The Best Travel Carrier for Cats and Small Dogs

After interviewing seven pet travel experts, researching 28 pet carriers, and lugging eight of them around lower Manhattan over two weeks, we think the Sherpa Original Deluxe Carrier is the best soft-sided pet carrier for most cats and small dogs. It is durable, has multiple ways to load and unload your pet, is well-ventilated, is available in multiple sizes, and meets the under-seat requirements of most airlines.

Our pick

This durable carrier has a flexible wire frame that can compress down to fit into tight spaces, and it’s available in several sizes to accommodate more pets.

The Sherpa Original Deluxe Carrier comes in three sizes to accommodate pets up to 22 pounds, and its durable outer shell and ventilation windows will withstand even the sharpest little claws. It has better airflow than most other carriers we tested, has top and side openings that are easy to get your pet in and out through, and is flexible enough to squeeze into smaller spaces. The small and medium sizes are great for air travel and public transit, though the included shoulder strap doesn’t provide much support while walking, and like almost all soft carriers, the Sherpa doesn’t provide enough protection for your pet in a car crash. Like most carriers we tested, it has only a one-year limited warranty.


Kurgo offers a thinner bag with a standout warranty and more ventilation per square inch than our pick.

If you can’t find the Sherpa, or are deterred by the short warranty policies of most pet carriers, the Kurgo Wander Carrier is a solid choice. Its polyester shell is thinner and less resistant to abrasion than Sherpa’s, so we don’t expect it to hold up as well as for owners of destructive cats and dogs, and it comes in just one size, similar to the medium Sherpa pick, so smaller animals may have too much room to rattle around. But it has a lifetime warranty—Sherpa has only a one-year plan—and more ventilation per square inch than our other picks. But like the Sherpa and most other soft carriers, it doesn’t offer adequate crash protection for car rides.

Upgrade pick

This soft-sided carrier is the only one we looked at with crash test certification—and its winged edges make it easier to fit under an airplane seat.

If you drive and fly with your pet constantly and want to make sure they’re as safe as possible, consider the Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier. It’s substantially more expensive than our other picks, but it’s one of only two carriers we tested that has been independently certified as crash-test safe when connected to a seat belt (and the only one to do so without an expensive attachment), so it’s safer for frequent car use than the other carriers we tested. Its shape is longer, thicker, and more durable than the medium Sherpa’s, but it still fits under airline seats, thanks to ends that fold up like wings. Even getting your pet into the carrier is easier, thanks to its opening design that unzips in one long motion from front to tail. It doesn’t have as much ventilation as either the Sherpa or Kurgo, but it still has enough—we’re not worried about it being unsafe for a pet.