The 5 Best Cat Carriers For Nervous Cats, According To Vets
Genius designs that dial down the stress.
It’s no secret that many cats are homebodies, which is why taking them anywhere — whether it be on a road trip, on an airplane, or simply to the vet’s office — can quickly become a stressful event. The best carriers for nervous cats help enhance feelings of security, and they’re designed with top openings or slide-in baskets that make loading a breeze.
Heidi Heller, DVM, CCRP, is the managing veterinarian at New York City-based Small Door Veterinary. The practice has empathetically designed its clinical space to create a comfortable, stress-free environment for animals.
Kate McMahon, BVSc, is a UK-based veterinarian and blogger at Expert Cat Care, which features a wide range of advice on behavior and health. At her feline-only practice, she provides pet owners with evidence-based treatments to ensure they remain happy and healthy throughout their lives.
What To Consider When Shopping For The Best Cat Carriers For Nervous Cats
Hard-Sided Carriers Versus Soft-Sided Carriers
You’re probably aware that carriers come in hard- and soft-sided options — as far as which style will benefit an anxious kitty the most, Heidi Heller, DVM, says, “This will vary by the individual cat, but generally, top-loading, hard plastic carriers can help cats to feel more protected and enclosed whereas softer, mesh-sided carriers can make some cats feel vulnerable.” It’s also worth mentioning your pet’s sharp claws may be able to damage the mesh panels on a soft-sided carrier, which is something to keep in mind if your feline is prone to scratching when nervous.
On the other hand, a hard-shell carrier will take up more space when not in use — this might be tricky if you live in an apartment or have limited storage room to dedicate to the carrier. Also, some cats may simply prefer the soft interior of a fabric cat carrier to one made of plastic.
Most carrier brands give dimensions and weight capacity guidelines to give you a better idea of which size to pick, but if your cat is between two sizes, opt for the bigger one. “They should also have enough room to turn around easily and not be so small that they feel squished and uncomfortable,” says veterinarian Kate McMahon, BVSc.
In addition to a front opening, top-load cat carriers allow you to lift your pet up and place them inside, instead of coaxing them through the front door (which can feel near-impossible with a stressed kitty). Dr. McMahon also recommends a sliding drawer design, which can help create a calmer loading process, as you can place your cat inside the basket and gently glide them inside.
Other Factors To Consider
- Vet Trips: “When an anxious cat comes to the clinic, the last thing you want to do is force them to come out by tipping the carrier or dragging them,” says Dr. McMahon. “Therefore, carriers with top and bottom halves that easily detach are ideal, as most of the exam can be performed with the cat remaining in the comfort of their carrier.” Dr. Heller agrees: “Less handling means less stress, in general.”
- Airplane Travel: If you’re shopping for a cat carrier for air travel, you’ll want to make sure your pick complies with your airline’s standards. Some airlines recommend soft-sided carriers (although they will usually allow hard-sided carriers, too), with dimensions that typically max out somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 by 11 inches, with an 11-inch height. Space accommodations vary, though, as do requirements like ventilation and leakproof design, so be sure to check before purchasing. And while you might be tempted to buy a cat carrier with wheels for long treks through the terminal, Dr. Heller recommends staying away from them as they “tend to cause more motion sickness in cats.”
No matter which pet carrier for cats you purchase, both experts recommend placing a soft blanket inside the carrier to create an inviting space for your feline. “Making sure your cat has a cozy surface (bed, blanket, etc.) with familiar smells is very important,” says Dr. Heller. She continues, “It can help to leave the carrier out so the cat is comfortable with it and doesn't associate its presence with an imminent departure or stressful trip.” If your kitty is still having a hard time adjusting to their carrier, spritzing a calming pheromone spray such as Feliway along the interior can help ease their anxiety.
Since every pet is different, it’s always a good idea to check in with your own vet for more tailored guidance, especially if your cat has unique needs or health considerations.
With all that in mind, here are the best cat carriers for nervous cats.
Shop The Best Cat Carriers For Nervous Cats
In a hurry? These are the best cat carriers for nervous cats:
- The Best Hard-Sided Carrier: Amazon Basics Two-Door Cat Carrier
- The Best Soft-Sided Carrier: Petsfit Soft-Sided Travel Bag
- The Best Carrier For Small Cats: Petmate Two-Door Cat Carrier
- The Best Collapsible Carrier That Saves Space: SportPet Foldable Cat Carrier
- The Best Sliding Carrier — & The Best For Very Large Breeds: Van Ness Calm Carrier
1. The Best Hard-Sided Carrier
- Top and bottom halves detach for easy vet visits
- Options for front- and top-loading
- Large enough for cats up to 20 pounds
- Likely too large for carry-on air travel
A great all-around option, this Amazon cat carrier comes recommended by both Dr. Heller and Dr. McMahon, as it offers both front- and top-entry options for your pet, which gives you the versatility to find the best way to load your kitty. For vet exams, the top half easily detaches from the bottom half — the only pick on the list with that feature — so your cat can remain inside the carrier, which may make check-ups a little less stressful for everyone. Dr. Heller also notes that some cats may feel more secure in hard-shell carriers, making it a good pick for nervous felines. The durable plastic material is easy to clean should any accidents occur, and it should stand up well to scratching, too.
Designed for cats up to 20 pounds, the 24-inch-long carrier is on the larger side, so keep this in mind if you’re tight on storage space or looking for an option for airline travel. That being said, there’s a reason why this carrier has a 4.6-star overall rating after 45,000 reviews on Amazon — it’s sturdy, versatile, and comes at a reasonable price.
According to a reviewer: “This carrier is cool and functional enough that the staff at the vet's office comment on it every time. The top comes off easily with the side clips, which is handy if your pet is anxious, has mobility issues or is wearing the "cone of shame." I bought the fleece bed to go inside, and my kitty actually selects to sleep in the carrier by choice. If I leave the top off she will treat it as a bed.”
Available sizes: 24 x 16.8 x 14.5 inches | Weight capacity: 20 pounds | Entry: Top & front | Available colors: 1 (gray/blue)
2. The Best Soft-Sided Carrier
- Expandable side provides extra room
- Options for front- and top-loading
- Smaller-size options likely to meet airline regulations for carry-on travel
- Mesh panels may not stand up well to clawing
For air travel — or pets that prefer a carrier with soft sides — this cat travel bag from Petsfit is an excellent choice that comes recommended by Dr. Heller. It comes in three different sizes that fit large and small breeds alike, and the durable fabric exterior features wide, zippered mesh windows, giving your cat lots of ventilation and the ability to see their surroundings. You’ll also find two entries — one in front and one on top — for added versatility while loading. To give your kitty extra space to stretch out, you can temporarily unzip the side panel to expand the carrier, which is helpful during car trips or while waiting to board an airplane.
Although it’s made from fabric, the carrier itself is not washable; that being said, the water-resistant interior can be wiped clean. This is also the only pick on the list that comes with a plush cushion, which will give your pet something soft to lie on (it’s removable and washable, too). For convenience, a side pocket lets you stash some treats. Storage is relatively easy with this pick — you can remove the wire frame, making the bag collapsible.
According to a reviewer: “I haven't taken this on a flight yet. My cat loves it though. I took her to the vet and extended the window and she was purrfectly happy and actually chirped at us. It was cute. [...] She is usually anxious at the vet and this carry case helped her relax and stay comfortable. I never have an issue getting her in it either. The price is reasonable too.”
Available sizes: 16 x 10 x 9 inches, 17 x 11 x 11 inches, or 19 x 12 x 12 inches | Weight capacity: | 9 pounds, 13 pounds, or 18 pounds (depending on size) | Entry: Top & front | Available colors: 4
3. The Best Carrier For Small Cats
- Smaller size ideal for kittens and small cats
- Options for front- and top-loading
- In some cases, may meet airline regulations for carry-on travel
- Weight capacity may exclude larger cats
Designed for petite breeds and kittens, this small cat carrier from Petmate is especially great for pets who don’t need a particularly large carrier — and will save you storage space at home. The two-door model measures 19 inches in length, but if you want an even smaller carrier, there’s a 14-inch option with a single top-loading door. (You can also opt for a full-size 24-inch carrier, although the weight capacity remains 15 pounds.)
Recommended by Dr. Heller, this choice has plenty of ventilation holes around the sides and top for airflow, and the durable plastic shell can withstand claws and is easy to wipe clean. Speaking of which, the interior is designed with a “moat” that allows liquid to drain away from your cat in case of accidents, a unique feature that’ll help keep your pet clean.
As far as air travel goes, this pick might be compatible with some airlines — but be sure check before purchasing.
According to a reviewer: “This has been very helpful for getting an anxious, skittish kitty to and from her vet appointments. Truly don't know what we'd do without that top door! Cat is about 8 lbs, and we haven't had any problems with this at all.”
Available sizes: 16.2 x 12 x 9 inches, 19 x 13 x 10 inches, or 24 x 16.7 x 14.5 inches | Weight capacity: 10 pounds or 15 pounds (depending on size) | Entry: Top & front | Available colors: 6
4. The Best Collapsible Cat Carrier That Saves Space
- Extra-wide opening for easy entry
- Fully collapsible for space-efficient storage
- May be too small for larger breeds
- Likely too large for carry-on air travel
If you’re tight on storage space, this collapsible cat carrier folds down flat when not in use, so you can stash it under your bed or at the back of a closet. Featuring a wide opening on the side with a hinged door, this hard-sided carrier is also great for felines who don’t feel comfortable using tunnel-style crates. The durable, easy-to-clean plastic unit features plenty of ventilation holes for airflow, and — for extra comfort — the carrier is available in options that include a sherpa fleece bed or a waterproof bed (helpful if your kitty is prone to accidents).
At 18.5 inches long, it may not be big enough for larger-breed cats — but its space-saving capabilities make it a great pick for those with small- or medium-size cats who don’t have a ton of extra storage room to spare.
According to a reviewer: “My anxious cat refused to get into ‘tunnel’ styled crates, no matter what size. Suspect they made him feel trapped. With the SportPet designed with the opening down the long side of the crate, Tebow feels safe and free as he lounges inside.”
Available sizes: 18.5 x 15.25 x 14.25 inches | Weight capacity: 25 pounds | Entry: Side | Available colors: 1 (black/tan)
5. The Best Sliding Basket Carrier — & The Best For Very Large Breeds
- Innovative sliding drawer design
- Large, sturdy construction for pets up to 35 pounds
- No top entry
- Too large for carry-on air travel
One of Dr. McMahon’s top picks, the Van Ness Calm carrier has a unique sliding drawer design that makes it easy to load your cat — and it also allows your kitty to remain inside the basket during vet visits. Measuring a generous 24 inches long, this well-ventilated pick is recommended for pets up to 35 pounds, arguably making it the best cat carrier for large cats on the list. Just keep in mind that it’ll be too big for air travel, so you’ll want to relegate this pick to car trips.
The hard-shell exterior is durable and a breeze to wipe clean in the event of accidents. Note that there’s no top entry — but you may not miss that at all as the sliding basket does the work of loading your kitty.
According to a reviewer: “Like many people I struggle getting my cats into a carrier, but not any more. Spent a few days leaving it out for the cats to get used to it. Now one of my cats actually sleeps in it even after being closed up and carried about.”
Available sizes: 24 inches x 17 inches x 15 inches | Weight capacity: 35 pounds | Entry: Slide-out basket | Available colors: 1 (gray/graphite)