Bringing your cat on a car ride is an inevitability of cat parenthood, which is why having a car friendly cat carrier is absolutely essential. In this article, we’ll tell you what to look for, provide some car ride bonus tips, and explore the top 6 cat carriers for car travel on the market.
Here at tuft + paw, we are cat experts. We're intimately familiar with the carrier features that are most important to cats and cat parents alike. This list is based on consultation with a veterinarian, cat behaviorist, hundreds of online reviews, and our own experience as cat parents to determine which cat carriers offer the best overall performance.
Tip: Check out our list of the overall best cat carriers for more product recommendations.
top & front entry, converts into bed, quality materials, hidden structural panels, seatbelt & luggage compatible, limits stimulation for anxious cats, water resistant, folds flat for storage, ID tag, interior safety tether, stylish design
not crash tested, pricey, some cats may prefer more mesh
5-star CPS crash rating, seat belt compatible, quality materials, top + front + side entry, washable removable bed, luggage compatible, limited side visibility for anxious cats, puppy pad included, interior safety tether, three exterior pockets, stylish design
expensive, some quality concerns, no instructions included, doesn’t fold flat
hard protective body, large enough for XL cats, waterproof material, easy to clean, well-ventilated, top + front entry, interior moat in case of accidents
not seat belt compatible, too big for in-cabin air travel, no interior safety tether, assembly required, no cushioning included, doesn’t fold flat
24"L x 14.5"W x 17"H
What to Look for in a Cat Carrier for Car Travel
Before we dive into the best cat carriers for car travel, it's essential to understand the key features to consider when selecting the perfect carrier for your cat's road adventures.
Seat Belt Compatibility
One of the most critical aspects of a car-friendly cat carrier is seat belt compatibility. Look for carriers that have built-in straps or loops to allow easy and secure attachment to the seatbelt. This ensures that the carrier stays in place during the journey, preventing any unexpected movements that could startle your cat. If your carrier isn’t seat belt compatible, then placing it on the floor behind the driver’s seat is the safest spot.
Look for cat carriers that can be strapped into car seatbelts. Porto Cat Carrier in Charcoal by tuft + paw - Shop Here
Carriers with secure and reliable closures are essential for your cat's safety. Opt for carriers with safety locking zippers or latches that can be fastened tightly to prevent any chance of escape during the ride. The last thing you want is your cat attempting a Houdini escape act in the car.
Materials + Durability
The material and overall construction of a carrier play a major role in its durability and longevity. If choosing a soft-sided cat carrier, look for sturdy materials (e.g. luggage grade nylon) that can withstand the wear and tear of frequent car trips. Reinforced stitching and strong handles/straps add an extra layer of reliability. If choosing a hard-sided carrier, look for high quality plastic and metal components.
A good carrier should be spacious enough for your cat to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. However, a carrier that is too large can be unsafe in the event of a collision, and the extra room might make your cat more likely to do their business in the carrier. If you intend to bring your cat on a plane, then you’ll also have to abide by the airline’s luggage size requirements and you'll need an airline approved cat carrier.
Comfort is of utmost importance for your cat's well-being during car travel. Choose carriers with soft and cozy interiors, ideally lined with comfortable padding. Don’t forget you can always add extra cushioning yourself. A comfortable ride reduces stress and anxiety, making your cat more relaxed during the journey.
Porto Cat Carrier in Charcoal by tuft + paw - Shop Here
Third-Party Crash Tested
If you drive with your cat often, consider carriers that have been third-party crash tested and certified to meet safety standards. These carriers provide added assurance that they can protect your cat in the event of an accident or sudden braking. Two carriers on this list have been crash tested by the Center for Pet Safety (CPS). Keep in mind though, these certifications are expensive, so expect third-party crash tested cat carriers to be pricey.
Ventilation + Visibility
A well-ventilated carrier ensures your cat gets a steady flow of fresh air during the ride, preventing overheating and keeping them comfortable. Additionally, carriers with mesh panels or window grates provide visibility, allowing your cat to see their surroundings and feel less confined during the trip.
Note: Not every cat likes maximum visibility from their carrier. If you know your cat gets anxious in the carrier, less visibility may be preferable. Paying attention to details like these will teach you how to travel with your cat.
Easy access to your cat is essential during car travel, especially during longer trips. Carriers with multiple entry points, such as top-loading and side-loading options, make it much easier to get your cat into the carrier. During car rides, these same entries can be used to interact with your cat and offer treats and reassurance without the risk of them escaping.
Easy to Clean
Unfortunately, sometimes are feline buddies get a little nervous when traveling and do their business inside the carrier. In these instances, a cat carrier with a water-resistant interior and machine washable removable bed come in super handy.
@tuftandpaw Replying to @lola_corolla Accidents can happen, but rest assured, our materials are designed for easy cleaning. If a mess occurs, start by using paper towels or a clean cloth to remove any solid waste or excess liquid. Gently blot the affected area with a dry cloth to soak up the remaining liquid. Then, apply a mild, unscented laundry soap to spot-clean the area. Let it air dry, and if a stain persists, consider using a household fabric stain remover following the manufacturer's spot treatment instructions for upholstery. For urine stains, use an enzyme cleaner designed for pet urine, available at most pet stores. The bed is machine-washable on a gentle, cold cycle, and it's best to air-dry it. Minor scuffs or stains can be tackled with a stain remover pen. #largecatcarrier#neutralcatcarrier#highqualitycatcarrier#travelingwithcats#easytocleancatcarrier#catcarrier♬ original sound - editzzz
Tips for Car Rides With Cats
Don’t Let Your Cat Out
Once you're on the road, never let your cat out of the carrier while the car is moving. Cats can be easily startled and may try to hide under the seats or near the car pedals, causing potential hazards.
Keep Your Cat In the Backseat
For safety reasons, always place the carrier in the backseat of the car. If your carrier isn’t seat belt compatible, place the carrier on the floor behind the driver’s seat. Avoid putting it in the front seat, as airbags can be dangerous for cats in case of an accident.
Take Regular Breaks
If you're embarking on a long journey, plan for regular breaks to allow your cat some time to stretch their legs, have some food and a drink of water, and use the litter box. This will help them feel more comfortable during the trip. Use a leash and harness if you want to let them out of the car.
Porto Cat Carrier in Sand by tuft + paw - Shop Here
Give Treats and Reassurance
Offer treats and gentle reassurance to your cat throughout the journey to keep them relaxed and associate car travel with positive experiences.
Pack a Familiar Object
Put a favorite object (e.g. cat toy, blanket) inside the carrier to provide a sense of familiarity for your cat while they’re on the road. The smell of home will be a welcome comfort for them.
Cover the Carrier (if necessary)
If your cat seems stressed during the ride, covering the carrier with a blanket or towel can help calm them by reducing visual stimulation and muffling loud noises.
Our Criteria for Choosing the Best Cat Carriers for Car Travel
Car compatibility — Includes the carrier’s seat belt compatibility and whether it has been crash tested.
Build quality — A good carrier should be sturdy, made from durable materials, and able to comfortably hold a large cat.
Cat comfort — A comfortable carrier should have soft interior surfaces, a stable structure, and enough room for a cat to stand and turn around in.
Ease of use — This includes the carrier’s strap design, entryways (top and/or front entry), carrying comfort, and method of carrying (e.g. backpack vs shoulder bag)
Ease of cleaning — Easily cleaned carriers are made from water resistant materials and have removable bedding/liners.
Ease of storage — Is the carrier collapsible to save storage space?
Ventilation + visibility — Includes how much mesh is incorporated into the carrier and whether there are privacy flaps.
Safety features — Includes internal safety tethers, zipper buckles, etc.
Other features — Anything else that improves the carrier’s functionality, like pockets or an ID card.
Style — Cats don’t care much, but a stylish carrier is nice for humans.
Price: $99 Rating: N/A Size: 18.75"L x 10.5"W x 11.25"H Weight Limit: 30 lbs Materials: Water-resistant canvas and liner, spacer mesh, foam, metal, faux shearling
Disclaimer: Yes, we included our own cat carrier here. This is because we truly think it performs excellently compared to other cat carriers on the market. We subjected it to the same scrutiny as every other product on this list and asked for honest opinions from experts and cat parents.
Our pick for the best cat carrier for car travel is the tuft + paw Porto. It offers everything we want as cat parents for under $100. It’s seat belt-compatible, structurally sturdy, and has an innovative zipper system which vastly improves accessibility. This clever system allows each panel to be unzipped independently, so cat parents can open or close it as needed, whether that’s just opening the front door, completely opening the top, or converting it into a “home away from home”. Leaving it out in its unzipped bed form lets your cat get comfortable with it and associate it with relaxing rather than scary traveling (a big problem with most carriers). The Porto’s accessibility and versatility makes it super handy for car trips, especially when visiting the vet or going somewhere your cat isn’t familiar with.
The faux shearling padding serves as a small bed or a larger lounging surface when unfurled. It’s also removable and machine washable. The body of the Porto is made of a durable water-resistant canvas and features hidden structural panels to keep its shape. The mesh windows allow for visibility and airflow, but they’re strategically placed to limit stimulation for anxious cats. It’s also luggage-compatible, and its dimensions meet carry-on regulations for most major airlines. This makes the Porto an incredible travel companion, and its ability to convert into a cozy bed will help your cat feel at home in any destination.
The main drawback for cat parents who drive with their cat frequently is the Porto’s lack of third-party crash testing. It’s very well-built and sturdy, but some cat parents may prefer the peace of mind that a crash-tested carrier offers. Additionally, larger cats or those prone to overheating may want a carrier with more mesh for ventilation. Finally, the Porto offers great value compared to other carriers on the market, but it may be slightly out of budget for some.
Top & front entry
Machine washable removable bed
Converts into cozy bed
Hidden structural panels
Seat belt compatible
Mesh panels for ventilation
Limits stimulation for anxious cats
Tote handles & padded shoulder strap
Folds flat for storage
Interior safety tether
One exterior pocket
Multiple color options
Some cats may prefer more mesh
@tuftandpaw Join us for an exclusive hangout with Zoe, our Director of Product at tuft + paw, as she takes us on a tour of the Porto Cat Carrier. Zoe dives into the details our product design team poured their hearts into perfecting. She highlights the carrier's remarkable features, including its water-resistant canvas, a coated bottom panel for base protection, breathable mesh windows for ventilation and visibility, the convenience of slipping it over luggage handles for effortless airport travel, its compatibility with securing onto a car seat, an outer pocket for storage, a shoulder strap for easy carrying, and internal wires and structural panels that ensure the carrier's shape remains intact, avoiding any sagging or flattening. Moreover, it boasts a built-in name tag for travel and vet visits, the ability to partially unzip for a home away from home experience, and a removable, foldable faux shearling bed for ultimate comfort. For added convenience, it can be fully unzipped and collapsed for easy storage. Loading your cat into the carrier is a breeze, whether from the top or the side entry. The Porto Cat Carrier is available in two sophisticated colors, Sand and Charcoal, to suit your style preferences. 🐾✈️ #catcarriereview#cattravelessentials#bestcatcarrier2023#travelingwithcat#comfycatcarrier#neutralcatcarrier#portocatcarrier#largecatcarrier#cleaningcatcarrierr♬ Cooking, bossa nova, adults, light(950693) - Kids Sound
Price: $195 Rating: 4.3/5 with 78 Diggs reviews Size: 20"L x 10.8"W x 11.5"H WeightLimit: 18 lbs Materials: Nylon, metal hardware
Our runner-up for the best cat carrier for car travel is the Diggs Passenger Travel Carrier, a high quality option for cat parents on the go. This carrier is ideal for car rides thanks to its seat belt compatibility, sturdy build, and most importantly, its 5-star crash rating from the Center for Pet Safety. It’s one of very few pet carriers to receive that certification. The accessibility is excellent with three different entryways—top, front, and side—and we also love the hand-washable foam bed with included pee pads. If you intend to take long car rides with your cat, these features are great insurance in the event of an accident (cat, not car). Nervous cats will also benefit from the low visibility of this carrier, which reduces visual stimulation without sacrificing much ventilation.
Of course, this carrier does have some weaknesses. First among them is price: at $195, it’s definitely out of budget for some cat parents. Some reviewers were frustrated that no instructions were provided, especially considering how many features this carrier boasts. Other reviewers encountered weak stitching, though this was a small minority. Finally, this carrier doesn’t fold flat for storage and is slightly too big for some airlines’ requirements.
Price: $91 Rating: 4.5/5 with 5,500 Amazon reviews Size: 19.68"L x 9.84"W x 9.84"H Weight Limit: 16 lbs Materials: Metal frame, polyester fabric & mesh
Sherpa is better known for their Original Deluxe carrier, but in our opinion, the Forma Frame Travel Carrier is their best model for car travel. This carrier splits the difference between soft and hard carriers by incorporating an interior metal frame and wooden baseboard into a durable fabric body. The frame is inconspicuous and provides valuable structure without infringing on your cat’s space. To take it up another notch, this carrier is seat belt compatible and includes LATCH/ISOFIX tethers so you can secure it like a child’s car seat. Sherpa also claims this carrier is crash-tested by the University of Michigan, but we couldn’t find any evidence of this except on Sherpa’s website. We also love the extra safety features like the locking zippers and interior safety tether.
Worth a separate mention is Sherpa’s Guaranteed-On-Board Program, which will reimburse the cost of a cat parent’s flight if they are denied entry because of the pet carrier’s size. This program applies only to the medium size of this carrier.
Of course, the Sherpa Forma Frame carrier isn’t perfect. It has no trolley sleeve for luggage compatibility and it has no top entryway, which makes getting your cat into and out of the carrier a little more difficult. Some reviews mention stitching coming undone and mesh being chewed through, which may reflect quality inconsistencies. Finally, this carrier is fairly pricey at $91.
Price: $225 Rating: 4.5/5 with 500 Amazon reviews Size: 17"W x 13.5"H WeightLimit: 15 lbs Materials: Nylon outer, polyester mesh and interior fleece, metal zips
If your cat has a serious dislike for conventional carriers, then the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed might be the perfect alternative. This unique carrier is three products in one: a pet carrier, a car seat, and a snuggly bed. This versatility is achieved through Sleepypod’s round design and removable mesh lid. Without the lid, it functions as an unassuming cat bed, allowing your cat to get comfortable without seeing it as a “carrier”. When it’s time to go, just zip on the lid and attach the shoulder strap. In the car, the Sleepypod really shines with its excellent seat belt compatibility and 5-star crash test rating from the Center for Pet Safety. Other features include its machine washable bed liner, water-resistant material, and ample ventilation.
While Sleepypod’s unique design offers great benefits, it also sacrifices features that more conventional carriers provide. First of all, the round shape bumps around a lot when carried by the shoulder strap. Furthermore, the integrity of the carrier relies entirely on one zipper connecting the lower half to the lid—if this zipper breaks, the Sleepypod won’t be usable as a carrier. It’s also too small for really large cats, it’s not compliant with most airlines’ size requirements, it’s not luggage compatible, and a few reviewers found theirs to have an unpleasant plasticky smell. Finally, the Sleepypod is the most expensive carrier on this list at $225.
Price: $50 Rating: 4.8/5 with 2,100 Amazon reviews Size: 20"L x 12"W x 18.5"H Weight Limit: 15 lbs Materials: Metal frame, synthetic fabric & mesh
The Pet Gear View 360 is a great option for cat parents who want a car seat for their feline. Its distinctive design is excellent for car travel thanks to its seat belt compatibility and adjustable hood which provides as much cover or visibility as desired. The hood can be fully, half, or partially opened using the button latches, and the interior safety tether keeps your cat secure all the while. When completely closed, the hood clicks into the frame. The ventilation is exceptional thanks to the mesh siding, the base is firm and structured, and the liner is removable and washable. It's also impressively spacious, which makes it a good carrier for large cats.
Like the Sleepypod, there’s a tradeoff for the Pet Gear View 360’s unique design. It’s truly more of a car seat than a carrier. Case in point: there’s no shoulder strap, just a handle. Its large size also makes it annoying to carry and unsuitable for air travel. The bigger issue, however, is that the push button latches can be accidentally pressed, which opens the carrier (a cat parent’s worst nightmare!). This is a rare occurrence, but a few reviews mention this. Other reviews mention the poor quality velcro straps on the bottom of the carrier which connect the base to the metal frame, and the lack of interior cushioning.
Price: $45 Rating: 4.7/5 with 3,800 Amazon reviews Size: 24"L x 14.5"W x 17"H Weight Limit: 15 lbs Materials: Plastic frame, steel wire
Our final carrier for car travel is the Petmate Two Door Kennel. This classic model is pretty bare bones, but it has everything you need in an affordable hard sided carrier. The plastic body is roomy, well-ventilated, and fairly sturdy for the price. It’s also incredibly easy to clean thanks to the smooth waterproof plastic and interior moat that catches any unexpected liquids. We also love the large front and top entryways, which make it super easy to get your cat inside and securely lock them in.
As a budget pick, the Petmate carrier isn’t particularly deluxe in its build quality or features. There’s no cushioning or interior safety tether included, and it’s too large for in-cabin air travel. It requires assembly and doesn’t fold flat for storage. It also isn’t very compatible with seatbelts, so you’ll have to keep it on the floor behind the front seats when driving. Finally, the plastic quality isn’t great, which makes it more prone to cracks than higher end hard sided carriers.
Hard protective structure
Large enough for XL cats
Easy to clean
Top and front entry
Multiple color options
Interior moat in case of accidents
Not seatbelt compatible
Too big to fit under airplane seats
No interior safety tether
No cushioning included
Doesn’t fold flat
Low quality materials
Traveling with your cat in the car isn’t always a pleasant task, but with the right cat carrier you can make your life (and your cat’s) much easier. We hope this list has provided you with some insights on what to look for and which carrier might be right for you and your cat. Our top choice is the tuft + paw Porto Cat Carrier for its versatility, high quality materials, and design. A close second is the Diggs Passenger Travel Carrier thanks of its great build quality, 5-star CPS crash certification, and general ease of use. If you want something similar but more cost effective, then the Sherpa Forma Frame is a great option. For more specialized carriers, the Sleepypod or Pet Gear View 360 could be the way to go. Rounding out our top picks is the Petmate Two Door Kennel, which is perfect for those on a budget in need of a dependable, simple carrier. Any of these should serve you well. Good luck and safe travels!