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Selecting the Best Cat Carrier

By: Karen Commings

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If getting your cat into his carrier is a clawing nightmare, you may not have the right carrier for your pet. The type of carrier you have may greatly affect his desire to get into it as well as his comfort while traveling.

Cats unhappy about their surroundings in a car or other moving vehicle may howl, yowl, experience stress and be generally miserable. If you must take your cat to the veterinarian, the stress experienced from the trip may raise his pulse and breathing rate, and may even cause exaggerated glucose (sugar) readings on his blood tests.

The type of carrier also may affect how easily you are able to transport your cat. When purchasing a carrier, give careful consideration to your needs and those of your cat.

Getting the Right Carrier

One of the most important considerations is the size of the carrier. Is it large enough for your cat? Squeezing big Ben into a carrier that was made for tiny Tim will reduce Ben's desire to travel. If you adopted a cute little kitten, consider getting a carrier that will accommodate him as an adult rather than a small carrier that you will have to replace in a year or two. In addition, all carriers must have a few standard features.

  • Ventilation. Any cat, but especially one that is stressed by traveling, needs to have the flow of air through the carrier to accommodate a possible increased breathing rate. Most cat carriers have vents on at least three sides to allow ample air to pass through. If your trip is lengthy or if your cat is shipped in the cargo hold of an airplane, adequate ventilation is an important feature. Another important feature for those long trips is an attached bowl for water so your cat doesn't become dehydrated.

  • Security. Make certain it can be latched securely. Dial latch systems or pinch latches don't accidentally come loose. This is especially important if your cat is traveling by airplane. If the carrier comes in two parts, a top and a bottom, make sure that whatever prongs fasten the two parts together are strong enough to hold if the carrier is jostled. Metal nuts and bolts are typically stronger than plastic and less likely to break.

  • Top-loading feature. Many cats are more easily placed in a carrier from the top rather than the side or front. Top-loading carriers are a more recent invention; they satisfy those cat owners whose cats put up a fuss when the owner tries to shove them into a carrier head first. Placing a cat into a carrier feet first is often easier and less stressful for the cat and owner. Top-loading carriers come in a variety of styles including one that looks like a basket and can be carried over the arm.

  • Hard-sided vs. soft-sided construction. Carriers are required for all airline transportation. The size depends on whether your cat is being shipped in the cargo hold or under the seat in front of you. Before transporting a cat via airplane, contact the airlines for their carrier specifications well in advance of your trip. Animals must be scheduled ahead of time, so don't wait until you must fly and assume that you can just carry your cat on board as luggage.

    Soft-sided construction. Carriers are more likely to soften any blow to your cat from sliding or jostling during a trip, but they also may have less ventilation and less room to move around. In warm weather, a soft-sided carrier may be too warm. For agoraphobic cats that prefer to become invisible when they are taken on a ride, the smaller, more enclosed size of a soft-sided carrier may help make the cat feel more secure. On short trips, such as to the veterinarian's office, a soft-sided carrier may be fine for your cat and easier for you to handle.

    A soft-sided carrier is difficult to clean if your cat has a potty-accident while being transported. Soft-sided carriers usually come with straps that can be positioned around your neck or over your shoulder. Avoid backpack-style carriers or those that allow the pet's head to extend out the top. Cats should be observed rather than be carried behind one's back, and they can easily escape carriers that don't close completely.

  • Human needs. Some carrier features are intended to appeal to the human rather than the animal, so take into consideration what your needs are as well as those of your cat. Cost may be a consideration for you. Carriers of all sizes come in all price ranges. If you are never going to transport your cat via airplane or take him on a long trip, a less expensive carrier may do just fine. If you have limited space to store a carrier, check out collapsible or fold-away types. If you have trouble lifting a carrier, especially with your cat in it, buy a carrier with wheels and a pull-strap so you can roll him where he needs to go.

    Cat Carrier Tips

    Let your cat become accustomed to his carrier. Leave the carrier open in an accessible place every so often. Put a comfortable bed or blanket inside so your cat will venture in to sleep. Once in the carrier, give your cat some treats (or catnip) so he will associate being inside with something positive.

    When it is time for your cat to be placed in the carrier, put the carrier in a room your cat normally does not frequent. Then let your cat in the room. His curious nature will make him voluntarily walk into the carrier by himself.

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