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Are cat backpacks cruel? A vet's view

Cat learning harness stepping out of carrier in amongst autumn leaves
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are cat backpacks cruel? f you’ve ever noticed a cat peering out from a small, astronaut-style bubble in a backpack, you may have found yourself asking that exact question. After all, a secure cat backpack may seem like an adorable way to carry a cat, but is it really comfortable or beneficial for the cat?  

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Like any cat carrier, some cats enjoy riding in cat backpacks and others hate them. Whether to use a cat backpack or a more traditional carrier is really a matter of personal preference. 

Cat backpack pros and cons 

Using a cat backpack, instead of a conventional hard plastic carrier, has a number of advantages. However, there can also be potential downsides, depending on your cat’s personality. 

Advantages of a cat backpack: 

  • Hands-free carrying may be more convenient for you
  • Keeps your cat up high off the ground, above the level of curious dogs
  • Usually collapsible, requiring less storage space
  • Curious cats may enjoy the viewing window
  • More stable than a carrier that you swing in one arm
  • More comfortable for carrying heavy cats or walking long distances

Disadvantages of a cat backpack: 

  • May be more costly than other carrier styles
  • Plastic window may feel too “exposed” for some cats
  • Feisty cats may be harder to load into a backpack than a hard carrier

Is it safe to carry a cat in a bag?

Because many of us are used to conventional hard carriers, a cat backpack or other soft-sided carrier may seem a bit unusual. However, cat carriers include both hard and soft options.

Hard-sided carriers offer a bit more protection for your cat. For this reason, hard carriers are often recommended for air travel. Additionally, you may want to consider a hard carrier if there’s a chance that your cat could be exposed to aggressive dogs or other risk factors. Hard carriers can also be more difficult for cats to escape from, making them a good choice for aggressive cats and cats that loathe carriers. 

For many cats though, soft carriers are an excellent option. Carrying your cat in a soft carrier can help your cat feel cozy, because the carrier wraps around their body. During most normal, everyday travel, cats do not need the additional protection that comes with a hard carrier. Backpacks and soft carrying bags are a reasonable option for most pet cats. 

Cat in backpack out in nature

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How long can a cat be in a cat backpack?

In general, cats can remain in a backpack or other carrier for up to six hours at a time. In some cases, cats may tolerate up to eight hours in a carrier… but this is pushing the limits! 

If you are planning more than six to eight hours of travel with your cat, you will need to plan for periodic breaks. Your cat will need to be let out of their carrier (in a safe, confined area) to drink water, stretch their muscles a bit, and have access to a litter box. Read our top tips for traveling with a cat before tackling a road trip with your feline companion.

How to safely use a cat backpack

It’s important to acclimate your cat to their backpack gradually, just as you would any other type of cat carrier. If your cat despises their carrier, and every trip is preceded by hours of chasing your cat around and shoving them in the carrier, you are more likely to run into problems. 

Instead, help your cat build a positive association with their carrier. By using proven strategies for getting a cat into a carrier, you can make your cat’s carrier experience as safe as possible. 

After loading your cat, be conscious of where you place the backpack. Setting the backpack on a high surface, such as a table, could allow your cat to fall if they begin to wiggle. Similarly, setting the backpack on a car seat without the use of a seatbelt or other restraint could result in the backpack becoming airborne in the event of an accident. 

While the floor is generally a safer place for a cat backpack, pay attention to your surroundings. Setting the backpack on the ground and walking away could place your cat at risk of a dog attack or other accident. Pay attention to your environment and do not leave your cat unattended in a backpack. 

How to make a cat backpack more comfortable

Buying a correctly-sized carrier is a first step towards ensuring your cat is comfortable. Make sure your cat’s carrier is tall enough and wide enough for them to stand comfortably. Ideally, the carrier should be at least 1.5 times as tall as your cat and 1.5 times as long as your cat.

Be sure that your cat also has room to turn around comfortably in the carrier. If you need more information, check out our guide to how big should a cat carrier be?

Spraying a feline pheromone spray, such as Feliway, in your cat’s carrier can also increase your cat’s comfort and decrease stress associated with travel. Catnip or a favorite toy can also help create a more comfortable environment for your cat. 

Can you take a cat on a hike?

While it’s common to see canine hikers on the trails, hiking with cats is far less common. However, some cats also enjoy the change of scenery that accompanies a short walk in nature. A cat backpack can provide an easy way to take your cat hiking, without the need for them to walk the entire distance on their own four legs. 

Letting your cat out of their carrier periodically can make a hike more interesting for your cat. Ensure that they are wearing one of the best cat harnesses, that it is well fitting and that you keep a firm hold on their leash. Using a short leash will keep your cat close to you, minimizing the risks associated with predators that you may encounter in nature. 

During the summer, cat carriers become very hot. Even mesh panels do not offer significant ventilation, so your cat may be at risk of overheating. Only hike with your cat in a backpack on cool, pleasant days, to minimize the risk of heat stress.

Conclusion

While cats peering out of backpacks are certainly amusing, it’s natural to wonder, are cat backpacks cruel? Fortunately, there is nothing to suggest that they are any more problematic for cats than any other carrier type. In fact, some cats may appreciate the view that is provided by a backpack bubble window and a high vantage point. If you are considering a backpack for your cat, allow time for your cat to adjust to the backpack and monitor them closely for any signs of fear or stress. 

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.