Traveling with your feline friend can be a wonderful experience, but it's crucial to ensure their comfort and safety during the journey. One of the key decisions cat owners face is choosing between hard or soft sided carriers. This comprehensive guide will explore the preferences of cats when it comes to their temporary mobile homes.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding whether cats prefer hard or soft sided carriers is essential for their comfort and safety during travel.
  • Both types of carriers have unique advantages that cater to different needs and situations.
  • Personal preference of the cat, along with the type of travel, should guide the choice of carrier.

The Great Debate: Hard vs. Soft Sided Carriers

When it comes to transporting our feline companions, the question often arises: do cats prefer hard or soft sided carriers? The answer isn't straightforward, as it depends on various factors including the cat's personality, the travel situation, and the specific features of the carrier itself.

Hard Sided Carriers: The Traditional Choice

Hard sided carriers, often made of durable materials like hard plastic, are known for their sturdiness and protection. They typically come with a secure door, usually made of steel wire or plastic mesh, ensuring your cat stays safely inside. Many cats feel secure in these solid enclosures, as they provide a safe space that doesn't flex or change shape.

Soft Sided Carriers: Comfort Meets Convenience

Soft carriers, on the other hand, are made from flexible materials like nylon or canvas. They often resemble a tote bag or a shoulder bag and come with zippered doors and windows made of plastic mesh. These carriers are lighter and can be more comfortable for the cat, as they often include a soft bed inside.

Size Matters: Ensuring Enough Room

Regardless of the type, ensuring there is enough room for your cat to turn around and lie down comfortably is crucial. A carrier that's too small can make a cat feel insecure, while one that's too large can be difficult to carry and may not provide the feeling of a secure den that many cats love.

The Journey Type: Short Trips vs. Longer Distances

The length of your travel can influence the type of carrier you choose. For short trips, such as to the emergency clinic or a local vet, a hard carrier might be sufficient. However, for longer trips or longer distances, a soft carrier might provide more comfort for your kitty.

Storage and Portability: Traveling Light

When not in use, soft carriers usually offer easy storage as they can be folded down, unlike their hard counterparts. This makes them ideal for cat owners with limited storage space. Additionally, soft carriers often come with shoulder straps, making them easier to carry than most hard carriers.

Temperature Control: Keeping Your Cat Comfy

When considering a pet carrier, temperature control is an essential factor that often goes overlooked. Soft sided carriers typically offer better insulation than their hard sided carrier counterparts, which can be crucial for maintaining a comfortable environment for your cat inside.

The soft fabric walls provide a cozy barrier against the cold, while still allowing for sufficient airflow during warmer conditions. This can be especially important for smaller cats who may be more susceptible to temperature changes.

On the other hand, hard cat carriers made of plastic carriers might not offer the same level of insulation, but they often have more openings or vents that can be adjusted to regulate the temperature. This can be beneficial if you're traveling in variable climates or if your cat likes a bit more of a breeze.

However, it's important to ensure that these carriers are kept out of direct sunlight, as they can heat up quickly, making them less comfortable for your pet.

Travel Stress: Minimizing Anxiety for Your Cat

When it comes to reducing travel stress for your feline friends, the choice between a hard cat carrier and a soft cat carrier can be significant. A soft sided carrier often provides a cozier environment, which can help soothe anxious pets.

The soft walls can give a sense of security, akin to being nestled in a safe nook. On the other hand, some cats might feel more protected in a hard cat carrier due to its sturdy structure, which can shield them from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.

However, it's not just about the type of carrier. Consider adding familiar scents or a favorite blanket inside the carrier, whether it's a hard or soft one, to make the space more inviting.

For cats that are particularly nervous travelers, a trial period with the carrier at home, allowing them to explore and get comfortable with it, can make all the difference. Remember, the goal is to create a positive association with the carrier, regardless of its type, to ease your cat's travel anxiety.

Durability and Longevity: Cardboard vs. Soft Carriers

When considering the durability and longevity of cat carriers, the choice between a cardboard carrier and soft ones can be significant. Cardboard carriers are often seen as a temporary solution, ideal for short, one-time uses such as bringing a new kitten home from the shelter.

They are not designed for repeated use, as they can easily succumb to wear and tear, especially if exposed to moisture or a cat's sharp claws. On the other hand, soft carriers are typically made from robust fabrics that can withstand the rigors of travel and repeated use.

Soft carriers not only offer a more permanent travel solution but also come with the added benefit of being machine washable or easy to clean by hand. This is a stark contrast to cardboard carriers, which are more challenging to clean and can retain odors. Soft-sided carriers are built to last, often featuring reinforced stitching and high-quality zippers.

For cat owners looking for a carrier that will serve them well over time, investing in a soft-sided carrier is a wise choice, providing both durability and ease of maintenance.

Comfort and Security: The Cardboard Carrier Advantage

While soft carriers are generally more popular due to their comfort and convenience, there is a unique advantage to using a cardboard carrier that should not be overlooked.

Cardboard carriers can provide a sense of security for cats, as the enclosed space and solid walls offer a cozy, den-like atmosphere that can be comforting to felines, especially those who are nervous or stressed. The opacity of cardboard can help shield cats from overstimulation, making them feel hidden and safe during transport.

However, it's important to note that the comfort provided by cardboard carriers is often short-lived due to their disposable nature. In contrast, soft carriers are designed with comfort in mind, featuring padded floors and mesh panels for ventilation. Many soft ones also include adjustable straps and pockets for storing treats and toys, which can help keep your cat calm and entertained during travel.

For cat owners who prioritize their pet's long-term comfort and security, a well-constructed soft-sided carrier is the superior choice, offering a snug and secure environment for their feline friends.

Alternative Carriers: Thinking Outside the Box

Sometimes, pet parents might find themselves in a pinch without a traditional pet carrier. In such cases, alternative solutions like cardboard carriers or even a laundry basket can come to the rescue.

Cardboard carriers are a lightweight and often inexpensive option, suitable for short, one-time trips. They can be more space-efficient than hard carriers and are disposable, which can be convenient after use. However, they lack the durability and security of a hard cat carrier and are not suitable for long-term use.

For a quick vet visit or an emergency, a sturdy laundry basket with secure fastenings can serve as a makeshift carrier. While not ideal, it's better than carrying a cat in your arms, which can be unsafe. Ensure that the laundry basket has ample ventilation and is secured with a lid or net to prevent escapes.

It's worth noting that these alternatives should only be used as a last resort and half times, investing in a proper soft or hard cat carrier is the best choice for regular travel, providing safety, comfort, and peace of mind for both you and your cat.

Accessibility and Ease of Use: For You and Your Feline

Accessibility is a key consideration for pet owners when choosing the right carrier. Soft cat carriers often come with multiple access points, making it easier to place your cat inside without too much fuss. The flexibility of the material can also be less intimidating for cats, allowing them to snuggle into their temporary cat bed as if it were a familiar safe space.

Additionally, soft counterparts tend to be lighter and may come with features like shoulder straps or even convert into a cat stroller, offering versatility in transport.

In contrast, hard cat carriers are generally more rigid in design, but they can provide a sense of security for both the pet and the owner. The sturdy structure ensures that the carrier remains stable, which can be particularly reassuring when placed on a car seat next to the steering wheel or when carrying it by hand. 

Most carriers of the hard variety also feature a handle on top, which can make them easier to lift, although they may not offer the same level of comfort during longer journeys as a rolling carrier or other carriers designed for extended travel.

Safety First: Ensuring a Secure Trip

Safety should always be a top priority when choosing a carrier. Hard carriers are generally considered safer in the event of an impact, as they provide a more rigid barrier around the cat. Soft carriers, while they may offer cushioning, might not protect as well against strong forces.

Air Travel: Fitting Under the Airplane Seat

For those traveling by air, soft carriers have the advantage of being more likely to fit under the airplane seat. Their flexible materials can squeeze into tight spaces, making them a popular choice for cat owners who fly with their pets.

Cleaning and Maintenance: Keeping It Tidy

Cleaning is another aspect to consider. Hard carriers can be easily wiped down and disinfected, while soft carriers may require machine washing or more detailed cleaning due to the fabric absorbing odors and stains.

Personal Preference: What Does Your Cat Like?

Ultimately, your cat's personal preference plays a significant role. Some cats may feel more secure in the enclosed space of a hard carrier, while others might prefer the softness and warmth of a soft one. Observing your cat's behavior can help you make the best choice.

Multiple Cats: Separate Carriers or One for Both?

If you have two cats, you might wonder if it's better to have separate carriers or one large enough for both. Generally, it's recommended to have separate carriers to prevent stress and potential aggression between the cats during travel.

Special Features: Doors, Windows, and Extras

Carriers come with different features like top loading doors, two doors for easy access, and windows for ventilation. Some soft carriers also come with pockets for storing food and water bowls, cat food, or even a small litter box.

The Verdict: Balancing Needs and Preferences

Choosing the best cat carrier depends on balancing the needs of your travel situation with the preferences of your furry friend. Both hard and soft carriers have their place, and the best choice may vary from one cat to another.


In the quest to determine whether cats prefer hard or soft sided carriers, it's clear that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The decision should be based on a combination of factors including the cat's comfort, the type of travel, and the specific features of the carrier.

By considering your cat's personal preference and the practical aspects of travel, you can ensure a safe and comfortable journey for your beloved pet.

FAQ Section

Can I use a soft carrier for all types of travel?

While soft carriers are versatile and comfortable, they may not be suitable for all travel situations. For air travel, they are often preferred, but for car travel, a hard carrier might provide better protection.

How do I know if my cat prefers a hard or soft carrier?

You can gauge your cat's preference by introducing them to both types of carriers in a stress-free environment. See which one they are more drawn to and seem more comfortable in.

Is it safe to carry two cats in one carrier?

It's generally not recommended to carry two cats in one carrier, especially for longer trips, as it can cause stress and potential aggression. It's best to use separate carriers for each cat.

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