uncovered in different types of situations. These are ideal for helping minimize your cats reactions to outside forces. Most of this simply snap over the vents and are very easy to pop off.
  4. Ease of Carrying / Transporting:
    • Make your selection depending on where you’re going and how you’re getting there.
    • I have generally found a soft sided carrier is the easiest from a transport perspective, but I have two lightweight cats and neither of them are terribly afraid of the carrier nor do they go very far.
    • If you constantly walk long distance with your cat then a backpack soft sided carrier might be ideal, but if you have difficulty with heavy objects you might want to instead consider a rolling carrier.
    • The only major caution I’ll call out here is that while hard sided carriers do provide excellent protection and a great safe space for your cat they can be a huge hassle to carry anything more than short distances. They tend to be heavier than soft carriers and you can’t rest the weight on your shoulders.
  5. Side & Top Openings:
    • Some carriers, particularly the hard carriers, tend to have only one opening at the front.  Many adult cats have already learned that the carrier means a trip to the vet and they’ll struggle to go into the carrier. This can result in all sorts of scratches and sometimes even bites with a cat that is very against the trip.  I would aim to get a carrier with at least the front and top opening because placing a cat in from the top is often easier.
  6. Ease of Cleaning:
    • Hard carriers are by far the easiest to clean.  Since they are plastic you can basically pop everything out of them and simply spray them out or wipe them down with a wet rag.  This is ideal if you have a cat that gets motion sickness easily while traveling.
    • Softer carriers usually have a removable bottom that can be wiped down or tossed in the washing machine, but the carrier itself normally has something like a thin piece of plastic or cardboard inside the jacket that can’t be removed. This means throwing it in the washing machine can be a hassle and cleaning nylon behind isn’t terribly easy.
  7. Storage Space:
    • Soft carriers are typically very easy to break down and store in a very small space. This is a nice perk if you’re in the city or simply have limited space no matter where you live.
    • Hard carriers can typically be broken down, but they usually end up in multiple pieces that can be easily lost or misplaced and they still tend to take up more vertical space as the parts don’t ‘stack’ perfectly.
    • Suitcase & Stroller style carriers are probably the worst from a space standpoint as just like a stroller for a child they can only break down so far.

How Do I Choose a Carrier?

I put together this handy dandy infographic that might help you chose the carrier that is right for you and your cat. You can take a look at the 7 major areas of interest and determine which ones are most important to you then make a selection based on it! Note that the ratings aren’t ‘hard’ for each type for each category. This is just the general feeling I’ve gotten from seeing these types of carriers in use over the years.

Cat Carrier Selection Matrix

Hopefully this helps you along in your way of selecting the best cat carrier for you and your feline friend!


Specific Recommendations

In the case that you’re interested in my specific recommendations I’ve provided my top two favorite carriers below for both the soft and hard carriers.  I personally use the Amazon Basics carrier for Beast because she is tiny and it was our first carrier for her. I’ve also provided my top single recommendation for a rolling carrier and for a backpack carrier. I’m not nearly as familiar with these categories personally so I’ve talked to cat owners that have them and used additional information I tracked down through other reviews to select them. I’ve broken them down into teach of the major types of carriers and called out why I like them. Definitely let me know if you have any questions about the carriers!


Soft Sided Carrier Recommendations:

#1 The Amazon Basics Soft Sided Carrier

If you’re looking for a dirt cheap reliable carrier that will be used primarily for transport back and forth to the vet a few times a year this is a great go to. Note there are three different sizes of the carrier available and you should choose accordingly based on the size of your cat.  This particular carrier is what you would call a ‘no frills’ carrier but there are a few things worth pointing out below.

Pros:

  • It is super lightweight and also very cheap from a price perspective
  • Shoulder strap and standard handles are available
  • The ventilation is top notch  & it has multiple entrances
  • There is a pad included that can be tossed in the washing machine
  • It breaks down easily to take up minimum space
  • It does fit under most airline seats, but you’d have to check each airline specifically to verify

Cons:

  • The carrier bottom is rather flimsy, if you have a heavy cat it will not be super stable
  • This is a basic carrier at a basic price so the mesh isn’t going to stop a determined cat from tearing a hole in it

Check the price on Amazon here.


#2 Petsfit Expandable Travel Cat Carrier

If you’re looking for a soft carrier that is a hefty chunk larger and has more comfort than something like the Amazon Basics carrier than the Petsfit Expandable is a great carrier to consider. Not only does it include all the major perks of the Basics carrier, but it also has some cool features like the expandable side area that gives your cat a big bump up in real estate space inside. This is exceptionally useful when you have a long layover or a long trip in a car and you don’t want to let your cat out, but still want her to have some space for comfort or a bowl of water or food. There’s a full video review available here, but the bullets below detail it out pretty well:

Pros:

  • Lots of extra space for your cat on longer trips in the car or outside of a plane while you wait
  • It has a study frame, but it can be removed before going onto a plane where space is restricted
  • It is super lightweight & both shoulder strap and standard handles are available
  • The ventilation is top notch & it has multiple entrances
  • There is a pad included that can be tossed in the washing machine
  • It breaks down easily to take up minimum space
  • It does fit under most airline seats (when the expander isn’t out), but you’d have to check each airline specifically to verify (and you will likely need to remove the frame)

Cons:

  • It comes in at a much higher price point than the Amazon Basics carrier, but it does have many additional features
  • If you are traveling on a really consistent basis, as with any product made of nylon, the edges will fray and the frame will start to push through

Check the price on Amazon here.


Hard Sided Carrier Recommendations:

#1 Petmate Two Door Top Load Kennel

Petmate is an incredibly well known company and I see these carriers in use on a consistent basis at the shelter I volunteer at all the time.  Not only are they well designed, but they are incredibly durable and they come in a varying set of sizes. I’d highly recommend you go with the 24 inch version for any adult cat and if you have an extra large cat you might want to consider something even bigger than this. That being said, these carriers are constructed solidly and perform extremely well. Check out a great video review provided by Jenny at FloppyCats for even more detail:

Pros:

  • Very solid construction using screws to hold the pieces together
  • The ventilation is top notch
  • It has both top and front entrances
  • Easy to add your cats favorite blanket or bed inside with plenty of room
  • Super easy to clean after a trip if necessary

Cons:

  • As with any hard carrier there is no shoulder strap so it can be annoying to carry it a long distance
  • I’m still personally not a fan of the handle being built into the top gate as it is, but that is more of a personal fear problem than anything founded in research or experience
  • Not fit for airplane travel (most hard carriers are not)

Check the price on Amazon here.


#2 Pet Kennel Direct 24″ Plastic Cat Kennel

This particular hard carrier is made for pets up to 25 pounds, so if you’ve got a cat that is a bit larger this might be the right choice for you! Not only does it assemble easily and have great built in ventilation, but it also has some nice additional little adds on like a food bowl that hangs on the inside of the front gate.

Pros:

  • Very solid construction using screws to hold the pieces together
  • All construction can be performed without any tools
  • The ventilation is top notch
  • Easy to add your cats favorite blanket or bed inside with plenty of room
  • Super easy to clean after a trip if necessary

Cons:

  • This kennel is too large to fit under a seat on a plane (most hard carriers are)
  • It only has a front entrance

Check the price on Amazon here.


Backpack Carrier Recommendation:

#1 Petsfit Comfort Cat Carrier Backpack

Widely considered one of the best backpacks designed for cats and dogs, the Petsfit comfort backpack is super comfortable for both you and your pet!  It is designed for cats that are 15 pounds or less and I would recommend staying under that mark. Anything bigger would definitely start to get cramped inside the space available.

Pros:

  • Super easy to transport your cat in because all the weight is on your shoulders
  • Both top and front loading, though admittedly the front loading is small and not easy to use
  • Has a harness attachment & the front window unzips for better viewing (be very careful with this as your cat can and will jump out if they want to)
  • This particular backpack has solid ventilation as well with 4 major ventilation gratings
  • The bottom is fully removable for easy washing and cleaning
  • Has additional stability straps for your waist and chest to keep the backpack tightly against you
  • Breaks down for easy storage just like a regular soft carrier

Cons:

  • There are no pouches or pockets to carry anything like snacks or treats
  • When upright it will be cramped for a cat to lay down other than in a tiny ball
  • There is no handle to carry it if you don’t want it on your shoulders

Check the price on Amazon here.

Note that if you are looking for a backpack for a bigger cat you can check this one out from Pettom. I’ve not seen it in use so I can’t comment on it at all, but it is specifically aimed at larger cats.


Stroller Carrier Recommendation:

#1 The OxGord Cat Stroller

This stroller is definitely the most popular stroller I’ve seen around for pets of any kind, but for cats especially. I’ve generally seen folks with older cats use it to get their cats some air outside in a completely safe environment where nothing will bother them.

Pros:

  • Super easy to transport your cat because you’re not carrying any weight
  • Fully enclosed with a large viewing area that is fully ventilated for your cat both front and back
  • Tons of space to carry drinks, accessories, bags, whatever else might come to mind
  • Hooks inside to snap your harnessed pet onto if you don’t want to keep the screen closed
  • Waterproof rain hood, definite necessity, cats don’t love the rain too much generally
  • Cushion included inside to keep your kitty comfy, but plenty of room to include their favorite bed too
  • The wheels are much larger and higher quality than a lot of rolling suitcase type carriers so they don’t get stuck as easy and they don’t make nearly as much noise either

Cons:

  • The stroller is obviously large and bulky and doesn’t fold down like a traditional soft carrier, it takes up a lot of space
  • If you have small animals be sure to fully explore the setup when you get it, there have been some reports of kittens sneaking their way out of the enclosed area through tiny little holes you’d never expect them to fit through

Check the price on Amazon here.


Wrapping It Up

So let’s close things up with a quick recap:

  • There are a bunch of reasons you should have a good quality carrier available for your cat
  • There are numerous kinds of carriers out there, each type has pros and cons & you should select on based on your needs
  • A cardboard carrier should not be considered a long term solution
  • Be sure to associate your cats carrier with positive things like treats or meal time, this will make them less likely to balk at going into it when it is necessary

If you have any other thoughts on the cat carriers and which type you use please leave a comment below or send me an email at Craig@StuffCatsWant.com so I can update this article. Also feel free to point any questions my way through comments or email as well!

StuffCatsWant.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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18 thoughts on “What is the Best Cat Carrier for Your Feline Friend?

  • June 21, 2017 at 9:22 pm
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    Okay now that cat stroller is awesome, I think that is a perfect idea for transporting cats. Also it is a lot less weight you have to carry around. Great article!!

    Reply
    • June 22, 2017 at 3:25 am
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      Hahah, it is pretty cool! Though I think with the infrequency with which I need to transport my cats it would just take up a lot of space! It certainly has a target market though!

      Reply
  • June 21, 2017 at 9:33 pm
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    I too am a cat owner, 3 rescue cats, 1 senior, 2 teenagers. I own the hard side carriers, but if I could, I would own the soft sided carrier because I believe they would be easier to get them into, and I would put it into the washing machine, if I had to. I think the stroller is a bit ridiculous. How do they get the cat to stay in the carrier?

    Reply
    • June 22, 2017 at 3:26 am
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      Haha, well, the stroller is just like a regular soft carrier in some ways. You can fully enclose it with the zip up screens to keep the cats inside. You can also actually put a harness on your cat and strap the harness into the carrier on a short leash! Funny stuff right? I’ve seen them out and about though!

      Reply
  • June 21, 2017 at 9:48 pm
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    This is a great guide to buying a cat carrier, you have left no stone unturned with this one. I do like the the section matrix you have created. To help give us a the best option.

    Many thanks

    Reply
    • June 22, 2017 at 3:27 am
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      Thanks James! Glad it turned out to be helpful!

      Reply
  • June 22, 2017 at 3:51 am
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    Hi Craig,
    Although I do not have a cat, I think your detailed analysis of carriers are very helpful for dog owners as well, which I am.

    I am currently using a hard carrier for my pug and what you said about it is accurate. It’s sturdy and I use it in my car when transporting him around. Over here in my country, it is against the law to have your pet running free in the car. Like you said, it is really heavy and my chubby pug doesn’t make it any lighter. 🙂

    I have used the soft ones before when he’s still a puppy but it doesn’t seem to be practical anymore when he grew up. The one I used was rather flimsy and felt as if it could just collapse at anytime though.

    Reply
    • June 24, 2017 at 5:26 am
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      Glad it was helpful Alex! I wish it was illegal for pets to be out and about in cars here in the states. I see so many dogs just in the lap of drivers and it seems ridiculously unsafe. I can’t believe people let their dog run all over them while they are driving!

      Reply
  • June 22, 2017 at 6:20 am
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    What a great, detailed guide on different types of cat carriers. I love the backpack and the stroller. There are so many cat carriers out there, it’s hard to know which is best and which your cat will put up with! Thanks for doing all this research to make it easier to select a cat carrier.

    Reply
  • June 22, 2017 at 11:16 am
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    Thanks for this guide it is very useful! I used to use Hard Sided Carrier to carry my cats everywhere, maybe it was the only type we have here in my country, but I really LOVED the stroller type, it’s so lovely, I never saw this type before, I will go for that type next time.

    Reply
    • June 24, 2017 at 5:24 am
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      Haha! Who knew you could treat your cat like a baby right?!?!

      Reply
  • June 22, 2017 at 11:29 am
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    Awesome guide for buying a cat carrier! Great job for putting together all the info! I loved the cat stroller- it’s a great idea!

    Reply
  • July 13, 2017 at 10:39 am
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    I use to have actually been considering buying the #2 of the soft carriers. The Petsfit Expandable Travel Cat Carrier seems to be perfect for my (super fat cat) Zidane’. My main reason I’m interested though is because the strain I get on my arm after walking with the carrier for a while is very real. Ideally, I want something light-weight and spacious so when I need to carry my buddy places he’s feeling nice and cozy while my arm isn’t straining. What do you recommend for fat cats?

    Reply
    • July 14, 2017 at 12:37 am
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      Good question. Overweight cats are tougher with the standard soft carriers because most of them don’t have a really solid bottom and it tends to flex when you hold it with the cat inside making it really uncomfortable for your cat too. I’m guessing you probably don’t want a stroller for your cat, but that would probably be the easiest to remove the arm strain. If your primary concern is your arm then you might aim for the backpack carrier:
      http://amzn.to/2uf8qLe

      This carrier is incredibly well regarded as a lightweight larger carrier, but I’m guessing the weight of your cat will still place some strain on your arm if you go with it:
      http://amzn.to/2uox9x1

      Reply
  • August 1, 2017 at 12:59 am
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    Hi Craig. Thanks for this great review, it really helped me a lot to understand the choices that are available and which one is best for my cat. I am leaning towards the two door top load carrier and the price is very reasonable too. I think the 24 inch version will be suitable, our cat isn’t that big. There are some really smart carriers here and some I haven’t seen before.
    Cheers, Craig.

    Reply
  • November 15, 2017 at 1:11 am
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    Hi Craig,
    Great review. I especially like the soft sided carrier that’s expandable. What a great idea! Of my two cats, the small one would love it, but the bigger one would tear it apart in no time lol. She’s already broken out and totally ruined one already. It’s a hard carrier for her now!
    Cheers,
    Suzanne

    Reply
    • November 15, 2017 at 5:08 am
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      Wow! I guess I am in luck in that my cats for the most part just meow incessantly when put in the carrier! They certainly don’t like going into it, but there hasn’t yet been a situation where they’ve directly damaged it! I would switch to a hard carrier as well in that situation.

      Reply

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