Most cats can get scared when it’s time for a vet visit or travel, but the right carrier can help keep kitty calm, safe, and comfortable. The best cat carriers for scared cats are made from material that's durable enough to withstand scratching, and they’re leakproof in case your cat has an accident. Most importantly — they have top-load doors that make it easier to get your cat in and out.
Some of the most common anxious cat behaviors are scratching, hiding, and loss of bladder control, so you'll want to make sure the carrier can stand up to all these. Hard-sided carriers are usually better able to withstand scratching and clawing, but they’re often bulkier and take up more storage space — not ideal if you have a small home or minimal extra closet space. Soft cat carriers, on the other hand, are more flexible and fold up for storage (so they're generally better for air travel). But although they're made from durable fabric, they may not be the best choice if scratching is a big concern.
Either way you go, all of the best cat carrier picks have a few things in common: They're leakproof or waterproof to prevent messes, and they all have large top-entry doors that make it easier to place your cat inside and lift them out when it's time for a vet visit. They're also easy to carry, but you'll have to decide what's most comfortable for you, whether it’s top handles, shoulder straps, or even a backpack.
Whichever style you choose, getting your cat used to the carrier ahead of time will go a long way in keeping them calm when it’s time to go. With all that in mind, read on for the best cat carriers for scared cats that can help travel be less stress-inducing for both of you.
1. The Classic Carrier
This Petmate top-load carrier checks all the boxes for safely transporting your anxious kitty. The hard sides can withstand scratches from your cat’s claws, and the top-entry door makes it easy to get your cat into the crate, although you also have the option of using the side door. Either way, both doors have durable steel grates and squeezable latches to keep your pet securely inside. An ergonomic top handle makes for easy carrying, and vents on all sides ensure breathability. The 24-inch waterproof carrier holds up to 15 pounds and comes in two colors: pearl ash blue and pearl tan, but there’s also a 19-inch carrier with a 10-pound weight limit that comes in hot pink or pearl white.
- Recommended cat size: up to 10 pounds (19-inch), up to 15 pounds (24-inch)
According to a cat owner: “Love this carrier. It holds our large cat just perfectly. The lid on the top makes it easy to get him in, plus it calms him down to be able to see more. Our cat chews and claws when in a carrier, so we needed a very sturdy cage."
2. A Carrier With A Zip-Off Top
Some vets recommend a carrier with a removable top — as opposed to one with a flap that gives only partial access — because it allows them to perform part of the physical exam while your cat stays securely inside. So if your cat tends to hide during vet visits, this pet carrier with a fully removable top might be a good option. And while this carrier has a sturdy, hard shell that resists scratching, the central section is collapsible for easy storage. The base is waterproof, and a soft pad is included to keep your cat comfy — but the pad is not machine-washable. There's also a zippered front-entry door with mesh lining, vented sides, a security lock, and a soft grip carry handle.
- Recommended cat size: up to 26 pounds
According to a cat owner: “Love this spacious carrier. I think that our cat feels more at ease and less anxious when he visits the vet in this thing."
3. A Backpack Carrier That’s Great For Large Cats
It can be cumbersome to tote larger cats inside traditional carriers with top handles, so this backpack cat carrier is a great way to keep you and your cat comfortable during travel. The carrier is made from waterproof, scratch-resistant Oxford fabric and faux leather, and there are large, durable mesh panels and vents for breathability. The padded shoulder straps are adjustable, and there’s also a chest strap for even weight distribution. Plus, the carrier comes with a cute space bubble cover that lets your cat get a clear view of the outside world. Both the top and sides unzip, giving you multiple ways to place your cat inside, and on the interior, there’s a removable, washable fleece pad and a leash hook for added safety. It comes in two colors — ash gray and coffee — and a collapsible bowl with a carabiner is included, too.
- Recommended cat size: Up to 22 pounds
According to a cat owner: “My cat is very skittish and always hated any carrier I got. She loves this!!”
4. A Soft Cat Carrier That's Great For Air Travel
Finding the right carrier that meets in-cabin airline requirements can be tricky, but the Sherpa cat carrier fits the bill, thanks to a spring wire frame that allows the back end to push down and fit easily under the seat in front of you. Measuring 17 by 11 by 10.5 inches, the medium-sized carrier is approved for most airlines (but be sure to check your airline's carry-on requirements. Made from durable, leakproof fabric, the soft cat carrier features top- and side-entry doors with locking zippers and mesh panels to keep your cat comfortable and secure. Keep in mind, though: Several reviewers report that it's fairly easy for anxious cats to claw through the mesh.
There’s an adjustable, padded shoulder strap, top-carry handles, and a seat belt/luggage strap for easy portability. Inside, there’s a soft and comfy faux lambskin pad that’s machine washable. Plus, there’s a rear pocket where you can store calming treats and other travel essentials. It’s available in three sizes — small, medium, and large — and seven colors, including black, charcoal, and plum.
- Recommended cat size: up to 8 pounds (small), up to 16 pounds (medium), up to 22 pounds (large)
According to a cat owner: “My cat had plenty of room to move around, it fit under the seat perfectly and had enough "windows" and coverage to keep her safe and not too scared of flying.”
5. An Expandable Carrier With Room For Stretching
If you’re going on a long car ride or have a flight with a layover, this expandable cat carrier will give your kitty plenty of space to stretch out and relax during the trip. Made from waterproof Oxford cloth, the carrier features expandable sides — unzip to fold them out and create mini half domes on each side, then zip them up again when it's time to lift your cat out of the car. The carrier features a shoulder strap, top handles, and a seatbelt/luggage strap for easy portability. Plus, the cozy fleece bed inside is removable and machine-washable, and there’s a safety leash hook for extra security. Measuring 18 by 11 by 11 inches, the flexible carrier is sized to fit under most airplane seats, but be sure to check with your specific airline before traveling.
- Recommended cat size: up to 14 pounds
According to a cat owner: “I travelled from Texas to Maine in a car with four cats in their own carrier. My cats are skittish and I thought they would never get in the carrier so I put them out a week before we left with a little catnip. The cats went in and took their naps... and even though they weren’t completely happy I knew they were safe warm and comfortable during this long trip. I was able to clean the pads inside easily.”