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The Best Travel Carrier for Cats and Small Dogs: Wirecutter Reviews


A dog stepping out of our upgrade pick for best travel carrier for cats and dogs.
Photo: Michelle McSwain

Upgrade pick

Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier

The Sleepypod Air In-Cabin Pet Carrier is much more expensive than our other picks, but it’s the only soft-sided pet carrier brand that’s crash-test certified by the Center for Pet Safety, so it’s worthwhile if you have a pet that spends a lot of time on the road, especially a cat. In addition to being the only carrier that can be safely attached to a car seat without additional accessories, it had the highest quality construction of any bag we tested, its convertible design lets you adjust how much space it takes up on the fly, and its zippered design lets you both open it wider than most other bags, and collapse it down smaller when not in use. But it also has comparatively little ventilation, and is almost six times the price of our main pick.

Sleepypod Air is sold in one size (22 by 10.5 by 10 inches) and can accommodate dogs up to 15 pounds and cats up to 18 pounds, which may vary depending on your pet’s body type. Unlike the vast majority of pet carriers, the Sleepypod Air is certified by the Center for Pet Safety and passed its rigorous tensile and crash testing. If your cat racks up a lot of miles in the car, the Sleepypod could be worth the considerable extra expense. (For road dogs, a Sherpa or Kurgo carrier and a CPS-certified car restraint harness will still be about $70 less than a Sleepypod.)

Sleepypod’s products feature the company’s Pet Passenger Restraint System, which safely secures a pet during a sudden vehicle stop or front-end accident. If there is an accident, Sleepypod will replace or provide a new pet carrier at a discount (and sometimes for free), even if your existing pet carrier is from another brand, as part of its Sleepypod Crash Replacement Program.

It’s one of two carriers tested that unzips in one long strip, from front to top to back. (The Pet Magasin unzips from front to bottom to back.) It’s a nice feature if you need more loading room than traditional carriers that only open from the top or front. The pet carrier’s ventilation windows are located along the strip, totaling just 125 square inches, or 11 percent, which is substantially less than Sherpa’s 19 percent. We saw a couple of isolated complaints about the ventilation—but with more than 300 reviews on Amazon and more than 80 percent at four or five stars, these issues are not widespread.

The ends of the Sleepypod act as little wings that you can fold up at a 90-degree angle to shrink the carrier’s size, which makes it easier to fit it in tight spaces before expanding again to allow your pet the most space available. (When compressed, the ventilation windows account for 14 percent of Sleepypod’s surface area.) Getting the wings to stay up takes some effort—just make sure you bend them over a few times before your flight to work the seams into shape. (Like bending a hardcover book open multiple times to wear it in.) In its compressed state, Sleepypod Air should fit under the seats of most of the airlines we consulted, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin America.

A video of a person unzipping and folding up our upgrade pick for best travel carrier for cats and small dogs.
Video: Michelle McSwain

The ventilation windows cover three sides of the carrier, but they’re probably not located in the ideal spot for people who prefer to see their pets directly. If you set the Sleepypod on a chair at the vet or under the seat on an airplane, your viewing angle will be obstructed since there are no ventilation windows on the pet carrier’s longest sides (just pockets). Plus, the windows are double-lined for added durability, which also means the windows are thicker and darker than most pet carriers tested, further limiting your view. But if you’re looking for a discreet way to travel with your furry friend, the lack of side windows and darker mesh may be just the thing. And for skittish pets, there’s also a removable privacy screen that virtually blacks out half of the ventilation window—but given that the Sleepypod already has less ventilation than many other carriers, be especially mindful to watch how your pet reacts with the airflow restricted further.

Many pet carriers can droop while being lugged around: The bottom may bow, while the top collapses slightly when crushed under the walker’s armpit. The Sherpa, for example, has a spring-wire frame that makes it flexible enough to fit into tight spaces, but also makes the bag more likely to sag under load, as it did when we tested it with a 15-pound weight. Sleepypod’s frame is reinforced with a “semi-rigid plastic structure” which didn’t fall or sag in our testing. The shell is made with luggage-grade ballistic nylon, also known as 1680 denier nylon, which is common in tool belts, police utility belts, and higher-end luggage.

The Sleepypod Air is the only carrier tested that has a shoulder strap positioned at a diagonal, as opposed to a straight line—although we couldn’t tell if the strap’s location improved our balance or not. The nylon strap has the thickest padding of any pet carrier we tested, which makes it slightly more comfortable on your shoulders. If you don’t feel like carrying the bag, there’s a luggage strap to attach it to your rolling luggage, but it’s not a secure form of travel, so don’t do that if your pet’s inside.

Pet owners and writers love the Sleepypod Air. “For a tiny pet, you can’t do better than the Sleepypod,” Dog Jaunt founder Mary-Alice Pomputius told us via email.

“I consider all of Sleepypod’s carriers the best on the market in terms of design, safety, and ease of use,” explained Ingrid King, founder of ConsciousCat.net.

“At $150, Sleepypod Air doesn’t come cheap—but with the first-class price tag come first-class perks,” says Katherine Kluznik Rentmeester on People.com, noting the seat belt strap, luggage loop, and foldable sides as her favorite features.

Sleepypod Air has a machine-washable padded insert, and an internal pocket at its base to house an electrical warming pad. When not on the go, pet owners can snap the ventilation window into place to convert it into a travel pet bed. It is available in seven colors and has a one-year limited warranty.



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