What type of cat carrier you will need depends on the type of travel - car travel and airline travel can be very different for your cat.
A hard-shell carrier is good to have for your pet for everyday life. This type of carrier has a solid plastic bottom and top, with air vents in the side. They can come with either metal or plastic gates at the front. I prefer metal - I find it to be more secure and longer lasting. Metal is also more suitable for airline travel in the cargo hold.
Hard shell cat carriers also allow for easier clean up in case of accidents and don't retain odors. Make sure to choose a size suitable for the size of your cat.
Soft sided carriers can be more personalized - they come in a variety of colours and styles to choose from. These are more suited to cats who are calmer while traveling. If your cat is very anxious they could rip the mesh air vents accidentally and escape or get stuck. More creative cats have also been known to work their paw between the zipper and the material and set themselves free. Some soft sided carriers have a ring on the inside to hook a short leash to just in case your cat figures out the zipper trick. Also, a removable bottom pad is good for clean up.
Some airlines will allow the cat in the cabin only if the cat carrier fits under your seat. This can sometimes be a tight fit - ask the airline for their maximum size allowable (length, width and height). A soft sided carrier can sometimes give you a bit more give when fitting under the seat. After you know the maximum dimensions, take a measuring tape to the pet store when picking a carrier. Watch out for trim and leather piping on the edges of the carrier - airlines can count this in the final measurement!
Check with your airline again a few days before departure - sometimes the requirements change between booking your flight and departure day. This will save you missing your flight - or worse, having to find other last minute arrangements for your cat that you may not be comfortable with.
If your cat is flying in the cargo hold the airline will require you to have a hard shell carrier.
This is for the safety of your cat - the cargo hold is full of large
luggage and if a piece should fall onto the carrier it could crush your
cat if the carrier is not solid.
The hard shell and metal gate will also prevent your cat from escaping - if the airlines allow it, it is a good idea to use a small luggage-sized lock on your cat carrier. You may have to drill a small hole in the plastic near the gate. Hook the lock through the hole and through the metal edging of the gate. This will prevent the gate accidentally getting caught and popping open in the cargo hold. The airline also wants to protect the other passengers' luggage, and the hard plastic bottom will not allow urine to leak out.
When you purchase a carrier for airline travel, ask about the return policy if the airline changes the requirements.
Water is essential for traveling with cats. You can get bowls that latch onto the front of a hard shell carrier. If your pet is going in the cargo hold, try freezing water in the bowls before leaving. The water will melt slowly during the trip and won't all spill out during takeoff or a bumpy flight.
If your cat is going with you in the passenger compartment, you
will not be allowed to bring a bowl of water, frozen or not. Bring an
empty bowl and an empty water bottle. Ask the flight attendant to fill
the water bottle in-flight and pour in your cat's bowl as needed.
Return To Cat Packing List
Return From Cat Carrier To Traveling With Cat