What Size Cat Carrier Should You Get?

A cat sitting in a hard-shell carrier.

One of the most important items every cat owner should have is a carrier. A cat carrier allows you to transport your cat in a way that is both safe and comfortable for your cat and less of a headache for you. Carriers are also required if you plan on taking your cat with you on most forms of public transport.

When shopping for carriers, there are two things you need to keep in mind. The carrier’s size and type. Carriers are usually broken down into two common types, hard shell, and soft carriers. There are some additional types of carriers out there like the rolling carriers but we won't be covering those carriers today. Size is pretty self-explanatory, it’s how big or small the carrier is. Today we will share with you some helpful tips you should keep in mind when selecting a carrier for your cat.

Picking a Size

Before we can start worrying about the type of carrier we need we must first figure out our size range. Having the nicest soft or hard carrier doesn’t matter much if it’s too big or too small for your cat to travel in comfortably. 

The first step to figuring out our size range is to measure our cat's height and length. You can do this by getting your cat to stand up against or near a wall and measuring its height from paws to ears. When measuring the length you’ll want to measure from your cat’s tail to its nose. Once you have your measurements down you’ll need to multiply the height and length by 1.5. The two resulting measurements are the minimum size carrier you’ll want to pick up for your cat. 

This size range will be perfect for taking your cat to and from the vet or the groomer. Basically, short trips in the car are when this size case is ideal. However, if you’re planning on taking your cat with you on longer trips, long car rides, planes, trains, etc., you’ll want to get a case a little bigger than the 1.5x we suggested above. This is because you want to make room for food and water bowls as well as a small litter box for your cat. It will also give your cat more room to stretch out and lower your cat’s chances of becoming anxious.

A cat wrapped in measuring tape.

Make sure you put the measuring tape away! Image courtesy of Four-Paws

Soft or Hard-Shell?

Now that we have the general size range out of the way we can talk about the specifics between soft and hard carriers. There are things to consider for both so let's run through some of them. 

Soft Carriers

Soft carriers are made from softer materials like nylon. They are lightweight making them a good choice for people with lifting disabilities and older cat owners. This is also nice if you need to carry the case for long periods of time, like when you're walking through an airport. These cases are often more comfortable for your cat than hard shell carriers because of the material they are made from and the extra padding. These carriers are also much easier to store than hard shell cases because of the material they are built from they can be folded down to fit into different storage spaces.

Unfortunately, all is not perfect with these carriers. Soft carriers can be damaged much more easily than hard carriers, by both outside elements and your cat. These cases won't protect well from other objects bumping into them which is something to consider when taking your cat with you on long trips or vacations. If your cat finds the case uncomfortable or desires to be let out, he/she can very easily damage a soft carrier with its claws or teeth.

The last thing to keep in mind with soft carriers is that they will be more difficult to clean than hard carriers. Nylon and mesh are much more likely to hold odors and are easier to stain than hard cases. You're really going to have to scrub in order to get these cases clean or put them in the washing machine if it is safe to do so. You're also going to need to wash these far more often than you would a hard shell carrier.

A cat chilling in a soft carrier.

For maximum comfort, soft carriers are the way to go! Image courtesy of Pawp

Hard Carriers

While not quite as comfortable as the soft carriers and nowhere near as light, hard shell cases provide their own unique benefits that make them worth considering. To start, these carriers are by no means uncomfortable, they just aren't as comfortable as soft carriers. You can think of it like sleeping on a spring mattress vs sleeping on a memory foam mattress. Both are comfortable to sleep on but one is more comfortable than the other.

If you're looking to add some comfort to the carrier you can try putting a small cat bed or blankets on the bottom of the carrier so your cat has something soft to sit on. Most hard cases are going to come with a padded floor for this very reason. 

The real value of the hard carriers come from the security they provide your cat while inside. These carriers will protect your cat from objects, liquids, and elements. They are also really durable so they tend to last a long time. 

Some carriers also come with additional elements that may make things easier for you and your cat. Some cases come with two doors, one in the front of the case and one on top of the case. The top door can be a great way of getting your cat in and out of the carrier. 

These cases are also much easier to clean than soft cases, as most of them are made out of plastic. They also won't hold odors as easily as the soft carriers. Unfortunately you won't be able to put these carriers in the washer and you may have a harder time storing these carriers than you will soft carriers.

A cat getting into a hard-shell carrier with two doors.

Here you can see both the front and top doors of the hard carrier. Image courtesy of Insider


When it comes down to hard carriers vs. soft carriers there really isn't a clear winner. They both excel at different things so it may be best to consider what kind of traveling you’ll be doing before making your decision. Soft carriers are better suited for short-term travel like visits to the vet or groomers. Hard carriers are better suited for long-distance travel like train and plane rides. If you're really having trouble deciding between the two you can always invest in both and use each one in the situations that call for them. So long as the carrier you get is 1.5x larger than your cat you should be good to go.

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