When traveling with a pet, you need one very important thing: a good carrier for the journey. Chief veterinary officer of Heart + Paw, Dr. George Melillo, explains that proper use of a pet carrier starts before you’ve even made your reservations. “The most important piece of advice is to acclimate your pet to a carrier. This facilitates vet visits as well as travel,” he says. “Having a carrier in the home that is a welcome place to find toys or treats takes time, but ultimately makes travel less stressful.”
With so many different options on the market, how the heck do you choose the right pet carrier for your precious poopsie? Ideally, you’d tap veterinarians for their own personal opinions. Well, what do you know? We did that, right here.
Pet carrier backpacks
“Backpack carriers are a fun, easy way to bring your pet along while keeping him safe and your hands free,” says Dr. Kristin Wuellner, a licensed veterinarian at Hills Pet Nutrition. On choosing one, she says, “Your small dog or cat should be able to comfortably relax, meaning she should have enough room to turn around and lay down.”
Kenneth Cole Reaction Pet Carrier (starting at $79.99; amazon.com)
This roomy, stylish backpack comes in three sizes so you can find one that perfectly fits your pet. The pack has plenty of mesh for ventilation (especially important, notes Wuellner, for pets who tend to overheat).
PetAmi Deluxe Pet Carrier Backpack ($39.99; amazon.com)
Available in nine colors, this sturdy backpack carrier totes fur pals of up to 18 pounds. It’s made with mesh for that all-important breathability. It even comes with a name tag and a collapsible water bowl.
Paws & Pals Rolling Backpack ($39.98; amazon.com)
If you’re on the fence about a backpack carrier, the versatility of this model may win you over. It has wheels, allowing you to opt for pulling your pooch behind you when it’s more convenient. It boasts plenty of mesh for visibility, a telescoping handle and handy zippered pockets.
Airline-approved pet carriers
While these picks are generally airline approved, different airlines can have slightly different requirements. It never hurts to double-check.
Sherpa Original Deluxe Airline-Approved Pet Carrier (starting at $39.99; amazon.com)
Melillo tells us that Sherpa is a brand he often recommends to his clients looking for a carrier. Available in four sizes, this flight-ready carrier has mesh walls and a machine-washable faux lambskin liner.
Prodigen Airline-Approved Pet Carrier (starting at $24.99; amazon.com)
This carrier is approved by many major airlines. It offers self-locking zippers for extra security, and keeps cats and toy breed dogs weighing up to 15 pounds snug and comfy. You can pick from four colors.
Wild One Travel Carrier ($125; wildone.com)
This carrier is another favorite of Melillo’s and the pet parents he serves. It has a pocket that will attach to most rolling suitcases — so convenient! It has well-ventilated walls and a removable cushion that can double as a dog bed when you reach your final destination.
Small pet carriers
For small dogs and cats, Dr. Sarah Wooten, veterinarian and veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance, suggests “a soft-sided crate that can fit under the seat in front of you. Also, it’s helpful if both the top and sides can be zipped open.”
Sherpa Ultimate on Wheels Dog and Cat Carrier ($65.99, originally $152.05; chewy.com)
The Sherpa Ultimate lets you access your pet from either the front or the side. Plus, it has wheels too if you need easier navigation through a crowded airport. One of Melillo’s favorite carriers, it fits under most airline seats with no problem.
Frisco Premium Dog and Cat Carrier (starting at $29.17; chewy.com)
This budget-friendly, soft-sided carrier lets you reach in to comfort your pet from either the top or the side. It fits under most airline seats, while locking zippers keep your pet from becoming an escape artist.
Maskeyon Airline-Approved Pet Carrier ($59.99, originally $79.99; amazon.com)
This carrier wins over pet parents with its unique versatility. The sides of this carrier, which are made of mesh to boost ventilation and visibility, extend out, kind of like a camping tent. When you arrive at your destination, your pet has more room to spread out.
Large pet carriers
If you’re the proud parent of a big pup or kitty, you’re going to need a crate, aka a kennel, for air travel. You may well want one for your road trip too, depending on how comfortable you are with Rufus lumbering around your SUV.
Wooten briefed us. “Look for a hard-sided crate that complies with International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live Animal Regulations and TSA regulations for flight travel, or has a crash safety rating for car travel.” Especially for air travel, the crate should be large enough so that the dog can turn around and stand up without their ears touching the top, she adds.
Petmate Sky Kennel (starting at $62.95, originally starting at $94.99; chewy.com)
This product is recommended by Wooten, and is also a favorite of Melillo’s clientele. It comes in six sizes. Included are clip-on bowls and special identification stickers. It meets most airline cargo requirements. “It can also be tied down for car use,” Wooten informs us.
SportPet Airline-Approved Dog Crate (starting at $51.99; amazon.com)
This crate, available in sizes up to XXXL, is approved by the IATA and meets most airline cargo requirements. Clip-on bowls will keep Bowser fed and watered during his journey. The wheels are removable. A fleece bed that fits perfectly inside is available separately.
Petmate Aspen Pet Porter (starting at $79.99; amazon.com)
This kennel meets all IATA requirements and comes in four sizes. The door has a latch that enables it to be opened with one hand, convenient when you’re on the go. One happy reviewer notes that it’s really easy to assemble. Another lauds it as the only crate her hound could not chew through.