Hard or Soft Cat Carrier?

white mould of cat stuck to blue square paper


Choosing between a hard or soft cat carrier means understanding what you’re going to be using it for. Traveling cross-country in a car with your cat may require a different carrier than if you’re taking a pet to the veterinarian.

If you’re traveling with your cat by aeroplane, then things become a little more complicated as airlines have strict regulations for the carriage of animals. Depending on where your pet will be spending the flight — inside the cabin or in the aircraft’s hold — dictates which carrier you can take on board.

And what if your cat is a little adventurer — what about backpacks for carrying cats?

It’s hardly the most thrilling of shopping dilemmas but picking out the best hard or soft cat carrier for your pet is worth taking some time to think over.

One thing that’s worth mentioning is that you shouldn’t be using a cardboard carrier to transport your cat.  These temporary boxes are fine for a hop between a shelter or breeder and your home, but they’re not really suitable for repeated use.  Your pet is far safer in a solid box — fabric or plastic.

A second point to be made is that transporting a cat in a car without a carrier is dangerous.  You’re putting your life, the lives of any passengers, other road-users and your cat’s life at risk.  

SOME cats are chilled enough to sit on a seat and enjoy the ride but most aren’t.  It’s better to be safe than sorry. Carriers can also provide protection for your pet in the event of a road accident.  If you’re looking for advice on taking your cat with you on the road, then we’ve got a post that you might find useful and it’s all about the best cat carrier for long car trips. If you’ve previously allowed your cat to roam freely inside the car, then you might be interested to read more about cat car barriers. These mesh dividers give pets room to walk freely in the interior of the vehicle whilst still keeping them contained in the back of the car and away from the driver.

Choosing a Hard or Soft Cat Carrier

Unless you’re traveling with your cat by aeroplane, then you can pick the carrier most suited to your cat’s personality.  Generally, cats prone to anxiety or aggression when they travel — scratching, clawing and biting, for example — will do better in a hard carrier. Cats with more placid personalities may prefer a fabric carrier.

Think about what you’re physically able to carry, too.  Some plastic carriers are heavy even before you put an animal inside.  A fabric one may have additional shoulder and hand straps for carrying or even wheels to help distribute weight.

For most people, however, the cat will be secured inside a proper carrier for transport: one you can easily zip, clip or lock so that the animal isn’t able to escape from the box to cause harm either to themselves or to others.

If you’re traveling by aeroplane, then you’ll need to refer to the airline’s regulations.  It’s sometimes possible to fly with your cat in the cabin of the aircraft for which you’ll best be served with a soft carrier that can be pushed under the seat in front of you.  For traveling in the hold of the aircraft, you’ll need a hard carrier. If you’re looking for the best cat carrier for airline travel, then we have a previous post on just that subject.


White long-haired cat behind cat carrier grill


Hard Cat Carrier

Hard cat carriers are made of stronger and more durable materials than fabric ones are.  Most people feel more confident in putting their animals into a plastic carrier as it offers more robust protection for the animal inside.

Hard carriers are often made of plastic and have a plastic or metal grill on the front.

Some hard carriers are front-loading where the cat can only be put in or taken out of the box by unhitching or unlocking the front grate.  Other carriers have an additional top-loading opening accessed by unclipping or unscrewing the top of the box from the bottom.  This makes access easier and can sometimes enable a veterinarian to examine an animal inside the carrier.  Top-loading carriers are often considered to be the best cat carrier for difficult cats.

Nervous or aggressive cats can bite or claw through mesh and fabric but it’s much harder for them to escape a well constructed hard carrier.  If you’re particularly worried that your cat is an escape artist, then a metal grate that secures tightly will add additional security as opposed to a plastic one with clips.

Hard carriers are easier to clean.

Disadvantages to a Hard Carrier

Hard carriers generally aren’t as comfortable for a cat as a soft one. Paws will slip and slide when the box is in motion and that can add to an animal’s anxiety.  Although, adding towels or blankets will help with this.

Most hard carriers won’t flatten down when not in use.  You can sometimes separate a top-loading carrier into two halves but it won’t compact down as a fabric one will. Finding space for it in a smaller home can, therefore, be difficult.

Hard carriers can be heavy even without a cat inside.  If you struggle to carry things, then a traditional plastic carrier might not be suitable.

Soft Cat Carrier

A cat should feel more comfortable in a soft carrier.  It’ll be easier for them to sit or lie down, too.

Fabric cat carriers are lighter to carry and often come with a shoulder strap or handle.

There’s often multiple openings which makes getting the cats in and out easier.  It saves you having to ‘tip’ them out as is sometimes the case with front-loading hard carriers.

Soft carriers are much easier to store and ideal in homes where space is at a premium.

Some soft carriers have an expandable area which opens out into what some call ‘a patio’, this allows your cat to stretch its legs a little whilst still remaining inside the safety of the carrier. This is perfect if you’re traveling many miles with your cat but don’t feel comfortable letting them out.

Soft carriers often have paperwork pockets that can make airline travel much easier.  You can store documents and treats on the outside the bag without having to rummage through your own luggage.

Disadvantages of Soft-Carriers

Claws and teeth can sometimes make light work of a soft carrier so they’re really only suitable for calm cats.

You may have to put something on the bottom of the carrier to stop it sagging. Fabric-based carriers can sometimes bow under the weight of heavier cats and this might not be comfortable for animal or the person carrying it.

Soft carriers are harder to clean. You can’t wipe them down as easily as hard ones.

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing between a hard or soft cat carrier.  It’s down to the personality of your cat and your needs as an owner as well as for whatever you’re using the carrier for.  Fortunately, carriers are relatively inexpensive and widely available both online and in-stores.


A gray cat sitting in a shiny gray gift bag.


General Advice for Both Hard and Soft Carriers

If you have trouble bending or lifting, then you’ll need to factor in the size and weight of the carrier and whether you’ll be able to lift and walk with it.  Some carriers have alternate straps. Some can have wheels added on.

The cat should be able to stand up, lie down and turn around comfortably.

General advice is that the carrier is 1.5 times bigger than the cat. Don’t be tempted to get a carrier that’s too big as cats prefer smaller spaces.  The bigger the carrier then the more they’ll tip around and slide about inside.

Make the inside as comfortable and as calming as you can.  You can spray synthetic pheromones over any blankets and toys. It’s also possible to use medicine to calm cats for travel.

Carriers with multiple openings are useful if you’re concerned that it’ll be difficult getting your animal in and out of the carrier.  Top-loading carriers are a good idea if you have a nervous cat.

The carrier should be well ventilated.

If you’re travelling long-distance, then the carrier should be large enough to include a food and drink bowl.  In a car, you might also like to fit in a litter box.

The sooner you can introduce the cat to the box the better. It’s important to acclimatise the animal – preferably from the age of a kitten.  Do this by leaving the carrier out in a communal space of your home and letting your cat interact with it. By getting used to the crate, the animal shouldn’t be so fearful of climbing inside the into it next time you need to take them anywhere.


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