Speech pathologists use recordable buttons to communicate with nonverbal individuals.
These buttons can also help dogs and other animals communicate their needs and wants.
Read more below about the best dog buttons and training program to teach your dog how to “talk.”
Cognitive scientists and speech pathologists have long used pressable augmentative and alternative communication buttons – each representing an action, place, or object – to communicate with nonverbal individuals. One pioneering speech therapist, Christina Hunger, discovered dogs can use the method, too. By pressing buttons onto which a word or sound has been recorded, a dog can learn to “speak” in simple phrases like “play” and “outside.” Give them enough buttons and they can communicate their thoughts on almost everything. Get started with a beginner’s set of four to six buttons. For this guide, we’ve selected the best options, including budget, fully customizable, and light-up versions.
What we like: Fully customizable, comes with tiles to keep buttons organized, batteries included
Fluent Pet’s Get Started Kit was designed by a cognitive scientist to foster better communication between verbal and nonverbal individuals. The battery-operated system works for dogs, too, as proven by Bunny, a canine learner who has amassed hundreds of thousands of social media followers. The kit comes with everything you need to teach your dog, including six buttons with microphones for recording words and 67 stickers to identify the buttons visually.
Valli Parthasarathy, board certified veterinary behaviorist at Synergy Behavior Solutions in Portland, Oregon, recommends starting with words that can be clearly paired with something your dog regularly sees or does. “More abstract concepts such as emotions and time would be more challenging to teach,” she said. The buttons fit into three nonslip hexagonal tiles: one for actions, one for objects, and one for places. The tiles can be put together in multiple configurations and easily disassembled or added to. The kit arrives ready-to-use with batteries and a starter guide.
What we like: Includes four buttons in different colors, easy to press, comes with activity guide
Learning Resources Recordable Answer Buzzers, a tool that speech pathologists use to communicate with nonverbal individuals, are an affordable way to begin teaching a dog to “talk.” How quickly they learn depends on a variety of factors, said Sara Scott, a professional dog trainer in Oakland, California. “A dog with a long history of training may pick it up really quickly, but a dog who is green might take considerably longer. It also depends on how efficient you are as a trainer and how much work you’re putting in.”
This set comes with four easy-to-press 3-inch-diameter buttons in four different colors. Each button is powered by two AAA batteries and can record up to seven seconds of sound. Batteries are not included, but the set arrives with an activity guide to help you get started.
What we like: Fully customizable, can record sound using a computer or smartphone, includes six buttons in different colors
According to Scott, you can either teach your dog new words one at a time or work on a few words with different meanings simultaneously. Talking Products Talking Tiles comes with six buttons that can be fully customized with audio messages and images. Each 4-inch-wide hexagonal button holds up to 80 seconds of audio recorded with a built-in microphone or via a smartphone or computer using the audio-input jack. Further customize each button by adding a picture or symbol underneath the transparent cover. Each button runs on three AAA batteries, which must be purchased separately.
What we like: Light-up buttons, easy to press, records up to 30 seconds of sound
Galpara’s LED Voice Recorder Buttons are durable plastic buttons that glow with LED light when pressed. While this feature can be a useful cue for teaching any dog to communicate, it may be especially helpful for those who are hard of hearing. A visual signal like a light should work the same way to help a deaf dog to communicate as sound does for hearing dogs, said Scott.
The flash of the light can be paired with an action like going outside or playing with a toy. For those that can hear, these four differently colored, easy-to-press buttons can also record up to 30 seconds of sound. Each buzzer runs on two AAA batteries, which are sold separately.
The best potty button
The Mighty Paw Smart Bell 2.0 works indoors or out so your dog can communicate when they need to potty or when they want to come in.
What we like: Easy to press, 38 customizable bell tones, can be used indoors or out, 90-day money-back guarantee
Teach your dog how to communicate when they need to go outside with the Mighty Paw Smart Bell 2.0. The bell consists of a plug-in receiver and an easy-to-press activator button. The 2-inch-diameter wireless activator button can be placed anywhere within 1,000 feet of the receiver using a 3M adhesive strip. The water-resistant button can even be placed outside for dogs who need to let you know when they’re ready to come in. To adjust the sound of the bell, choose from four volumes and 38 different ring tones.
The Mighty Paw Smart Bell also comes with a training guide to help you get started and a self-charging battery is built into the device. Just be sure that you are responsive to the bell after your dog learns to use it. “Once your dog understands that they can ask to go outside, you need to make sure that you prioritize meeting your dog’s needs,” said Scott.
The best dog button training program
The Talk To The Beans training program teaches guardians and their pets how to communicate using buttons.
What we like: 12 training modules with instructional videos, a members-only forum, additional resources
If you love the idea of dog buttons but aren’t quite sure how to get started, Talk To The Beans will show you how. The online speech button training program provides 12 training modules that include simple, easy-to-follow explanations and videos to guide you through each step, from choosing your first word to building a vocabulary. In the forum, members can ask questions, share experiences, and troubleshoot problems.
The program, which can be applied to any style of dog button, doesn’t just work for dogs. Cats, birds, guinea pigs and horses can also learn to use buttons using the Talk to the Beans method during daily 10- to 15-minute training sessions. The website also offers additional resources, peer-reviewed research on speech button training, and links to button users on social media.
FAQs about dog buttons
Do dog buttons work?
Yes. A dog can learn to communicate using buttons programmed with words.
Can dogs talk using buttons?
Yes, sort of. A dog can learn how to communicate using programmable buttons but their ability to “talk” is not the same as ours, Pathasarathy told Insider Reviews. “It is unlikely that dogs understand human language in the same way that we understand human language,” she said. “Dogs learn that certain words are associated with certain activities, situations or items.”
How many words can a dog learn?
Current research suggests that the average dog can learn around 160 words.
Can cats learn to use dog buttons?
Yes, though no formal research has been done on the topic. “Cats are as good at making associations as dogs so it stands to reason that they can also learn to use the buttons and associate them with certain situations or activities,” explained Parthasarathy.
Do dogs need buttons to learn words?
No. If you’ve trained your dog to sit, come, or stay, you’ve already taught them to recognize human language. “Dogs also learn words and phrases that are associated with certain outcomes such as [when] ‘do you want to go out’ equals being let outside or ‘dinnertime’ means food will be put in the bowl,” said Parthasarathy.
How do I teach my dog to talk using dog buttons?
Before your pet can learn how to communicate using dog buttons, they have to learn how to push the button with their paw or nose, said Scott. Begin by recording a word like “treat” on a button. Press the button to make the word sound, then immediately reward your dog.
Repeat this 10 to 20 times so your dog associates the pressing of the button with the treat, then wait in front of the button for your dog to begin exploring it. If they make a movement toward the button, even if they don’t manage to activate it, quickly press the button yourself and reward them with a treat. Eventually, they’ll hit the button on their own. Each time they do, immediately reward them with a treat. When you’re not training, put the button away so that your dog doesn’t become frustrated when pushing it doesn’t result in a treat.
Once your dog understands the concept of pushing the button, you can begin pairing it with objects and actions that appear in their everyday life. “Some of the easiest behaviors to teach first would be patterns of routines you already have set in your life,” explained Scott. Some good words to start with include “outside,” “food,” and “play”.
Both repetition and reinforcement are essential to your dog learning a new word. If you want to teach the word “outside,” for example, record the word on a button and place it by the door. Ask your dog to press the button, then immediately open the door to let them out. If your dog loves to go out, the action acts as positive reinforcement. But, if it’s not an activity they love, offer them a treat after they’ve gone through the door. Repeat the sequence every time you go to let your dog out. In time, they will understand that pushing the button opens the door and will begin to do it on their own.
While it’s much harder for dogs to learn more abstract concepts like emotions, dog buttons can be used to address some problem behaviors, according to Scott and Parthasarathy. “Using these buttons can potentially be helpful in cases where a dog uses an undesired behavior such as barking at their guardian to obtain something they want,” said Parthasarathy. The button doesn’t have to be pressed by the dog in order to be useful, said Scott. A shy dog who’s startled by sudden movement, for example, might appreciate a warning that you are about to stand up from your desk. Pressing a button that says something like “up” before you stand lets them know what’s about to happen.
The best dog collars are durable, comfortable, and will keep their looks over time.
A harness is a safer option for walking a dog, but a collar is important for attaching ID tags.
We tested and researched a variety of dog collars, including nylon, leather, and martingale collars.
The primary function of a collar is not to walk your dog but to keep them safe. In an emergency situation, the ID tags on your dog’s collar are the quickest and easiest way for someone to get your dog back to you.
The best dog collars are those that are comfortable enough for everyday wear but durable enough to stand up to your dog’s biggest adventures. For those who prefer not to use a harness for walks, the collar must also have strong hardware and fit well without chafing when attached to a leash. A dog’s physical safety is a crucial consideration as well – at the end of this guide, we discuss the risks of using prong and choke collars, which we do not recommend.
To choose the best dog collars on the market, I’ve combined what I’ve learned over a decade of experience with dozens of collars as a certified professional dog trainer with the advice of Melissa Bain, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist and professor of clinical animal behavior at UC Davis, and Carlo Siracusa, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist and associate professor of clinical behavior medicine at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Featuring a lifetime guarantee and eco-friendly materials, the Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar stands out for both its durability and sustainability.
Pros: High-quality hardware, comes in three widths, sizes cover necks from 8 to 28 inches, nine colors, made of recycled materials, lifetime warranty even in the case of chewing, affordable
Cons: Lacks padding and reflective materials
In the collar department, most dogs need nothing more than an attractive, functional collar made with high-quality materials. The Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar has that in spades, and that’s not all: This collar is also made from recycled plastic bottles and comes with a warranty that protects your investment for life.
From its look and feel, you’d never know that the Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar was made out of plastic waste. I like that it is both soft and strong while remaining attractive, with a two-tone woven texture available in nine colors. This collar comes in three widths (1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch) and two sizes, appropriate for necks from 8 to 28 inches in circumference.
The Lupine Pet Eco Dog Collar is constructed with premium hardware and the custom-designed buckle made by YKK, the world’s largest zipper manufacturer, remains easy to buckle and unbuckle over time. The welded steel D-ring for holding tags, and clipping a leash if needed, is sewn firmly into the material. The collar comes with a lifetime guarantee, but chances are you won’t need it unless your dog turns it into a chew toy.
LupinePet Eco Dog Collar doesn’t get fancy with extras. It doesn’t have padding, lacks reflective materials, and there’s no way to have your dog’s name and phone number stitched into the strap. But for a basic dog collar that will last you a lifetime, you can’t go wrong with this product.
Pros: Made from nylon with high-density webbing, buckles made from eco-friendly plastic, available in many colors and styles, metal D-ring is chrome-plated
Cons: May not withstand heavy chewing, the material may fray over time, may hold odors
If all you need is a basic, attractive collar that will hold up to everyday wear, the Blueberry Pet Classic Nylon Dog Collar fits the bill. Blueberry’s Classic Collar is made from durable nylon with high-density webbing, strong buckles made of eco-friendly plastic, and a metal D-ring coated in chrome.
Though it won’t last forever the way our top pick will, this is a well-constructed collar. The company claims they’ve done over 600 laboratory tests to ensure the quality of their collars, and I haven’t found mine to stretch out over time, though some people have experienced fraying over time.
The Blueberry Classic Nylon Dog Collar comes in a wide range of colors and patterns, from bright pink to subdued green and flowers to plaids. Matching leashes are also available. The Blueberry Classic can also be embroidered with your pet’s name and phone number for an additional four dollars.
This is a great choice for dog guardians on a budget who want their pup’s gear to look great.
Pros: Handmade, genuine leather and padded lambskin lining for comfort, durable stainless steel or solid brass hardware, resistant to wear and tear, available in a wide variety of colors and five sizes
Cons: Buckle and D-ring may be too close together on some collars, requires leather care
Leather collars offer a level of durability that nylon can’t provide. A good leather collar just gets softer and more supple with use. As long as your dog doesn’t turn it into a chew toy, a well-made one like Perri’s Padded Leather Dog Collars could last a pretty long time.
Perri’s leather collars are handmade by Amish craftspeople and lined with lambskin padding. I love that they look like luxury items, without the price tag. Even with extra padding, the collar doesn’t feel overly stiff, which is always a concern with leather products.
Perri’s collars are also surprisingly one-of-a-kind. They come in 42 different color combinations, including black or brown on the outside lined with bright, metallic, or patterned padding. The hardware on Perri’s Padded Leather Dog Collars is made of solid brass or stainless steel. Because it’s a handmade product, Perri’s collars occasionally have flaws, namely the buckle and D-ring being placed too close together to easily attach a leash if needed. You can return the collar for a replacement, however. Sizing can also run smaller or larger than advertised.
Like any leather item, without semi-regular cleaning with a leather-care product, Perri’s collars will show some cracking and wear. But if you take care of this collar, it will take care of your dog, giving them years of comfort.
Pros: Nonslip design prevents dogs from escaping, handmade in the US, made with extra durable nylon, the hardware is nickel-plated steel, size can be customized, available in two widths and up to 12 colors, can add a buckle for easy removal
Cons: May not withstand heavy chewing, the width may be too large for very small dogs
The If It Barks Martingale Collar is a well-made martingale constructed with heavy-duty materials. The brand has sewn its collar out of two layers of extra durable nylon webbing and added nickel-plated steel hardware to stand up to daily use. One of my favorite things about If It Barks is that if your pup has a neck too small or too large to fit into their standard sizes (small, medium, and large), they’ll customize a collar for them.
I’ve found If It Barks Martingales to be much sturdier than the average martingale without feeling too stiff or inflexible. Unlike some collars of this kind, you can opt to add a buckle to this collar so that you don’t need to slip it over the head of a sensitive or hand-shy dog. However, it may not withstand heavy chewing and may also be overpowering for more petite dogs.
A martingale collar, or limited-slip collar, prevents dogs from escaping by tightening enough to keep the head from fitting through the loop of the collar. Unlike a choke collar, a martingale will never tighten more than a couple of inches and should not cause discomfort. On a dog that pulls frequently, a martingale, like any collar, could put dangerous pressure on the trachea and neck, according to Siracusa.
And, if you have a skittish, noise-sensitive, or Houdini dog, there’s always a risk that they will escape their collar. Some dogs, especially those with narrow heads like greyhounds and whippets, or with big, muscular necks, can lose their collars without even trying. “For dogs with relatively little difference between the head and neck diameter, a martingale is a good choice,” Bain added.
The best headcollar
With a padded noseband, the Petsafe Gentle Leader helps to curb pulling without using a body harness or causing pain.
Pros: Padded noseband, sold in five sizes and eight colors
Cons: Dangerous for over-aroused dogs, dog must be desensitized to headcollar before use
A headcollar isn’t so much a collar as it is a harness for a dog’s head. Designed on the same principle as a halter for a horse, headcollars help to alleviate pulling in dogs by putting a walker’s control at the front of their pet instead of at their strongest point at their back.
One of the biggest problems with a headcollar is that chafing on the nose can occur, even in dogs that walk calmly. That’s one of the reasons we selected the Petsafe Gentle Leader Headcollar, which has a noseband padded with a layer of neoprene. It’s also our top pick for the best no-pull headcollar in our guide to the best harnesses for dogs.
Headcollars have their limitations. Bain advises against using a headcollar for a dog who is difficult to control and lunges on walks. For calmer dogs, however, Bain says headcollars “are very effective in helping to control dogs that pull, and can be the foot-in-the-door to help train dogs to walk nicely on leash.”
Bain prefers the affordable Gentle Leader “for its ease in fitting and use.” Indeed, this headcollar has only two straps, one around the nose and one around the ears, the latter of which is adjustable. The noseband attaches to the leash with a slip-loop to naturally size to your dog’s snout.
The Gentle Leader comes in five sizes and eight colors, and your dog will require desensitization before they are comfortable wearing it. But if you’re looking for an alternative to a harness for a dog that pulls on a leash, this headcollar is a good option for dogs that are not easily over-aroused.
What else we considered
Coastal Pet New Earth Eco-Friendly Soy Dog Collar: This has been one of my personal favorites in the budget category for years for its softness, pliability, and durability. Made from soy fibers, the Coastal Pet New Earth Collar doesn’t retain smells and washes easily in the laundry. It was narrowly nudged out of our top budget spot due to the relative lack of colors, only 12 muted tones compared to the Blueberry Classic Dog Collar’s 22 (plus all the patterned options), and because pricing goes up for some sizes and shades. But if you’re looking for a good option for under $5, this may be the one for you.
The Company of Animals Halti Head Collar: The thing I like best about the Halti Head Collar is its additional safety tether, which connects the halter to your dog’s collar and will help you maintain control if a strap breaks or your dog worms out of the device. Like the Gentle Leader, the Halti also has a padded noseband and additional straps on the side of the snout to help balance out the halter and keep it in place.
Safety considerations for dog collars
Collars that add pressure or pain to your dog’s neck on walks, usually to prevent them from pulling away, should be avoided. “I do not recommend owners use prong or pinch collars on their dogs,” said Bain.
Even martingale-style collars can be dangerous for dogs that pull frequently because of the pressure they put on the neck. “It can cause problems to the trachea, it can cause problems to the bone structure of the neck, and then it can cause problems to the circulation that goes and comes from the brain,” Siracusa explained.
Because of their design, some collars can also be dangerous when left on a dog without supervision. The martingale collar, for example, which has an extra loop of material that can get caught on things, should be removed after the walk is over, according to Whole Dog Journal. The head collar, too, should only be worn for walks. “Flat collars should be worn by dogs to hang their ID tags,” said Bain. She added they are relatively safe to keep on 24/7 as well.
Flea and tick medicines for dogs include topical spot-on treatments, oral preventives, and collars.
The best flea medicine for dogs is Advantage Multi, which treats and prevents more parasites than other topical products.
Before starting your dog or puppy on any flea control medicine, consult your veterinarian.
This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
There are many safe and effective flea control products for dogs, either available with a veterinarian’s prescription or sold over the counter. Many products kill and prevent other parasites, too, including ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, mites, and biting flies.
Choosing a safe and effective flea and tick medicine for dogs can be complicated. There are many products available and they’re all a little different. My background taught me a lot about parasite prevention and the various flea control products available today. I spent eight years working as a veterinary assistant in animal hospitals followed by two more decades as an editor for magazines in the pet and veterinary fields. Over the years, I’ve treated countless dogs for fleas, including my own dogs.
For this guide, I used the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council to research products. I selected products based on safety, the number of parasites targeted, products’ ease of use, and the minimum age the product can be used. Jump to the end of this guide to read more about our selection criteria. For additional guidance about treating and preventing fleas on dogs, I consulted with two veterinarians.
Before choosing a flea preventive for your dog, talk to your veterinarian who can advise you on what type of product might be best depending on your dog’s temperament and lifestyle, and what parasites are most prevalent in your location.
These are the best flea and tick medicines for dogs in 2021
With just one easy monthly application, Advantage Multi for Dogs treats, controls, and prevents more parasites than any other topical product.
Pros: Kills and prevents six types of parasites including heartworm, once-monthly treatment, easy to administer, safe for use in puppies 7 weeks and older and weighing at least 3 pounds
Cons: Does not kill ticks, not labeled for use in puppies younger than 7 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing dogs
No preventive covers every single parasite that could harm your dog, but Advantage Multi for Dogs comes close. Advantage Multi is a topical spot-on product that contains the active ingredients imidacloprid and moxidectin to prevent flea infestations by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs. It also prevents heartworm, mange mites, and three intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. As with all medications that prevent heartworm, your dog needs a heartworm test prior starting Advantage Multi and annually thereafter.
Advantage Multi is easy to use: Just apply every 30 days to the dog’s skin at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication is absorbed and dries within hours. Unlike with some of the other topical preventives, you do not need to wear gloves to apply Advantage Multi. If you get the product on your hands, simply wash with soap and water. For the first 30 minutes after application, keep dogs from licking the application site, either on themselves or other treated dogs in the house. Children should not touch the application site for two hours after application.
Available without a prescription, Frontline Plus for Dogs kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, and chewing lice on contact.
Pros: Kills adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, all life stages of ticks and chewing lice for one month; safe for use in dogs and puppies at least 8 weeks of age that weigh at least 5 pounds; safe for use in breeding, pregnant and nursing dogs; fleas don’t have to bite for it to work
Cons: Not recommended for puppies younger than 8 weeks of age; does not prevent any parasites other than fleas, ticks, and chewing lice
Frontline Plus is our top nonprescription recommendation because it kills ticks and fleas, controls flea infestations, and kills chewing lice, all with one easy application. When used primarily for flea control, each dose of Frontline Plus lasts up to three months. If ticks or biting lice are a concern, apply it monthly.
Frontline Plus been used and trusted by pet owners for more than two decades. Parasites die on contact — they do not have to bite your dog for Frontline Plus to work. Its active ingredients, fipronil and S-methoprene, work together to kill parasites and break the flea life cycle. Fipronil kills adult fleas and ticks. S-methoprene prevents flea eggs, larvae, and pupae from developing. Completely breaking the flea life cycle can sometimes take up to a month of consistent use, especially if your dog is heavily infested, because flea eggs can be in your home but not on your dog.
Frontline Plus is easy to use. Squeeze the entire contents of the tube onto one spot to your dog’s skin between the shoulder blades. The liquid medication spreads across your dog’s skin, then is stored in the oil glands. It distributes itself continuously via the hair follicles.
The best oral flea control product
Simparica TRIO treats, controls, and prevents more parasites than any other oral product, offering a full month of protection with one easy-to-give flavored pill.
Pros: Protects against more parasites than any other oral product, once-monthly treatment, safe for dogs and puppies 8 weeks of age and older weighing at least 2.8 pounds, easy to administer alone or in food
Cons: Not labeled for use in puppies younger than 8 weeks or breeding, pregnant, or nursing dogs
Our pick for best oral flea control product for dogs is Simparica TRIO, a chewable tablet that is fast-acting and kills more parasites than any other oral product. Simparica TRIO starts to work within four hours and kills 100% of adult fleas on dogs within eight hours.
Choosing between an oral or topical flea control product is tough for some dog owners. There are pros and cons to each type of product. In some cases, an oral preventive is a better choice. For instance, some dogs with sensitive skin can’t tolerate a spot-on.
“Oral products have the benefit of broad coverage to reach every spot of skin without the chance of the product being washed off,” Crumley said. “Rarely, a pet will have mild intestinal upset with any oral product. If that occurs then that pet will do better with one of the system-absorbed topical choices.”
The liver-flavored flavored chewable tablets can be given with or without food once a month. In addition to providing a full month of protection against the most parasites of any other oral product, Simparica TRIO is also labeled for use in some of the youngest and smallest puppies and dogs.
Simparica TRIO contains three ingredients: sarolaner, moxidectin, and pyrantel. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian, as well as a current negative heartworm test. Simparica TRIO should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
The best flea control product for young puppies
Capstar for Dogs is safe for puppies as young as 4 weeks old and starts killing fleas within 30 minutes.
Pros: Safe for puppies 4 weeks of age and older weighing at least 2 pounds, safe for pregnant and nursing dogs, fast-acting treatment starts killing adult fleas within 30 minutes, easy to administer alone or in food, can be used with other flea control products, available without a prescription
Cons: Does not offer long-term protection, does not kill flea larvae or flea eggs, does not prevent any parasites other than fleas
Available without a prescription, Capstar for Dogs is the only flea control product safe for puppies as young as 4 weeks and weighing at least 2 pounds. With other topical and oral flea control product, puppies must be at least 8 weeks old and sometimes older.
Fleas should be eliminated as quickly as possible for heavily infested dogs, especially young puppies. The active ingredient in Capstar, nitenpyram, works within 30 minutes and kills greater than 90% of adult fleas on dogs in as little as four hours.
Capstar’s protection against fleas lasts only 24 hours, but it is safe to give daily if necessary. This is helpful for young puppies that might not be old enough to use an oral or spot-on product that offers long-term protection. Owners should follow up with a flea control product that offers a month or more of protection once the puppy is old enough.
A March 2021 investigation by USA Today reported 1,700 animal deaths and other adverse reactions linked to Seresto flea collars. It’s unknown if the EPA-approved pesticides used in the collar caused these incidents and this story is still developing. Always speak to your veterinarian if you have concerns before using a product and only purchase Seresto collars from authorized retailers.
Pros: 8 months of continuous protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, four species of ticks, chewing lice, and mange mites; lightweight and easy to wear; adjustable for dogs of all sizes; parasites don’t have to bite for it to work; safe for puppies 7 weeks of age and older
Cons: Not recommended for puppies younger than 7 weeks of age, children should not play with the collar, adjusting size can be tricky
Flea collars were once prevailing options for flea control, but most traditional flea collars don’t offer the same level of protection as topical and oral preventives. One noteworthy flea collar is the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs, which uses sustained-release technology to provide eight months of continuous protection against adult fleas, flea larvae, four species of ticks, chewing lice, and mange mites.
In general, topical spot-on preventives and oral preventives are the easiest and most effective form of flea control for dogs, but the Seresto collar might be a good option in certain situations.
Lay said that traditional flea and tick collars are generally not very effective, and she has even seen allergic reactions and other issues with some of them. However, she has found the Seresto collar to be both safe and effective.
“I personally used a Seresto collar with my dog for years when we lived in Chattanooga—hiking in the mountains and camping amongst the ticks,” Dr. Lay said. “I often recommend it to clients who have pets that don’t tolerate topical or oral flea/tick preventives.”
The collar is nongreasy, odor-free, lightweight, and adjustable for dogs of all sizes. It can be worn alongside your dog’s regular collar and has a two-step safety system to ensure your dog will not be harmed if the collar gets caught on something.
The Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Dogs contains imidacloprid and flumethrin, which are released in low concentrations over your dog’s skin and coat to kill fleas and ticks on contact — parasites do not need to bite your dog for the collar to work. It kills 100% of fleas within 24 hours of placing the collar on your dog. The collar is water-resistant and can stay on the dog even during swimming or bathing.
What else we considered
Bravecto Chews for Dogs: Unlike most oral preventives, which must be given monthly, one dose of prescription-only Bravecto kills fleas for three months and ticks for up to two months. Bravetco doesn’t kill any parasites other than fleas and ticks. It cannot be used in puppies younger than 6 months old and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
Bravecto Topical for Dogs: With one application, this topical product kills fleas for three months and ticks for up to two months. Bravetco doesn’t kill any other parasites and cannot be used in puppies younger than 6 months old. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neurologic disorders such as seizures.
Comfortis: Comfortis is an oral product that kills adult fleas and prevents flea infestations for one month. It doesn’t kill any parasites other than fleas and cannot be used in puppies younger than 14 weeks old. Comfortis requires a prescription from your veterinarian.
Credelio: Credelio is an oral product that kills adult fleas and ticks and prevent flea and tick infestations for one month. It doesn’t kill any other parasites and requires a prescription from your veterinarian. It should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.
K9 Advantix II: This is a topical spot-on product that repels and kills fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, mosquitoes, and lice for one month. It also repels biting flies. We gave Frontline Plus for Dogs a slight edge over K9 Advantix II because it is effective against fleas, flea larvae, and flea eggs for up to three months (though if ticks are an issue, monthly application is required). Additionally, you must seek the advice of a veterinarian before using K9 Advantix II for breeding, pregnant, and nursing dogs.
NexGard Chewables for Dogs: NexGard is an oral product that kills adult fleas and ticks and prevents flea infestations for one month. It requires a prescription from your veterinarian and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.
Revolution for Dogs: Revolution is a monthly topical product that kills adult fleas and prevents flea eggs from hatching. It also prevents heartworm, treats and controls ears mites, and kills American dog tick, but it does not prevent any intestinal parasites, unlike Advantage Multi for Dogs. However, Advantage Multi does not kill ticks. Revolution requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a current negative heartworm test.
Trifexis: Trifexis is a monthly oral product that kills adult fleas, prevents flea infestations and heartworm, and treats and controls hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. We gave Simparica TRIO a slight edge over Trifexis because it also kills ticks, mange mites, and chewing lice — though it does not kill whipworms. Trifexis requires a prescription from your veterinarian and a negative heartworm test and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of seizures.
How we selected products
We consulted with two veterinarians for advice regarding the treatment and prevention of fleas and other parasites in dogs. Although this information guided us in our product selection, our veterinary experts did not endorse any of the products included in this guide unless explicitly mentioned in direct quotes.
We also conducted research using the quick product reference guide published by the independent, nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council. This helpful reference, which includes all FDA and EPA-approved parasite control products for small animals, lists each product’s active ingredients, how the product is used, and which parasites it controls.
Here are the main attributes we looked for:
Safety and efficacy: Only FDA- or EPA-approved products were considered for this guide.
Number of parasites treated: In general, the more parasites a preventive product covers, the higher it was rated. “Parasites cause skin disease just by their presence and they carry diseases, too,” said Crumley. “Small puppies can actually become anemic from the amount of blood these parasites steal from their growing bodies.”
The exceptions are Capstar, which is the only treatment available for puppies younger than 6 weeks and our over-the-counter pick, Frontline Plus, which treats fleas, ticks, and lice. Products that treat heartworm always require a prescription.
Ease of use: Products were rated lower if they were more complicated to use than a similar product. For instance, products ranked lower if the pet owner must wear gloves to apply the product or if children and pets need to be kept away from the treated animal for a specified amount of time.
Minimum age and weight: When comparing similar products, higher ratings went to preventives that can be used in younger animals (for instance, puppies 7 weeks of age instead of 12 weeks of age).
Types of flea control products
Here are the most common flea control products for dogs and how they work:
Topical preventives: Also called spot-on products, topical preventives are great for killing fleas and preventing flea infestations. As they dry, they spread across the entire body or may be absorbed through the skin into the pet’s system, leaving no residue behind. They are usually applied to the skin in one spot on the back of the neck once a month, although a few last longer than 30 days. “Some dogs with sensitive skin may react to a topical product,” Crumley said. “Dogs who swim frequently or are bathed frequently will lose the benefit of the topical product that stays on the surface of the skin.”
Oral flea control: Oral flea control products, or “flea pills,” are given to your dog by mouth to kill fleas. Some oral flea control products kill fleas for up to a month or longer; others must be given more frequently to continue killing fleas, as often as once a day.
Flea collars: These are worn around the neck, where they deliver flea preventive medication to your dog’s skin and coat. Some flea collars deliver preventive medication for a longer period than topical applications, making them a good choice for dog owners who don’t want to have to apply something every month.
Flea shampoos: These kill fleas that are currently on your dog. We do not recommend flea shampoos in place of other preventives since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective.
Flea spray: These are applied to the skin and coat. We do not recommend flea sprays since topical spot-ons and oral products are easier to use and more effective.
What you should know about fleas in dogs
If your dog has fleas, you want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Dogs can pick up fleas anywhere, including your yard, local parks, the groomer, veterinary clinic, and boarding facilities, but even dogs that spend a lot of time indoors can get fleas if they hitchhike indoors on your clothes or shoes. Dogs that hike, camp, and explore wilderness areas can pick up both fleas and ticks.
What are the health risks to your dog?
Fleas are more than just a nuisance. These parasites can pose a threat to your dog’s health. A severe flea infestation can seriously damage your dog’s skin, induce an allergic reaction, or cause them to become anemic from blood loss. Fleas are also responsible for transmitting parasites like tapeworms.
“Regardless of where you live in the country, I promise there’s a flea or tick disease out there,” Lay said. “Fleas and ticks can really make a pet sick and what’s worse, they often carry other bad guys along with them.” These parasites can transmit things like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, cat scratch fever, and even the plague.
How to check a dog for fleas
Signs of fleas in dogs include scratching, skin irritation, and the presence of dark red or black specks on your dog’s skin, fur, bedding, or furniture. These specks, about the size of grains of black pepper, are called “flea dirt” and are flea feces, or digested blood.
Back when I worked in the veterinary hospital, I learned a handy trick to help find out if those little specks are regular dirt or flea dirt. Scoop some onto a damp paper towel. If the paper towel turns red, it’s flea dirt.
To check your dog for fleas or flea dirt, run a flea comb (a small, very fine-toothed comb) through your dog’s coat or part the hair with your fingers to examine the skin. If you find any live or dead fleas or flea dirt, your dog has a flea infestation.
What to consider when purchasing flea control products
Prescription vs. over-the-counter flea prevention and control
Some flea control products are sold over the counter. Other products require your veterinarian to write a prescription. You can purchase prescription products directly from your veterinarian or from online pet pharmacies and certain pet supply stores like Chewy, Petco, and Petsmart.
Prescription flea control products cost more than OTC products because they protect against more parasites, most importantly, deadly heartworms. Dogs must test negative for heartworms before starting a heartworm prevention product. Giving a heartworm-positive dog a prevention medication can cause rare but potentially very serious and sometimes fatal complications. You also want to know if your dog has adult heartworms because the preventive medication will not kill them — it only kills the larval stages of the heartworm.
Use parasite preventives year-round.
You might be tempted to only use parasite preventives in spring and summer, but don’t underestimate the resilience of fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and intestinal parasites. Veterinarians recommend that all dogs stay on broad-spectrum parasite preventives all 12 months of the year.
Heartworm treatment is long, costly, and dangerous. Dogs with adult heartworms can die even if treatment is initiated. This is why veterinarians recommend using a year-round heartworm preventive for all dogs, regardless of what part of the country they live in. Veterinarians also recommend year-round intestinal parasite prevention for all dogs.
Flea shampoos are usually unnecessary.
Decades ago, people might have just used a flea shampoo containing pesticides to kill fleas, but flea shampoos are no longer the gold standard. Veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products are far more effective than flea shampoos.
“Most flea and tick shampoos are harsh to the skin and only remove the parasites present at the time of the bath,” Crumley said. “Most of them are not effective at treating ticks, either. The residual effect might last 24 or 48 hours at most, and then the nasties will be back.”
Lay notes that some pet owners want to use flea shampoos instead of veterinarian-approved oral or topical preventives because shampoos cost less. However, this approach could backfire.
“Besides not really preventing and being as effective at breaking the infestation/cycle, they can also sometimes cause additional reactions and allergies,” Lay said. “They are not meant to take the place of preventive options, so consult with your veterinarian on when and how to use them.”
Be wary of natural flea control products.
Both veterinarians we consulted do not recommend natural products in place of veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea control products. While they can deter fleas and ticks, they won’t eliminate an infestation.
“If you use them, be prepared to apply them at least daily before your pet goes outside for the best chance of keeping the hitchhikers from latching on,” said Crumley.
If you also have cats at home, avoid natural flea control products containing essential oils as some of them can be toxic to cats.
Some flea products are dangerous to cats.
If you have cats as well as dogs, it’s important to understand that any product labeled for use in only dogs should never be used on a cat. Some ingredients that are well-tolerated by dogs can be toxic to cats. Any dog-only flea product can be harmful to cats, but they are especially sensitive to pyrethrins. If you’re looking for a product that’s safe for felines, read our guide to the best flea control products for cats.
The right cat carrier can make getting a feisty feline from Point A to Point B less stressful. Whether you’re headed to the vet or the airport, a good carrier should have a handful of essential features for the convenience and comfort of both cat and human.
To determine the most important qualities to look for in a pet carrier, I consulted with Lindsey Wolko, the founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Virginia, and Dr. Gwen Gadd, a fear-free certified veterinarian at East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. To start, look for more than one loading door, plenty of ventilation, exterior pockets, and easy-to-carry straps or handles.
Over the last year, I evaluated 30 different cat carriers, including airline-friendly, budget, and backpack styles. All but one, the Good2Go Expandable Carrier, were provided as editorial review samples by their manufacturers. My two cats, Osito and Phoebe, submitted their opinions on the carriers, both at home and on visits to the vet.
For your feline companion, it is outfitted with a plush bed, privacy flap, and zip-out atrium that expands the carrier’s width by more than 50%. For the cat sherpa, there is a shoulder strap, carry handle, exterior pocket, luggage strap, detachable name tag, and an interior safety tether to prevent your cat from bolting.
My favorite thing about this carrier is its expandable mesh atrium. My cats liked stretching out into the extra space while napping inside. This feature can’t be used in flight or while driving, but you can give your cat more space while waiting at the airport or vet’s office.
The Gold Series remained well balanced on top of a carry-on and the padded shoulder strap was easy to adjust and comfortable on my shoulder. The mesh was perfectly intact after our scratch test with the exception of some slight discoloration. Stomping on the bag multiple times flattened its interior frame slightly, but it took just a few seconds to push it back out to its original form. The zippers worked smoothly too.
On a vet visit, my cat unleashed his own goop test on the removable bed. Though the bed is labeled hand-wash only, I threw it in the washer and air-dried it. It not only came completely clean, but it also looked essentially brand new.
The carrier adheres to most in-cabin airline restrictions. The frame is not flexible but has enough give to fit beneath slightly lower seats. Although it has safety seat belt attachments, it has not been third-party crash-tested. For this reason, the most secure spot to place your cat is at the foot of the backseat on the passenger side. It fit snugly there in my compact car.
Mr. Peanut’s donates their carriers and a portion of sales to animal rescues and aid organizations through their Pay a Shelter Pet Forward program.
Pros: Padded detachable shoulder strap, padded carry handle, secure luggage strap, multiple pockets, washable interior mat, collapses flat for storage, comes in six colors and two sizes
Cons: Not top-loading, seam of interior mat ripped in washing, no warranty
For a reliable soft-sided carrier that will keep your cat safe and comfortable on short journeys and long-distance travel days alike, Elite Field’s Soft-Sided Airline Approved Carrier fits the bill. Inside, this bag is fitted with a soft fleece mat and safety tether. A luggage strap, detachable padded shoulder strap, and padded carry handle make getting your cat to their destination easy. Best of all, this carrier is less than half the cost of our best overall pick.
In testing, the Elite Field carrier proved to be highly durable. In our goop test, it wiped completely clean and its fleece mat came out of the washer with no stains. Our scratch test resulted in no damage, and the zipper was smooth. The biggest flaw was a seam along the side of the mat that tore in the washing machine but did not affect its usefulness.
This carrier has more ventilation than most of those we tested. It also has five pockets, including one which unzips to convert into a luggage strap, and two small zipper holes through which you can pet or feed your cat without danger of escape. The bag collapses flat for storage but does not have a top-loading entry or a warranty. When carried by the shoulder strap, this carrier does bend inward an inch or two.
The Elite Field comes in two sizes, both of which fit under the seat at United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Although this carrier has a seatbelt loop, it has not been third-party crash-tested for car travel. All in all, while this carrier isn’t perfect, its durable, comfortable design is a great deal.
The best cat carrier for car travel
The third-party crash-tested Away Pet Carrier is loaded with features for the safety, comfort, and convenience of you and your cat.
Having earned a five-star crash-test certification from the Center for Pet Safety, the Away Pet Carrier is an ideal choice for frequent travel or long car rides. Although it is the most expensive carrier we tested for this guide, it has all of the features we deemed essential, including a luggage strap, excellent ventilation, a padded shoulder strap, and two exterior pockets. Because it also fits the dimensions of most in-cabin airline requirements, it’s versatile enough for journeys requiring multiple modes of transportation.
The Away Carrier has a washable sherpa bolster bed and safety tether inside. On its exterior, there is a roll-down privacy flap on the front door, luggage strap, and two zipper pockets, one of which runs the entire length of the right side.
Perhaps the carrier’s most important feature, though, is the seat belt attachment. While many carriers have seat belt straps or latches, relatively few have been third-party crash-tested. Away’s bag was not only crash tested in 2020, it earned a five-star safety certification for pets up to 18 pounds.
In our testing, the Away Carrier came out unscathed. It was plenty spacious for even the larger of my two cats, a zaftig 12-pounder. It was also easy to transport. The padded shoulder strap is a little slippery and did have to be readjusted occasionally. Because it’s made from leather, the handle is not as comfortable to hold as some of the other carriers I tested, which have thicker nylon handles.
Although it doesn’t fold flat for storage, the Away Carrier comes with a drawstring bag to keep it free from dust and debris, as well as a few additional goodies, including a small plush airplane, a bandana, and a collapsible silicone water bowl. The carrier can be monogrammed for an additional $35.
Pros: Made from heavy-duty 95% recycled plastic; strong, sturdy design with bolts lining three sides of carrier; self-locking wire mesh doors on front and top; affordable
Cons: Requires assembly, somewhat heavy at 3.8 pounds for the 19-inch kennel and 6.43 pounds for the 24-inch; no mat or safety tether; only two color options; not safety-tested for car travel
If you have a cat that fears the tight confinement of a soft-sided carrier, the Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel is an excellent option for transporting them from Point A to Point B. This hard-shell carrier has a simple two-piece design that secures together with bolts around its exterior.
There is a folding plastic handle at the top. Both doors on the kennel have spring-loaded latches that lock them securely in place and, along with holes that wrap around the top half of the carrier, provide ventilation. The 24-inch carrier was extremely spacious for even my 12-pound cat. Both doors were large enough for stress-free entry and were easy to open and close one-handed.
The kennel passed our goop test with flying colors. The mess I smeared on its interior and exterior, then left to dry for 48 hours, wiped completely clean in an instant. When dropped, it did not fare as well as its soft-sided counterparts. It didn’t suffer any structural damage, but the back panel of its top half cracked and the handle popped off the top door. I was able to snap the handle back in place, and the back remains intact enough to prevent a pet from escaping. It’s important to note that this kennel’s competitor, the Petmate Two-Door Top-Load Kennel, broke in almost the same way but held on to its handle.
In fact, everything about this kennel is so similar to the Petmate that they may as well be the same product. I was able to pinpoint only three differences between them: Frisco’s carrier comes in two colors instead of four, it costs almost $10 less, and it is slightly heavier — a little over a half pound each for the 19- and 24-inch models.
While this kennel is missing a few of the features I looked for in the soft carriers, namely a safety tether, soft interior mat, and ID tag, it’s a well-made, affordable option for cats who need more space during travel.
Pros: Combination backpack and rolling carrier, two zippered doors for loading, machine-washable sherpa mats, telescoping suitcase handle, available in two sizes, folds flat for storage, one-year limited warranty
Cons: Does not fit in-cabin airline requirements, not safety-tested for car travel, heavier than other backpack carriers we tested
Gen7Pets Geometric Roller-Carrier takes the hassle out of traveling with a cat by providing two convenient ways for them to get around: on your back or rolling at your side. The sturdy carrier has two loading doors at the front and zippered pockets on its sides. There is a handle at the top of the bag for quick lifting and four wheels at the bottom. Soft machine-washable sherpa mats attach to the base and back of the interior with Velcro.
In backpack mode, this carrier has two adjustable shoulder straps that clip to D-rings at the bottom of the back side. It takes just a few seconds to convert the bag into rolling mode by unclipping the backpack straps, tucking them into their storage pocket, and pulling out the telescoping suitcase handle. I was surprised to find that, despite the size and weight of the large carrier, it was equally as comfortable on my back as the other backpack carriers I tested. Its padded straps were easy to adjust and it did not bounce against my lower back.
The backpack is also comfortable to pull behind you or at your side. It skidded occasionally on a rock or stick but mostly moved smoothly over sidewalks, pavement, and ramps. For cat comfort when rolling, the bag has a “smart-level platform” to change the angle of the carrier’s base.
The Geometric Roller Backpack’s front mesh panels can be rolled down for easy feeding and watering and an interior tether can be used to keep your cat from escaping. Although there are seat belt straps on the back, this carrier has not been third-party crash-tested, so they should not be used.
In testing, this backpack proved durable. The stomp test reshaped the internal wire frame, but I was able to push it back in place in under a minute. In the scratch test, the carrier’s mesh showed no signs of breakage and the loading door zipped smoothly. The goop I spread on the bag cleaned up easily, leaving only a small spot of discoloration, and the interior mat came out of the washing machine looking like new.
The large carrier was very spacious and comfortable for my cats, but at 6.8 pounds, it was a bit heavy to carry by the plastic handle at its top. It is also too large to fit under the seat in the cabin of an airplane, as is the smaller version of the carrier. While some may find it too bulky, its size, shape, and versatility make frequent travel with a cat convenient and comfortable for both of you.
Sleepypod Atom: Although this Sleepypod carrier earned a five-star crash-test rating from the Center for Pet Safety, it has only an elevated, top-entry opening for loading and unloading. I also found its shoulder strap, which had a buckle at exactly the wrong spot on my shoulder, uncomfortable to carry.
Frisco Travel Carrier: This carrier by Frisco was originally our top choice in the budget category before we tested the Elite Field. The bag is top- and front-entry, has an interior sherpa mat and privacy flaps, and held up well in testing. But when compared to the Elite Field, Frisco’s carrier had less than half the ventilation and an uncomfortable shoulder strap with no padding.
Petmate Soft-Sided Carrier: This bag has a lot of good features, including top- and front-loading entries and a design that folds flat for storage. However, on our walk test, this was the only carrier of the bunch where the floor mat dislodged and flipped up, leaving the 10-pound weight in the bottom of the bag to drop almost to my knees without any support, a serious safety hazard if it had occurred with an actual cat.
Neocoichi Ultralite Pop-Up Cat Carrier: This cleverly designed pop-up carrier is feather light and super cute, to boot. Unfortunately, its thin walls are extremely flimsy compared to the other carriers we tested and could be easily breached by a set of determined claws.
Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Carrier: Like the Gold Series Expandable, this carrier has nearly all of the features I consider essential: two points of entry, safety tether, luggage strap, padded shoulder strap, ID tag, and more. But it lacks an expandable section to increase the carrier’s size on long travel days, one of my favorite features of our best overall choice.
Gen7Pets Commuter Carrier: Crash-tested and fitting the dimensions of most in-cabin airline requirements, this carrier has almost all of the features I consider essential. It’s missing two big things that a pricey $100 bag ought to have, though: a shoulder strap for convenient carrying and exterior pockets for holding essentials. It also does not fold flat for storage.
Good2Go Expandable Pet Carrier: I like this expandable carrier. A few years ago, I twice traveled 1,000 miles by car with my cats each tucked safely inside one. It is top- and front-loading and has an interior tether and large zipper back pocket. Unfortunately, it’s relatively pricey compared to Mr. Peanut’s carriers and does not collapse for storage.
Bergan Comfort Carrier: This affordable carrier is quite comfortable according to my cats, with a cozy fleece bolster bed and two no-escape petting holes. And while it has no interior tether, its exterior zippers have buckles to keep them from accidentally opening. However, this carrier was one of two to earn the lowest score on the luggage test. I had to stop and rebalance the bag four separate times on top of my suitcase as I rolled it a single city block. It also does not fold for storage.
Frisco Basic Carrier: The Basic Carrier has multiple pockets, an interior D-ring for attaching a safety tether, and comes with an ID tag. However, unlike the Mr. Peanut’s carriers, it has only one point of entry at the front of the bag and is not equipped with a luggage strap.
Sherpa Ultimate on Wheels Carrier: I like this carrier that can be carried like a traditional soft-sided kennel or converted into a rolling bag by rearranging the shoulder strap into a luggage pull. I also appreciate the privacy flaps over the mesh ventilation on the carrier’s sides and back. However, it does not come with an interior safety tether or ID tag, and at 20 inches long and 12.25 inches wide, it’s too big to fit most in-cabin airline requirements.
Sherpa Original Deluxe Carrier: This is a solid cat carrier with most of the essentials, including a fleece mat, two doors for loading, large back pocket, and luggage strap. Unfortunately, it lacks a safety tether and padded shoulder strap. Because I’m only 5-foot-4, when I adjusted the strap for long-distance carrying, the buckle landed right at my shoulder where it dug in. This carrier also had less ventilation than our top pick and failed to balance during the luggage test, especially when stepping off of a curb. Because I had to stop and reset the bag four separate times during our one-block walk, it was one of two to earn the lowest score in the trial.
Sherpa Element Carrier: For nearly the same price, this carrier offers little more than the Sherpa Original Deluxe. Like the Original Deluxe, it has no interior safety tether and no padding in the shoulder strap, causing the buckle to dig into my shoulder on our walk test. It has only a single tiny zip pocket and the second least ventilation of the bags that went on to the second phase of testing — just 15.5% of its surface area is mesh. It is also tiny compared to the other carriers, measuring 14.75 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 10.5 inches tall.
Sherpa To-Go Carrier: Of all the Sherpa bags, I liked this no-frills bag the least. With only a single tiny zip pocket and sans luggage strap, not to mention the lack of a safety tether and ID tag, this carrier did not make it to the second round of testing.
Petmate See and Extend Carrier: This top- and front-loading carrier was just okay, especially for the price. I like the expandable section that nearly doubles the size of its interior, but the carrier has only a single mesh pocket and no safety tether, ID tag, and luggage strap.
K&H Lookout Pet Carrier: The worst of the carriers I evaluated, the K&H Lookout’s design consists of a single zipper that wraps all the way around the carrier and serves to open and close its entry door. If it breaks or becomes stuck, the entire carrier would be unusable. The Lookout also lacks pockets and has a slim tent-like interior. While I was able to pop its plastic bubble window back out after it arrived collapsed, it left permanent unsightly evidence of its collapse.
Hard-shell cat carriers
Gunner G1 Medium Dog Kennel: For airline travel in the cargo hold or long car journeys, there’s no better kennel than the ultra-strong, five-star crash-tested Gunner G1 Kennel. But for everyday use, this heavy, extremely pricey crate is not the most practical option for a cat.
Petmate Two-Door Top-Load Kennel: Petmate’s kennel is great. In fact, it is the same as the Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel in nearly every way — it even broke the same way in our drop test. But while this kennel weighs slightly less than the Frisco version and is available in four colors instead of two, it costs almost $10 more.
Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier: This is a sturdy crate that fits the requirements for airline cargo pet travel. Our tests showed that it’s more durable than the Frisco Two-Door Top-Load Kennel, but it’s also significantly more expensive and has only one loading door at the front.
Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel: This kennel is remarkably similar in design, price, and size to the Petmate Sky Kennel but fared worse in durability testing.
Backpack cat carriers
Mr. Peanut’s Backpack Carrier: With multiple pockets, an interior tether, and a shoulder strap that converts the backpack to a standard carrier, Mr. Peanut’s earned a high score in our features comparisons. However, its interior may be too small for many cats to be comfortable for long periods of time.
Sherpa 2-in-1 Backpack Carrier: The shape and size of Sherpa’s backpack is very similar to Mr. Peanut’s, but it has ingenious removable backpack straps, one of which converts into a shoulder strap to turn the whole thing into a traditional carrier. The Sherpa backpack, however, lacks a luggage tag, includes a smaller mat, and has only a safety tether D-ring instead of a full tether. Unlike Mr. Peanut’s backpack, it was missing safety buckles on the zippers, a privacy flap over the top, and a chest strap to help balance the pack’s weight.
Kurgo K9 Carrier Backpack: This backpack carrier by Kurgo is stylish but falls short in several categories including ventilation and carrying comfort. In the goop test, both the interior and exterior were left looking worse for wear.
How we tested
All of the carriers evaluated in this guide went through four tests: a basic comparison of features, a drop test, a goop test, and a cat-approval test.
Feature comparison: Interviews with Wolko and Gadd helped me determine the essential features a cat carrier should have. I created a scoring system for the soft-sided carriers based on the qualities listed below. Hard-sided carriers were subject to slightly different criteria. The bags that scored the highest went on to additional testing.
Drop, stomp, and roll test: In this test, I brought the carriers that did best in the features comparison to a local park. I placed a 10-pound weight inside each bag and, with the help of my partner, dropped each one twice from a 10-foot-tall play structure, first releasing it straight down, then flipping it end on end.
Once on the ground, I rolled the bags several times with the weight still inside, looking for any damage to the stitching, mesh, or zippers. Later, I conducted the stomp test at home, placing each carrier on a rug, then stomping on it a dozen times with bare feet, noting whether the frame changed shape or the bag showed any damage.
Goop test: Because it’s not uncommon for cats to vomit or defecate in their carrier, I devised the goop test to determine how easy the carriers were to clean. I made my goop by mashing together cat kibble, canned food, and water with a mortar and pestle, then spread a tablespoon on the exterior walls, the interior walls, and the mats of the contenders. After 48 hours, I used dish soap and water to wipe the goop from the walls and cleaned the mats in the washing machine or by hand, depending on care instructions.
In-cabin airline fit test: I measured the exterior of each carrier to determine whether it would fit under the seat in the cabin of most major airlines. I used United Airlines’ recommended maximum dimensions for a soft-sided pet carrier of 18 inches long, 11 inches wide, and 11 inches tall as the standard by which to assess them.
Ventilation test: Wolko explained that a carrier’s ventilation is important for preventing a cat from overheating during travel. I measured the mesh panels on each carrier and calculated the percentage of the total surface area they comprised. Those with more ventilation were scored higher than those with limited mesh.
Walk test: I took each of the top soft-sided carriers on a 15-minute walk around my neighborhood, carrying a 10-pound weight inside. Each was carried using its shoulder strap and held at the front of my body, as if I had precious cat cargo inside. The last block of the walk, I switched to using the bags’ hand-carry straps.
Throughout the walk, I paid attention to how comfortable the carrier was to carry by shoulder and by hand, as well as how well it held its shape as it bounced against my legs. I took the same walk with the backpack carriers, noting how well the backpack fit against my back and how comfortable its straps were.
Luggage test: I placed each of the top carriers with luggage straps on top of a standard rolling suitcase and walked a single city block, pulling them off of a curb and going up a steeply ramped driveway entrance along the way. I watched closely to see how well the carrier remained balanced with a 10-pound weight inside.
Scrape test: To test the durability of the mesh, I scraped a section of each bag 50 times with a fork, noting any damage or discoloration.
Zip test: I tested the durability of each carrier’s zipper by completely zipping and unzipping one of its loading entrances 50 times, noting any changes in the zipper’s ability to smoothly run its course.
Cat-approval test: Over a period of several weeks, I left the top carriers sitting open around the house to assess their comfort. I frequently found my cats nestled inside fast asleep. Any carrier they didn’t choose to enter on their own, I baited with treats to encourage their entry and relaxation to see how well they fit inside.
Vet test: A few of the carriers — Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier, Bergan Comfort Carrier, Good2Go Expandable Carrier, and Mr. Peanut’s Backpack Carrier — were put to the test on trips to the vet. Because I was unable to test all of the top carriers in this way, I considered what I learned from these trips to be supplemental information. This included how well they fit at the foot of my car’s back seat on the passenger side, how well my cat fit inside the carrier, and in one case, how it held up to cleaning when one of my cats vomited and defecated on the trip.
What to consider when shopping for a pet carrier
A high-quality cat carrier needs to be comfortable, convenient, and safe for use by both human and cat. After speaking with Wolko and Gadd, I determined the following features to be the most important:
Shape and design: A carrier should be large enough for a cat to comfortably lie down and turn around but not so large that they don’t feel secure, according to Gadd. Because they are made with airline cabin dimensions in mind, most cat carriers nail this, but some vary in how cramped or spacious they are. Some cat carriers have built-in expandable sections that can double or even triple the size of a carrier. These are ideal for giving your pet the opportunity to safely stretch out on long travel days.
Loading doors: Gadd recommends carriers that have two doors. Because cats like options, they may prefer to enter and exit out of different openings. And if they refuse to come out, it may be easier to gently lift them from a door in the top of the carrier than to drag them out the door in the front, Gadd said.
Floor mat: Most carriers come with some type of soft floor mat. Ideally, a floor mat will be machine washable and can be attached to the interior of the bag to prevent it from sliding around.
Pockets: Pockets are essential for keeping your cat’s gear as well as yours close at hand. A good cat carrier should have more than one pocket and at least one should be secured by a zipper, button, or hook-and-loop closure.
Straps and handles: A quality carrier should have both a removable shoulder strap, preferably padded for comfort, and a double handle for lifting. A button or hook-and-loop strap that wraps around and secures the handles is helpful for keeping them balanced and out of the way.
Ventilation: Mesh panels fitted into the sides or top of a carrier provide much-needed ventilation. Too many of them, though, can make a frightened cat feel overly exposed. Wolko said a good general rule of thumb is for mesh to cover approximately half of the carrier. Some carriers feature a privacy flap that can be lifted or lowered depending on temperature and a cat’s specific needs.
Interior safety tether: A cat that does not want to be in a carrier may shoot out of its open door when it’s time for a break. An interior safety tether can prevent them from door dashing. “We recommend only connecting to the collar or harness when you stop to feed or water your pet,” Wolko said. “The tether inside the carrier should not be used during active travel, as the pet can become tangled.” Some carriers that do not have a full safety tether have an interior D-ring to which a leash can be secured.
Luggage strap: For easy airport maneuvering, look for a carrier with a luggage strap that can be slipped over a telescoping suitcase handle. “That’s a huge convenience,” said Wolko, and something she likes to see. Some carriers also have exterior straps for securing to a car seat belt. However, Wolko explained that unless the carrier has been crash-tested and third-party safety certified by an organization like the Center for Pet Safety, a cat carrier should always be placed on the floor of a vehicle beneath the back seat instead of on the seat, itself. “It minimizes the impact and provides a lot of protection,” she said. “If you do get into a sudden stop, they’re not going to fly all over the place.”
Airline-friendly dimensions: Most carriers these days are made with airline cabin regulations in mind. However, airlines differ in the carrier sizes they’ll accept on a flight. For example, on Southwest Airlines a carrier can only be 18.5 inches by 8.5 inches by 13.5 inches whereas on United Airlines a carrier must be no larger than 18 inches by 11 inches by 11 inches. If you plan to fly with your pet, investigate your preferred airline’s requirements before purchasing a carrier.
Crash-tested safety certification: A crash-tested safety certification is important if you plan to travel by car with your cat’s carrier placed on the seat. Just because a carrier has a seat belt strap doesn’t mean it’s safe to transport them that way. While independent companies may crash-test their products, the Center for Pet Safety is the leader in crash-testing and safety-certifying pet carriers. In collaboration with Subaru of America, Inc., the Center for Pet Safety conducts specially designed crash tests with dummy dogs to study a carrier’s structural integrity and the reliability of its doors and latches.
Storage: Unless you’re frequently traveling with your cat, look for a carrier that can be quickly and easily deconstructed to fold flat for storage.
ID tag: Because you never know when you might accidentally end up separated from your best friend. It’s also crucial for any traveling pet to wear a collar with ID tags in case they become separated from their carrier.
How to encourage a cat to like their carrier
To get a cat to love their carrier, it’s important that pulling it out of a closet doesn’t predict something your cat would prefer to avoid, like a visit to the vet. By leaving the carrier accessible at all times, it can be paired with the positive experiences that turn a carrier into a safe, snuggly, magical place to be.
Begin by giving the open carrier a permanent spot in an area of the home where your cat likes to relax. “Make it comfortable,” Gadd said. “Leave the door open or even take the top off, then play games around the carrier so it isn’t scary to them.” Wolko also suggests throwing treats and toys into the carrier to make the space rewarding.
When your cat is no longer intimidated by the carrier, begin closing the door while they are inside for short periods of time, just a few seconds or a few minutes, depending on the cat. Over time, gradually increase the period for which they are enclosed. Pairing these sessions with a Lickimat spread with a cat-friendly treat paste like Churu can help them to feel better about confinement. Spritzing the carrier with a pheromone spray 15 to 30 minutes before the cat enters can also help promote calm, according to Gadd.
When it’s time to actually travel, Gadd recommends placing a piece of clothing with your scent on it inside the carrier and covering the exterior with a towel or blanket. Instead of dangling the carrier by its handles, lift it from the bottom and hold it against your body for a more secure ride.
If your cat experiences anxiety in the carrier, talk to your vet about an anxiety-decreasing medication for travel. Signs of anxiety include crying, panting, vomiting, defecating, or pushing their face against the carrier’s interior. Some cats who experience these symptoms may be suffering from car sickness in addition to, or instead of, anxiety. The vet can help there, too, by prescribing an anti-nausea medication.
Best safety practices for car travel
Although several of the cat carriers tested for this guide were outfitted with straps for attaching to a car seat belt, Wolko recommends against using them unless the carrier has been crash-tested and safety certified. “It’s counterintuitive, but you do not want to strap them in with a seat belt,” she explained. This is especially important if you are using a hard-sided carrier. When strapped in, a collision or sudden stop can cause a plastic kennel to flex, fracture, or even break apart.
If your carrier has not been crash-tested or safety certified, the safest way to travel with a cat in the car is to place them on the floor behind the driver or passenger seat, said Wolko. In that location they are less likely to shift around or take a tumble if you have to stop short or get into a collision.
For car travel, Wolko also recommends selecting a carrier that is not a dark color and has plenty of ventilation. “We don’t recommend black carriers in general because when you’re in the sunshine, it absorbs heat,” she explained. All but our budget pick, the Frisco Travel Carrier, are available in colors other than black.
If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
There are a variety of bird feeder designs for attracting different species of birds to your yard.
We consulted experts from the Audubon Society and Project FeederWatch for this guide.
These are the 10 best bird feeders, including hopper, tube, suet, and hummingbird feeders.
This article was medically reviewed by Ericka Wade, DVM, a veterinarian at Burke County Animal Hospital, Georgia.
Setting out wild bird feeders is an easy way to attract a diversity of native and migrating species to your yard. It’s something both you and your feathered friends will benefit from: Studies have shown that providing food for wild birds can help them to maintain good health, live longer, and have more reproductive success.
To better understand the types of birds a feeder can attract, the feeder designs that work best, and the varieties of food they like best, we consulted with three avian experts from the Audubon Society and Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch. We combined their expertise with extensive research to come up with the best products in 10 categories of wild bird feeders.
Tube feeders are a great way to attract a variety of smaller birds, including finches, wrens, and chickadees. Plus, they are easy to fill and can typically be both hung and pole-mounted. “Tube feeders offer a lot of different ports for different individuals to sit on at the same time and they keep seed dry and clean,” said Emma Greig, project leader for Project FeederWatch at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.
Droll Yankees’ Onyx 18-inch Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder has four powder-coated metal feeding ports with perches and a seed tray. Its transparent 18-inch-long tube is made from discoloration-resistant plastic and it has a metal twist-and-release base that is easily removed for cleaning. The Onyx holds up to 2 pounds of feed and, thanks to its spring-loaded flip-top metal cap, it can be filled one-handed. Suspend the feeder from its stainless steel wire or pole-mount it. If squirrels get too curious, the feeder is backed by a lifetime warranty against any damage they cause.
Onyx 18-in Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder (button)
The best budget tube feeder
All of the experts we consulted agree that a high-quality wild bird feeder should be made from easy-to-clean plastic, metal, or glass. It should also be easy to take apart for proper cleaning, according to John Rowden, senior director of bird-friendly communities at the National Audubon Society in New York, New York.
The affordable Perky Pet Tube Wild Bird Feeder‘s six plastic feeding ports, perches, and plastic base all come apart so you can remove old seed and scrub out the bacteria left behind. The bright blue 18-inch-long tube is made from durable rust-resistant powder-coated metal and holds up to a pound of bird feed. It hangs from a sturdy, built-in metal hanger.
Tube Wild Bird Feeder (button)
The best nectar feeder
Nectar feeders attract long-beaked, jewel-toned hummingbirds and the occasional woodpecker, warbler, or oriole. “These feeders are great because you can make the sugar-water solution at home by simply combining one part sugar with four parts water,” said Katie Percy, avian biologist with Audubon Louisiana. Although some store-bought nectars are dyed red artificially, adding red dye to your mix may actually be harmful for birds, she told Insider Reviews.
Aspects Hummzinger Ultra Feeder is simply designed in two parts that are exceptionally easy to fill and clean. The red plastic cover, which has a wraparound perch and four rain-diverting, bee-deterring feeding ports, screws into a clear plastic base so you to see when nectar levels are getting low. A built-in moat in the middle of the cover prevents ants from getting into the nectar. The 8.25-inch-diameter, 2-inch-tall Hummzinger is drip- and leak-proof, holds up to 12 ounces of nectar, and hangs from a brass hook. Aspects’ feeder also comes backed by a lifetime guarantee.
Ultra Hummingbird Feeder (button)
The best hopper feeder
Hopper feeders attract a wide variety of small, medium, and large birds, including jays, sparrows, and finches. “They do a good job of keeping seed dry and [provide] easy access to the birds,” said Greig. As the birds eat, the hopper’s food continuously drops into the feeding ports, keeping them full until the food runs out.
The extra-large capacity Woodlink Squirrel Resistant Hopper Feeder has a three-position perch that can be adjusted to maximize visits by small, medium, or large birds. When the wrong bird or a squirrel lands on the feeder, a shield drops over the seed tray to prevent them from getting a taste. Woodlink’s Hopper is made from durable powder-coated steel and its locking, squirrel-resistant lid lifts off for easy cleaning. It holds up to 15 pounds of seed and a seed-level indicator window lets you see when it’s running low. This feeder comes with both a steel hanging rod and a 5-foot pole and mounting kit.
Squirrel Resistant Hopper Feeder (button)
The best mesh finch feeder
Finch feeders are similar to tube feeders but have a mesh seed well instead of a plastic or glass one. This mesh design is perfect for attracting finches, which unlike larger birds, are agile enough to cling to the small openings in the metal screen. Because the finches can feed from any position, it also allows more birds to eat at the same time.
The More Birds Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder is a versatile option that allows birds to choose between landing on its screen, at one of four feeding ports with perches, or on the seed tray. Even if larger birds visit the feeder, smaller finches can still find a place to chow down. The Sedona has a twist-off metal cover and base for easy cleaning and drainage holes at the bottom. The screen is made from steel mesh and the ports and seed tray are weather-resistant. This sunny yellow feeder holds up to 2.8 pounds of seed.
Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder (button)
The best suet feeder
Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and starlings, among others, enjoy eating calorie- and fat-dense suet, a feed made from animal fat and ingredients such as corn meal, nuts, and dried insects. Suet is commonly sold in solid cakes that are then suspended in a cage for easy access. Suet is a good feeding option in cold weather, but it is best avoided in warmer months since the fat in the feed can quickly turn rancid in the heat, Percy said.
The cylindrical More Birds Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder has an interior cage for holding two cakes of suet and an exterior cage to keep squirrels out. Both are made from weather-resistant powder-coated steel. The steel lid lifts off for easy cleaning and filling. Squirrel-X’s Suet Feeder is 10 inches in diameter, 9.4-inches tall and is fitted with an aluminum hanger.
Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder (button)
The best squirrel-resistant feeder
In many areas, squirrels are an ever-present problem when feeding wild birds. “Those things are really clever,” said Greig. “They can jump really far and they’re really acrobatic.” While various measures can be taken to deter squirrels, some feeders are designed with squirrel-resistance in mind. Some seal their feeding ports when a squirrel lands on them and others are suspended within a cage that is too small for a squirrel to squeeze into, according to Rowden. If a feeder doesn’t have built-in squirrel protection, Percy recommends hanging it from a pole that is at least 10 feet away from vegetation or other structures that squirrels can climb and outfitting it with a baffle, a plastic cone that blocks a squirrel’s route.
Droll Yankees’ Sunflower Domed Cage Feeder encloses a clear 15-inch-long plastic tube feeder inside a coated metal cage 10.5 inches in diameter. A plastic roof covers the entire thing to keep the seed inside dry. The interior tube feeder holds up to 1 pound of seed, has four feeding ports, and attaches to the cage with a spring clamp. When it’s time for cleaning, the tube can be easily removed and disassembled. Droll Yankees’ Sunflower Feeder is backed by a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage.
Sunflower Domed Cage Feeder (button)
The best window feeder
A window feeder gives even those without outdoor space the opportunity to feed winged visitors like finches, jays, and cardinals. It may seem like a bad idea to place a feeder against a window, but both Greig and Percy told Insider Reviews that it’s actually helpful. Placing a feeder within 3 feet of a window reduces the chances that a bird will become confused and fly into it, causing self-injury or even death.
The Nature Anywhere Window Bird House Feeder attaches to any window with four heavy-duty suction cups. The 8-inch-by-8-inch house is made of transparent acrylic and has a large circular window at its center for better viewing. A sliding seed tray holds up to 2 cups of feed and can be removed for cleaning and refilling. Because squirrels can’t climb the sides of buildings, the Window Bird House may be less likely to suffer critter damage than hanging varieties. Nature Anywhere’s feeder comes with a lifetime guarantee just in case.
Window Bird House Feeder (button)
The best domed feeder
Like platform feeders, dome feeders have a flat tray that can be filled with almost anything birds will eat, including seed, insects, and fruit. Bluebirds are particularly attracted to this type of feeder when it’s filled with mealworms because the raised dome helps them feel protected from predators. In general, the more variety you add to your feeder, the greater number of species you’ll attract, Percy said. Nutritious options include black-oil sunflower seed, white millet, nyjer seed, orange halves, and suet.
The Heath Observatory Dome Bird Feeder can hold up to a pound of food. It has two separate clear plastic pieces — a flat tray with sides and a dome-shaped cover — that are connected with a steel rod hanger. The distance between tray and cover is adjustable and drainage holes in the bottom of the tray help keep feed clean and dry. The Observatory Dome Feeder is 11.75 inches in diameter and can be hung from its steel hook or mounted on a pole.
Dome Bird Feeder (button)
The best platform feeder
Platform feeders are arguably the simplest, most versatile feeders available. They can be filled with any bird-friendly food and it is easy for most feathered friends to comfortably sit on the tray and eat. Like other feeders, platforms should be made from easy-to-clean materials like plastic or metal. “Although [wooden feeders] can look quite nice, they tend to be porous and harbor additional bacteria,” said Percy.
Duncraft’s Eco-Strong Platform Feeder has a sturdy tray made from recycled plastic and a mesh metal bottom that helps keep feed dry. The 12-inch-by-2-inch feeder is approximately an inch deep and has a hanging chain that clips to rings embedded at each corner to keep it balanced. The whole thing hangs from an S-hook at the top of the chain. The Eco-Strong Platform Feeder holds up to 2 pounds of seed, insects, fruit, nuts, or suet and is easy to detach from the chain for cleaning or filling.
Eco-Strong Platform Feeder (button)
How we selected products
We consulted three avian experts and conducted extensive research to come up with the selection criteria for this guide to the best bird feeders. We then applied that criteria to the bird feeders available at major online retailers, selecting our top choices in 10 different categories of feeders. The essential features we looked for included:
Feeder material: Our experts recommend sticking to feeders made from nonporous, easy-to-clean materials such as plastic, metal, and glass. Percy advised us to stay away from wood feeders in which harmful bacteria is more likely to grow.
Ease of disassembly: Because bird feeders should be frequently emptied, cleaned, and refilled, the easier they are to disassemble, the better. We favored feeders that have a fully removable cover and/or base and removable feeding ports and perches.
Ease of cleaning: Percy recommends cleaning bird feeders at least every two weeks and more often during times of heavy use or wet weather. We looked for feeders that could be easily soaked and scrubbed both inside and out, including in hard-to-reach crevices.
Bird-safe design: Greig recommends avoiding feeders that have tight, narrow corners or additional pieces that could cause a bird to become stuck inside. With that in mind, we looked for feeders with simple, functional designs.
Drainage: When water gets into a bird feeder, it can cause seed and other foods to rot or develop bacteria that may sicken or even kill a bird. In addition to a feeder that’s easy to clean, we looked for designs with built-in drainage when possible.
Price: We compared the cost of the feeders that met our other selection criteria, favoring those that were most affordable.
Are feeders good for wild birds?
Feeding wild birds, when done correctly, is appropriate and may even help them when resources are limited,” said Rowden. According to Percy, studies have shown that birds with access to supplemental feeding may have better chances of survival and reproductive success than those that don’t.
What shouldn’t I feed wild birds?
Birds should never be offered processed human foods, including bread. “Bread, fresh or stale, does not provide nutritional value for wild birds and moldy bread can even be harmful,” explained Percy. She also recommends avoiding low-cost commercial bird seed mixes. “Unfortunately, many less expensive bags of mixed seed contain a lot of ‘filler’ seeds that most birds do not prefer and that contain no real nutritional value for them,” she said.
Where should I hang my bird feeder?
Squirrels and window strikes are two of the most problematic issues when it comes to hanging a bird feeder. To avoid the latter, Greig recommends placing feeders within 3 feet of windows. “If they’re on the bird feeder and they get spooked and fly into a window, they don’t have enough speed built up to really harm themselves,” she said. Hanging a feeder more than 10 feet away from your home can also help keep birds safe. To deter squirrels, try hanging or pole mounting a feeder at least 10 feet from trees and other objects they can climb. Using a squirrel-resistant feeder or baffle, a plastic cone hung beneath the feeder to block a squirrel’s access, can also help to keep them at bay.
When shouldn’t I use wild bird feeders?
Bird feeders are best used in clean, safe, healthy environments, Greig told Insider Reviews. If you use pesticides on your lawn or garden or have outdoor cats, you should not use feeders to attract birds to your yard.
Are there other ways to attract wild birds to my yard?
“You can still create a beautiful space and attract birds to your yard just by creating a bird friendly habitat — letting a patch of your lawn go to seed or leaving a brush pile, for example” said Greig. Rowden agreed. “We encourage people to think about providing food naturally by planting native species that can provide food and shelter and places to nest in, and can potentially provide food throughout the year depending on where people live,” he said. The Audubon Society’s Native Plants Database can help you figure out what to plant around your home to attract birds.
How to maintain a bird feeder
Wild bird feeders must be emptied and cleaned frequently to prevent the feed from becoming contaminated by moisture and bacteria. Percy recommends taking them apart and scrubbing them down at least every two weeks. They should be cleaned more often in wet weather and at times of year that lots of birds are visiting.
To clean a feeder, begin by completely emptying and disassembling it. Check the care instructions to determine whether your feeder is dishwasher friendly or if it must be hand-washed. If it’s the latter, soaking the feeder’s parts in warm water first can dislodge stuck-on debris.
When hand-washing, use a bottle brush and dish soap to thoroughly scrub the feeder’s interior. If it needs disinfecting due to the potential buildup of bacteria, Percy recommends washing it in a solution made from one part bleach and nine parts water. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the feeder after washing.
Before reassembling and filling your feeder, make sure it is completely dry. Moisture that sticks around will contaminate feed more quickly.
For this guide to the best bird feeders, we consulted the following experts in the field of avian biology, behavioral ecology, and conservation:
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Cleaning the litter box is the most dreaded job of any cat guardian, and without a high-quality cat litter, it’s made all the worse. What makes a person happy, however, can be the exact opposite of what a cat prefers. If the texture is wrong or the litter is perfumed, a cat may even choose to do their business outside of the box.
To help us identify the best litters to please both cat and guardian, we consulted four veterinarians to learn more about the litter preferences of cats and their toileting needs. Guided by their advice, we selected and tested 28 different litters, including clay, paper, silica gel, wood, grass, and corn substrates. Editorial review samples were provided by their manufacturers, with the exception of Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter.
Testing cat litters for this guide was done in two phases: a pre-cat phase and a cat phase. In the first phase, I compared litters belonging to the same category in heats of four at a time, assessing them for a variety of factors, including clumping ability, dustiness, scent, and texture.
The top two litters in each heat went on to the next phase. The litter was poured into a litter pan for the cats to use for anywhere from one to four weeks to test for odor control and tracking. Litters that were tested for two weeks or less were those that my cats refused to use, or those we tested prior to receiving the bulk of the litters for this guide. For each litter, I assessed the following qualities:
Litter weight, shape, and softness: Because cats typically prefer a soft, grainy substrate that is easy to dig, I evaluated the shape, texture, softness, and density of each litter. I measured 1/4 cup of each on a kitchen scale to compare their weights side by side.
Dust and scent: Cats are sensitive to both dust and scent, so I measured the relative intensity of each. I noted the amount of dust emitted when pouring and scooping the litter, as well as how much peppered the sides of the bowl or litter box. With scent, I went by the advice of Dr. Catherine Tannert, co-medical director of VCA Old Marple Animal Hospital, in Springfield, Pennsylvania, who said, “Cats prefer unscented litter to the cloying smell of kitty litters that are developed for the owner’s perception of cleanliness.” I did a sniff test of each litter in both phases of testing, including the thankless job of lifting clumps of litter to my nose to gauge how much of an ammonia scent they emitted.
Clumping ability and ease of cleaning: In phase one testing, I compared a small amount of each litter in plastic bowls with slick interiors similar to a litter pan. I added 1/4 cup of water to each bowl in two separate trials to gauge how quickly and easily it was absorbed, as well as how solidly it clumped and stuck together upon scooping. At the end of both trials, I emptied each bowl to look for moisture that had escaped the clumps and adhered to the bottom of the bowl.
Odor control and tracking: The top two litters from each category went on to phase two testing in a litter box for one to four weeks. I cleaned the litter pan twice daily and swept up any tracked litter once a day, noting how easy clumps were to remove and how much ended up on the floor. A daily sniff test informed me of the extent to which odors were under control. Because my cats refused to use the paper litters, I was unable to complete a phase two test on them.
Cost: I calculated the cost per pound of each litter and compared them. With lightweight clay litters, I first calculated their weight relative to a standard clay litter and adjusted the price accordingly.
The best cat litter overall
Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter is a super absorbent clay-based clumping litter that does a superior job containing odors, produces very little dust, and is easy to clean.
Pros: Activated charcoal controls odors; forms tight, easy-to-clean clumps; does not contain fragrances or dyes; lightweight; produces minimal dust; has texture many cats prefer; reasonably priced
Cons: A fair amount of litter tracks outside the box
Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter is a dye and fragrance-free clay-based clumping litter with the grainy, sandy texture that most cats prefer, or at least tolerate well. It produces very little of the little dust that can irritate cats with sensitive respiratory systems and contains bits of activated charcoal that help control odors.
In testing, Naturally Strong absorbed liquid quickly, forming a tight clump that was easy to remove in a single piece. I also found that this litter rarely left moistened clay stuck to the interior of the litter box. Best of all, it was effective at preventing foul odors throughout our three-week testing period.
Pros: Tight-clumping medium-grain clay litter, unscented, very little dust, low tracking, does a fine job of controlling odors, affordable
Cons: Odors can accumulate over time
Several years ago, I switched my cat to the unscented Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter at the recommendation of a veterinary behaviorist, and I’ve been using it religiously ever since. But with the opportunity to test nine clumping clay litters for this guide, I was anxious to see how it would hold up compared to other brands. Quite well, it turns out.
For a highly affordable litter that is odor-containing and easy to clean, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra is as good as it gets. The unscented medium-grain clay litter also satisfies a cat’s need to scratch, dig, and bury their waste. Because it produces very little dust, it’s also a good choice for cats with respiratory issues.
In testing, it absorbed liquid almost instantly and clumped tightly. With a bit of heft to its grains, less litter was carried out of the box on my cats’ feet than with our top pick, Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter.
Although Dr. Elsey’s Ultra controls odors, it relies on 100% sodium bentonite clay to minimize odors instead of activated charcoal. I have found that if I’m lax on emptying and completely cleaning the box every couple of months, odors can begin to accumulate.
At around $0.50 per pound and sold in bags up to 40 pounds, Dr. Elsey’s is one of the top two most cost-effective brands in this guide, along with Frisco Scoopable Unscented Litter.
The best non-clumping litter
Pretty Litter‘s color-changing silica gel formula is an early warning system for detecting feline urinary health problems.
Pros: Changes colors to monitor a cat’s urinary health, made of safe silica gel, absorbs and controls odors, automatic delivery, 30-day money-back guarantee, reasonably priced, lightweight formula
Cons: Ammonia scent toward end of litter’s lifespan (around 12 days for two cats), false health readings toward end of litter’s lifespan (around 14 days for two cats)
Feline urinary tract diseases (FLUTD) such as bladder inflammation, urinary stones, or crystals are common in cats, according to Tannert. Just as common is a cat who tries to hide their pain and discomfort, making it all the more challenging to figure out if there’s a problem.
Pretty Litter takes the guesswork out of monitoring a cat’s urinary health with its color-changing silica gel litter. When a cat’s urine is too acidic, too alkaline, or contains blood, the litter changes color from a healthy yellow-green to an ominous dark yellow, blue, or red.
Both of my cats used Pretty Litter willingly, and despite its light weight, it did not stick to their feet as much as the clay litters. The litter is dust and fragrance-free, but it does have a bit of a chemical scent.
Pretty Litter does not clump. Instead, urine is absorbed into lightweight silica gel flakes made from safe naturally occurring minerals like those frequently used in medications, food, and cosmetics. The flakes have a light, sandy texture that satisfies a cat’s instinct to dig and bury their waste. Solids need to be scooped out daily.
Pretty Litter did a good job of controlling odors. I did find that the closer we got to the end of the litter’s lifespan (about two weeks for two cats), the more I noticed a slight ammonia scent.
Around that same time, the litter can also give false color readings. We had one stressful morning where one of my cat’s urine turned blue. It turned out the only thing that was wrong was that I hadn’t changed the litter fast enough.
For a single cat, a bag lasts a month before requiring changing. Pretty Litter is a subscription service priced at $22 per month for one cat. If either you or your cat isn’t a fan, the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Pros: Made of sustainably sourced paper pellets, free of dyes and synthetic chemicals, very little dust, biodegradable, pellets are soft and less than 1 inch long, unscented
Cons: Expensive, some cats do not like using a pellet-style litter
Paper litters, most of which come in the form of small, firm pellets, can be a good substrate solution for cats that suffer from respiratory problems. Of the five paper varieties we reviewed, Ökocat’s Paper Pellet Litter performed best in my first round of testing. It absorbed liquid quickly and the paper pellets didn’t immediately fall apart.
Ökocat’s pellets were also the softest and smallest (approximately .5 to 1 inch in length) of the paper litters we tested, making them more conducive to natural scratching, digging, and burying behaviors than brands with heavier, larger pellets.
This litter does not clump. Instead, the paper pellets absorb as much liquid as they can before falling apart and turning into a sort of mulch. Scooping is only necessary for solids.
Unfortunately, because neither of my cats were willing to use the paper substrates, I can’t speak to how well Ökocat controls odors or holds up over time. However, it is clear from the weight and shape of the litter that the pellets are very low tracking compared to smaller-grained clay and natural varieties. We will be testing this litter out with some willing participants for a later update to this guide.
While Ökocat Paper Pellet Litter isn’t dust-free, it is close. The paper pellets are also biodegradable and do not have any scent. But this litter is also 35% to 60% more expensive than the other paper brands we tested. Unlike most paper litters, Ökocat uses sustainably sourced dye and white paper free of synthetic chemicals instead of recycled paper — a less environmentally friendly policy that nonetheless is likely better for sensitive cats.
Pros: Made from compressed corn kernels, similar texture to clay litters, controls odors well when cleaned frequently, minimal dust, reasonably priced
Cons: Odors can build up without frequent cleaning and become more noticeable around three weeks of use by two cats
In our tests, World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter came out on top of the 12 natural litters we considered, thanks to its good clumping ability and odor control. Made from compressed corn kernels, this litter’s lightweight granules are slightly harder than the clay litters in our best overall and best budget litter categories, but they are still satisfyingly scratchable.
World’s Best absorbed liquids instantaneously to form tight, solid clumps that maintained their shape and structure on removal. Its natural corn-cereal scent controlled odors well when cleaned twice a day. However, I found if I left clumps in for a 24-hour period, the scent of ammonia became increasingly strong.
Tracking of this litter is relatively minimal — about equivalent to our top clay litter selections. This litter is also free of synthetic additives, chemicals, and fragrances and produces very minimal dust.
According to World’s Best, a 14-pound bag of Multiple Cat Litter is intended to last about a month (33 days) for two cats. However, I found that in the last few days of our three-week testing period, the remaining litter in the pan was somewhat less effective at absorbing odors than it had been in the beginning. Based on this observation, I would expect that by the end of four weeks, ammonia odors are likely to be even more noticeable.
What else we considered
Clumping clay litters we liked
Cat’s Pride Unscented Natural Care Multi-Cat Clumping Litter: This affordable clay litter absorbed liquids instantaneously and formed clumps that were only a little more likely to break apart during cleaning than our top picks. Cat’s Pride is lighter weight than most clay litters, but that also makes it more likely to be tracked than heavier formulas. For every 15-pound jug purchased, the company donates a pound of litter to an animal shelter.
Tidy Cats Free and Clean Lightweight Litter: This Tidy Cats Litter was on par with the brand’s Naturally Strong variety, which we selected as the best litter overall for this guide. The Free and Clean litter absorbed liquids on contact, clumped tightly, controlled odors with activated charcoal, and produced very little dust. It was also significantly lighter, making it easier to carry and pour. That lighter weight, however, resulted in more tracking than the Naturally Strong litter, with granules of litter sometimes riding on my cats’ feet all the way to the living room couch.
Frisco Scoopable Unscented Litter: Frisco’s Multi-Cat Litter is a steal. Though it is less instantaneously absorbent, forming thinner and more fragile clumps that spread more widely across the pan, Frisco’s litter controls odors as well as our top budget pick, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter. Unscented and among the least dusty formulas we tried, this is another great option for anyone looking to save a few bucks.
Clay clumping litters we don’t recommend
Arm & Hammer Unscented Multi-Cat Litter: Although it is advertised as unscented, this litter has a light laundry detergent odor. And while it did form solid clumps, it was the dustiest of all of the litters we tested.
Cat’s Pride Scented Bacterial Odor Control Multi-Cat Litter: Cat’s Pride Bacterial Odor Control Litter produced very little dust and clumped reasonably well, but it failed to capture all of the testing liquid, leaving wet clay stuck to the bottom of the pan. This litter has a light soapy scent.
Arm & Hammer Cloud Control Litter: Arm & Hammer’s Cloud Control was the least absorbent litter out of the nine clay varieties we tested, although that which it did absorb clumped solidly. A heavy litter perfumed with a light laundry scent, Cloud Control is, at the very least, dust-free.
Petsafe Scoop Free Scented Crystal Litter: Lightly scented and with very little dust, this crystal litter absorbs moisture and captures odors. Like Pretty Litter, Petsafe’s non-clumping crystal litter is made from silica gel and a single bag lasts up to 30 days for one cat. Unlike Pretty Litter, Petsafe’s litter does not warn guardians when their pet might be experiencing urinary trouble.
Paper cat litter
Yesterday’s News Clumping Paper Litter: The only clumping paper litter we tested, this recycled paper formula worked reasonably well to absorb moisture and form clumps. Its flaky, soft texture is also more similar to clay litter than the other varieties. Unfortunately, it was the dustiest of the bunch.
Yesterday’s News Non-Clumping Paper Litter: Made from recycled paper, this unscented eco-friendly paper litter is absorbent and virtually dust-free. However, being made up of long, hard pellets of 1.5 to 2 inches in length, it was among the least conducive to natural scratching and covering behaviors of all the litters we tested.
Pioneer Pet Smart Cat Clumping Grass Litter: I really liked this grass litter because it acted almost exactly like a good clay clumping litter. The naturally wheat-cereal-scented grass particles absorbed moisture instantly and formed strong, solid clumps. Soft to the touch, essentially dust-free, and odor-trapping, the only thing keeping this litter from the top spot was its cost — almost double the equally effective World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter.
World’s Best Zero Mess Cat Litter: My cats and I both liked the Zero Mess formula from World’s Best, which blends the company’s typical corn kernels with additional plant fibers to absorb liquid and form tight clumps. On sniff tests, this litter also did a great job of minimizing odors. Ultimately, however, I found the Zero Mess formula to work no better than World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter, our pick for best natural litter, despite costing around 25% more.
Frisco Corn and Wheat Cat Litter: I was disappointed by this litter’s absorbency. Not only did our tester liquid spread out within the litter, it seeped all the way to the bottom of the pan and left it wet. The clumps that did form were also quick to fall apart, making this litter more challenging to clean.
Ökocat Super Soft Wood Litter: Of the three wood litters we tested, I liked Ökocat’s Super Soft formula best. Like the other wood litters, this version did an excellent job of absorbing liquids and preventing odors. It also had a superior clumping ability as opposed to Feline Pine and Okocat’s Original Litter — though clumping was less solid and more likely to fall apart in cleaning than some of the other natural varieties we tested. As the name suggests, this litter has softer, smaller granules than its competitors, which my cats seemed to prefer. They toileted in it a little more frequently than the others, though still not as often as the grass, walnut, or grain varieties.
Ökocat Original Wood Clumping Litter: Ökocat’s original clumping formula is made of the same sustainably sourced wood as the Super Soft Clumping style and it absorbs moisture just as quickly. However, I found this litter’s clumping ability to be somewhat disappointing. It stuck together in some places, while in others, the wood granules quickly degraded. When dry, those same granules are quite sharp and stiff, a texture that sensitive cats may prefer to avoid.
Feline Pine Clumping Wood Litter: Made of reclaimed lumber shavings, this was the softest of the wood litters, but it was also the dustiest. In testing, I was unimpressed with Feline Pine’s clumping ability. It absorbed moisture slowly and turned mealy like oatmeal instead of forming a solid clump.
Littermaid Natural Premium Walnut Clumping Litter: My cats and I liked this walnut litter, which clumped tightly and controlled odors well. Because this slightly softer substrate is heavier than its competitors, it also tracked less and produced a little less dust. One thing to note about Littermaid is that it sometimes absorbs liquids slowly. The company recommends waiting a full 15 minutes after urination to scoop, but we found that often absorption took less than a minute.
Naturally Fresh Quick-Clumping Walnut Litter: This clumping formula was my least favorite of the walnut litters we tested. It absorbed liquid well, but its clumping ability was just okay. In cleaning, many of the clumps fell apart and were more challenging to remove. It was also the dustiest of the three nut-shell varieties we tested.
Clumping vs. non-clumping litters: Cat litter is sold in both clumping and non-clumping formulas. Clumping formulas, including those made from clay, corn, wood, and grass, form solid masses when they encounter urine, and those must be removed from the litter daily.
Non-clumping litters absorb urine, too, but instead of forming clumps, the granules of silica, wood, or paper become saturated and gradually break down over time. On each cleaning, the substrate must be stirred to distribute the ammonia in the box. There is no difference between how non-clumping and clumping litters interact with solids — feces must still be scooped daily.
Both clumping and non-clumping litters manage bad smells. In the case of clumping formulas, urine is removed through daily scooping. In non-clumping formulas, urine accumulates in the box over time. Clumping litters can be topped off with additional litter as needed, but boxes filled with a non-clumping litter must be completely emptied and refilled after a period of two to seven weeks, depending on the brand and type of litter.
Litter texture: Litter preferences vary from cat to cat, according to Dr. Karen Sueda, veterinary behaviorist at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, but every feline wants a toileting substrate they can easily dig and cover their waste in. Cats with sensitive feet may avoid using litters with sharper granules, such as crystal or pellet formulas.
Dust-free litter: Dusty natural and clay litters can be problematic for both cat and human. Dust may cause sensitive cats, particularly those with allergies or respiratory issues like asthma, to cough, sneeze, or wheeze during or after using their litter. It can produce the same effect in humans when filling or scooping the box. While no litter is completely dust-free, those that produce very little dust are less likely to have unintended respiratory effects.
Scent-free litter: Because cats have an extremely strong sense of smell, the scent of a litter is a significant factor in whether they will use or avoid a litter box, according to Dr. Christine Calder, veterinary behaviorist at Midcoast Humane in Brunswick, Maine. Even a natural scent may deter a cat. Calder, Sueda, and Tannert all recommended sticking to an unscented variety.
Why we didn’t consider the flushability of natural cat litters: One of the purported benefits of some natural cat litter varieties is that they can be flushed in the toilet. But just because you can flush natural cat litter doesn’t mean you should, and not just because low-flush toilets and pipes made for human waste often can’t handle clumps without clogging.
Cat waste can contain Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that causes flu-like symptoms at best and, at worst, fetal development disorders, brain damage, and premature birth in babies. Water waste treatment plants are unable to filter out this harmful parasite and it can end up in treated water that’s released back into the environment, harming fish, killing native plants, and making recreation areas unsafe. Scientific studies have found that T. gondii especially poses a threat to marine mammals like sea otters.
Types of cat litter
Nearly every one of the more than a dozen veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, and cat specialists I’ve spoken to about cat toileting behavior over the last six months has agreed that most cats prefer, or are at least more tolerant of, nonperfumed clay litters. “Generally speaking, I recommend a fine-grained, clay-based clumping litter that is unscented,” said Sueda.
Most clay cat litters are made from absorbent sodium bentonite clay, a naturally occurring material acquired through strip-mining and broken down into pebble-sized granules. Some clay litters are mixed with activated charcoal for additional odor absorption. They come in both unscented and scented varieties. Traditional clay litters are also quite dusty when poured, scratched at by a cat, or cleaned, though many newer formulas produce very little dust.
Pros: Preferred or tolerated by most cats because they make practicing natural toileting behaviors like digging and covering waste easy; absorb liquids instantly and form tight clumps for easy cleaning; control odors, especially those formulas that contain activated charcoal; cost efficient; some formulas are virtually dust free
Cons: Weigh more than some other varieties of cat litter; are produced in an environmentally unfriendly way; scented formulas can be too strong for a cat’s sensitive nose; can be easily tracked out of the litter boxes, especially lighter weight formulas; some formulas are very dusty
For cats that suffer from respiratory problems like asthma or have recently undergone surgery, Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer at Bond Vet, in New York City, typically recommends a paper litter, which tends to be less dusty than clay litters and less likely to stick to incision sites. Most paper litters come in pellet form and are made from either recycled materials or sustainably sourced wood. They are also almost always non-clumping with pellets that absorb liquid and slowly break apart over time. Only solids need to be scooped out of a litter box filled with paper litter.
Pros: Good for cats with respiratory problems, only solids need to be scooped from the litter box, pellet formulas are low-tracking, made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials
Cons: Some cats dislike the texture and weight of paper pellets, pellets fall apart over time, odors may increase over time as pellets become saturated with urine
Silica gel litter
Silica gel or crystal litters are made from sodium silicate sand, a naturally occurring material acquired through strip mining. They do not contain crystalline silicate or other carcinogenic materials that may be harmful to cats, but the inhalation of microscopic silica dust over time could lead to respiratory issues.
Silica gel litters are ultra-absorbent odor-eaters, but as the non-clumping granules saturate with urine over time, they may become less effective at preventing ammonia odors. Some silica litters, particularly crystal versions, may be too sharp for sensitive paws.
Pros: Made from safe, natural silica gel; ultra-absorbent and good at preventing odors; non-clumping formula does not require removal of liquids
Cons: Inhalation of silica dust over time may lead to respiratory issues, crystal formulas may be too sharp for sensitive paws, smells can worsen over time as silica gel becomes saturated with liquids, not environmentally friendly
Grain, grass, wood, and walnut shells are all used as alternative materials in natural cat litters. According to Satchu, not only are these biodegradable options more environmentally friendly, some have additional benefits, too. Due to their absorption ability, wood litters are typically low tracking and do a good job minimizing odors while grain litters are a safe bet for cats who like to snack on litter due to behavioral issues.
Ultimately, the superiority of one style of natural litter over another comes down to a cat’s individual preference. “I try to encourage owners to choose one litter and stick with it through kitty’s life because they are ultimately creatures of habit,” said Satchu. “Any litter that will keep kitty going where they’re supposed to be going is a good litter in my book.”
Pros: Many formulas are low dust, natural scent of some varieties controls odors without additives, biodegradable, made from sustainable materials
Cons: Some cats may dislike the scent and/or the texture of natural litters, lightweight formulas are more easily tracked than heavier clay litters, more expensive on average than clay litters
FAQs about cat toileting
How many times a day does a cat normally use the litter box?
On average, cats urinate two to four times a day, but according to Sueda, this can vary from cat to cat. Cleaning litter boxes at least once daily can help guardians determine if there’s a change in frequency, which may indicate a health problem.
Typically, cats defecate one to two times a day, but this, too, can vary from cat to cat. Like with urination, sudden changes in frequency may indicate a health problem.
What size and how many litter boxes do I need?
A litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of a cat, large enough for them to comfortably scratch and bury their waste. The standard rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat plus one extra, and ideally one on each floor of a home. A home with multiple cats, however, may be able to get away with fewer extra-large litter boxes as long as they are cleaned at least twice a day, according to Sueda. See our guide to the best litter boxes for more on this.
What does it mean if a cat stops urinating?
If a cat stops urinating altogether, it is likely they are experiencing a feline urinary tract disease (FLUTD) such as bladder inflammation or urinary stones or crystals. Male cats are particularly susceptible to the latter. “Male cats have a very narrow urethra, so crystals and mucus can form a plug or a single tiny stone may become lodged anywhere along this narrow tube,” said Tannert.
If a cat is unable to urinate, deadly toxins begin building up. Death can occur if the blockage isn’t removed by a veterinarian within 24 to 48 hours. If a veterinarian rules out medical problems like FLUTD, anxiety may be the culprit, a problem a veterinary behaviorist is best equipped to handle.
What does it mean if a cat goes outside the litter box?
According to Calder, cats that eliminate outside the litter box are engaging in one of two behaviors: toileting or marking. In toileting (also called inappropriate elimination), a cat has found a place to do their business outside of the litter box. Sometimes, this behavior occurs when a cat does not like the location or size of their litter pan, the type of litter in the pan, or the cleanliness of the litter.
Other times, going outside the box is related to anxiety (for example, a cat who worries about being ambushed by another pet while using the litter box may stop using it altogether) or to a medical problem such as FLUTD. A cat may also choose to go outside of the litter box if they find a spot that satisfies their need to scratch and bury their waste, such as a pile of dirty laundry or a potted plant.
Whereas toileting typically occurs on horizontal surfaces, marking occurs on vertical surfaces. Instead of squatting, when a cat marks they back up with a raised tail to spray their pheromones. “Marking cats are trying to communicate something, and most have some kind of conflict or anxiety,” said Calder. Cats that mark are typically intact males, but fixed males and females can spray, too.
Dr. Christine Calder, veterinary behaviorist at Midcoast Humane in Brunswick, Maine
Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer, Bond Vet, New York, New York
This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, DVM, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Some dogs seem born for the water while others would rather keep their paws firmly planted on the earth. But there’s one thing both water babies and poolside loungers have in common: A dog life jacket can keep accidents in and around the water from turning into tragedies.
No one life vest is ideal for dogs of every size, shape, and ability. Fiona McGlynn, contributing editor at BoatUS Magazine, told Insider Reviews that the best life jacket is one that fits properly, is comfortable in water and on land, and has plenty of functionality like durable handles and well-balanced flotation. We carefully considered the advice of McGlynn and five other dog water safety experts when developing our selection criteria for the best dog life jackets in this guide.
There are currently no standards or certifications to guide pet guardians when selecting a quality dog life vest. “Unlike human flotation devices, canine flotation devices are not regulated,” said Lindsey Wolko, founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Virginia. “There has been very little scientific examination of the flotation needs of pets.”
For this guide to the best dog life jackets, we relied on the recommendations and experience of the experts we consulted, as well as two studies conducted on dog life vests in the 2010s. With the help of these resources, we came up with the following checklist of essential features, then used it to conduct a thorough analysis of the dog life jackets currently on the market. Those that best met the criteria were selected as winners.
The Outward Hound Granby Life Jacket is made of thick, buoyant foam panels inside a ripstop nylon shell. A flexible neoprene band fitted with three Velcro strips and two adjustable, quick-release buckle straps wraps around the belly. A third strap buckles at the chest.
A foam chin panel on the chest strap helps keep a dog’s head above the water, a feature veterinarian Gabrielle Fadl, medical director and vet at Bond Vet in New York City, likes to see in a dog life vest. In their tests, the BoatUS Foundation found the Granby’s flotation foam evenly distributed enough to keep a dog horizontal in the water. Out of the water, they noted that dogs wearing the vest appeared comfortable and their movement was not restricted.
While the extra-small and small sizes have one solid, padded handle for pulling a pup out of the water, the medium, large and extra-large jackets have two handles for better leverage and more comfortable lifting. The vest comes with multiple reflective accents that improve the likelihood of spotting a dog in the water.
The Granby Life Vest is remarkably affordable, even for extra-large dogs. No matter their size, ability, or familiarity with the water, this is an excellent life jacket for every dog.
Pros: Neoprene provides additional insulation and warmth, three adjustable straps, has a foam chin float, larger sizes have two lifting handles, reflective accents for better visibility, comes in five sizes
Cons: Straps may rub on barrel-chested or chubby dogs, only comes in one color
Neoprene dog life jackets are less bulky and more comfortable than other vests. They also offer insulation to keep a dog’s body temperature from dropping drastically in cold water. Even with its sleek design, the side panels of the Outward Hound Dawson Swim Life Jacket are packed with plenty of foam to keep even novice swimmers afloat.
The jacket has a neoprene belly panel fitted with two adjustable buckles. A third adjustable buckle strap at the chest has a foam insert to help keep a dog’s head above water. Unlike some of the other designs we selected for this guide, the straps do make contact with the dog’s skin at the edges, which could cause some discomfort and rubbing after a long day at the water’s edge, especially if your pup has a barrel-chest or a chubby belly.
This life vest comes in five sizes. The extra-small and small sizes have one sturdy handle at the back for lifting a dog out of the water in an emergency, while the larger sizes have two straps for better leverage. The Dawson Life Jacket has reflective accents for better visibility in the water.
In their dog life jacket evaluation, the BoatUS Foundation found that thinner neoprene vests like this one tend to bunch up less on a dog that is sitting or lying down out of the water, making them more comfortable overall. That combined with the additional warmth and insulation provided by the neoprene material make this as good of a choice for dogs who spend a lot of time in the water as it is for dogs who prefer to sun themselves on deck.
Pros: Two adjustable buckles and an adjustable telescoping chest strap, reflective accents for better visibility, comes in six sizes and three colors, D-ring for attaching a leash, machine washable
Cons: Pricey, no chin float
For smaller dogs, a life jacket should have the right balance of buoyancy and comfort without so much foam or fabric that it overwhelms little swimmers. The Ruffwear Float Coat, available in sizes for dogs as small as 13-inches long, has a tailored fit packed with foam flotation that doesn’t hinder the movement of short legs.
Mark and Kristi Jagger, dog surfing instructors with the So Cal Surf Dogs Club in San Diego, California, told us that this jacket seems to fit the best and the handle on top of the coat makes for easy water retrieval. A 2017 study identified this vest as the best of those tested for keeping an incapacitated dog afloat in open water
The Float Coat wraps around the belly and secures with two adjustable buckle straps. The chest strap has an adjustable telescoping design that slips over the head. Depending on fit, the belly straps may partially rub against the skin or cause discomfort. Its nylon sides are packed with closed-cell foam, which helps to keep a dog upright while swimming. One sturdy handle is sewn into the back of the vest and there is also a D-ring for attaching a leash and a loop for hanging a light. It does not have a chin float.
This jacket comes in three bright colors, but McGlynn recommends skipping the blue one which would be harder to see in the water, even with the vest’s reflective trim. The jacket also comes in six sizes and can be washed in a machine on the gentle cycle in cold water, then hung to dry. Like all Ruffwear products, the Float Coat comes with a hefty price tag but with its durable construction, it will last and last.
While the jacket will work for any size dog, its snug fit and small sizes will keep little pups afloat in the water without compromising mobility or comfort.
Pros: Three adjustable straps, two sturdy lifting handles, reflective accents for better visibility, comes in five sizes, two D-rings for attaching a leash, removable flotation layer, doubles as an on-land nylon vest, inner layer is machine washable
Cons: Moderately pricey, only comes in one color, no chin float
Kurgo’s Surf N’ Turf Dog Life Jacket is built tough for large, active dogs. The vest earned the highest score for extra-large pups in the BoatUS Foundation’s evaluation where reviewers particularly liked its two perpendicular lifting handles for hauling a dog out of the water and its scalloped design, which fit the shoulders and rear haunches well.
This jacket is also more versatile than the others we considered for this guide. It has two built-in detachable layers, one stuffed with foam for flotation, the other a simple nylon ripstop shell that can be worn as an extra layer for on-land adventures. This vest has two adjustable buckle straps on its belly panel and a third adjustable strap at the chest. Two metal D-rings are sewn into the top of the vest, one of which doubles as a bottle opener. It does not have a chin float.
Kurgo’s Surf N’ Turf Dog Life Jacket comes in five sizes but only one color: red with grey reflective trim. The inner layer is machine washable on the gentle cycle after removing the flotation device. It should be hung to dry. While the jacket is moderately pricey, it comes with Kurgo’s lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects.
With its two-layer design, solid double lifting straps, and athletic fit and styling, the Kurgo Surf N’ Turf is a sturdy option for large breed swimming and sea-faring dogs.
FAQs about dog water safety
Learning about the risks dogs face when in and around the water can help ensure they stay safe. We tackle some of the most frequently asked questions below.
Can all dogs swim?
“While doggy paddling is instinctual to many dogs, not all dogs know how to swim,” said Fadl. “It’s crucial to allow your dog time to learn, and their time in the water should always be supervised for their safety.”
What dogs are more vulnerable to danger in the water?
Whereas some dogs are natural water babies, others may be more likely to experience challenges, even if they’ve entered the water willingly. McGlynn told us that older pups or those with limited mobility may be more likely to tire out when swimming and, when tired, may be more susceptible to dangers like rip currents. Dogs with lower body fat like greyhounds and boxers may also struggle in the water if their body temperature drops too low.
For what activities should a dog wear a life jacket?
Anytime a dog is in or around water, even if it’s just a swimming pool, a life vest is worth considering. Accidents can happen even if you have a strong swimmer. Boating, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding are all activities in which a dog should wear a life vest and in dog surfing, life vests are mandatory. “A lot of dog owners use them for fun on the beach, too,” said McGlynn. “Just swimming and retrieving, there could be currents that pull them out.” Ultimately, though, it’s up to pet parents to determine whether their dog should wear a life jacket based on the dog’s experience in and around the water, said Wolko.
Should my dog wear a life jacket around the pool?
If you have a dog that has spent little time around a pool, putting them in a life vest is just common sense, said Wolko. Only after a dog has been properly introduced to a pool, including how to use the stairs to exit the water, is it okay for strong-swimming dogs to go life vest free. Even if your dog has pool experience, they should wear a life vest when visiting unfamiliar pools that may be designed differently.
What color life jacket is best spotted in the water?
All of the experts we consulted told us dog life vests are easiest to spot in the water when they are brightly colored. “Colors like blue and gray are not going to stand out as well in the water,” said McGlynn. Reflective accents sewn into the exterior also help improve visibility.
Can a dog still drown while wearing a life jacket?
Unfortunately, it is possible for a dog to drown while wearing a life vest. “Dogs who are not well supported from a flotation perspective can panic or tire from treading water, increasing the risk of drowning,” said Wolko. Dogs wearing life jackets may also face extreme danger if they become trapped under the water or if waves or rapids are splashing in their nose and mouth, McGlynn added. A life jacket that is properly fitted can help minimize the risk, as can educating yourself about canine water safety before enjoying the water.
How to fit your dog for a life vest
A life jacket that fits properly is essential to keeping a dog safe in and around the water. The best way to ensure proper fit is to take your pup into a brick-and-mortar store to try your options rather than ordering online, according to several of our experts. Because dogs come in so many different shapes and sizes, what fits one comfortably may not be appropriate for another.
When fitting a dog for a life jacket, McGlynn told us to look for a vest that fits snugly but has no buckles or straps that are tight enough to ride up or rub against the skin. She also suggested examining how the life jacket fits both when a dog is lying down and standing up. If your dog will be wearing a life vest for several hours, it should be comfortable in every position.
Chest girth, neck girth, and weight are also crucial considerations when fitting a dog for a life jacket. Take the following measurements to narrow down the size that’s right for your pup.
Chest girth: A dog life vest is fitted according to the width and shape of a dog’s chest. To get their chest girth, measure the circumference around the widest part of the chest right behind the front legs. You’ll get the most accurate reading when your dog is standing in a relaxed position. If their chest girth falls between sizes, choose the larger option.
Neck girth: A dog life vest should not be so tight around the front of the chest and neck that it may press against the windpipe. To determine girth, measure the circumference of your dog’s neck around it’s thickest part, just below the collar. When in doubt, size up!
Weight: While you can’t fit a dog for a life jacket by knowing their weight alone, it’s important to make sure the vest size you’ve chosen can support their weight in the water. If your dog is heavier than recommended for the life jacket that fits them best, either size up or look for a different brand that is labeled for their weight.
To come up with the selections for this guide, we consulted with a variety of experts on dog water safety including a veterinarian and surf dog instructors. Each answered questions via phone or email in March 2021. Our advisors include:
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Cats scratch. They scratch to communicate and claim their possessions. They scratch to stretch and condition their claws. They scratch because it’s a natural, instinctual behavior – not because they have secret plans to destroy your furniture.
There are a variety of reasons why a cat might be attracted to scratching furniture. Some don’t have healthy alternative scratching posts or pads, or don’t have them in the right locations. Others enjoy the furniture’s height or the feeling of scratching a couch or carpet. Whatever the reason, preventing your cat from practicing the undesirable behavior while simultaneously offering them more attractive scratching alternatives is the intervention your damaged furniture needs.
To come up with the best products to protect furniture from cat scratching, we spoke to veterinarians and cat behaviorists and tested 17 different products for a month or more. Read more about our testing process at the end of this guide.
Here are the best products to protect your furniture from cat scratching in 2021
Part furniture guard, part scratching post, the Sofa Scratcher does double duty to protect furniture from destruction.
Pros: Combination scratcher/furniture guard, fits snugly against a couch or chair corner or leg; held in place by the weight of furniture instead of tape or pins, made of toxin-free sisal, available in seven colors
Cons: More expensive than furniture guards and most standalone scratching posts, light assembly required
The genius of the Sofa Scratcher Squared and its half-moon shaped cousin, the Sofa Scratcher, is that its sisal-covered edges fit snugly against a couch or chair, providing a cat with a “legal” place to scratch right at the center of the room where Calder said cats prefer to mark their territory. The Sofa Scratcher lines up flush against furniture and its wood core of prevents your cat from sinking their claws into the upholstery.
My furniture-scratching cat seemed to enjoy flexing his claws on the Sofa Scratcher Squared — the style that best fit my square-cornered furniture — as much as he enjoyed using them on the couch, itself. He tore at the sisal guard every time he jumped onto the furniture for a nap. After nearly six months of use, it still looks virtually brand new.
Unlike shields and tape, both styles of Sofa Scratcher have a rectangular polycarbonate base that slips under the leg of a couch or chair, using its weight to keep it in place. Felt backing on the scratcher keeps it from rubbing. The 24-inch tall square scratcher and its two 5.5-inch wide panels perfectly covered both the chair and couch I tested it on.
Those with taller furniture may need to find another solution such as scratch tape or a furniture guard to protect the remaining inches of furniture that stick out beyond the scratcher. Because it didn’t match the shape of my furniture, the half-moon shaped scratcher left gaps large enough for a determined cat to still reach the upholstery.
Both Sofa Scratcher styles require very little assembly (just three screws attach the base to the scratcher) and come in seven colors. They are made in the United States and their sisal fabric is toxin-free.
Pros: Three horizontal scratching posts of different heights, sisal-covered posts, broad base covered in scratchable artificial turf, holds up to 32 pounds, made in the United States
Cons: Requires light assembly
To stop a cat from scratching furniture, the goal is not to punish the behavior but to redirect it. Every cat has their own personal scratching preference. If your cat is scratching vertically on your furniture, it’s likely they will prefer a vertical scratcher, said Quagliozzi. If they scratch carpets or rugs, a horizontal scratch pad is more likely to satisfy their desire. Some, like my cat Osito, enjoy both. Whatever they like, Calder said it’s important to have multiple scratchers.
Of the seven vertical scratchers we tested for this guide, the On2Pets Skyline Sisal Cat Scratching Post was the clear favorite. Both cats returned to the scratcher multiple times a day during the first month of testing. Six months later, one still scratches there daily.
Resembling a city skyline, this scratcher has three sisal-covered vertical posts at heights of 30.5 inches, 22 inches, and 16.5 inches bunched together at the center of a wide rectangular base. The base is covered in scratchable artificial turf. After six months, the scratcher’s sisal is a little shaggy but still looks nice overall.
Made in the United States, the Skyline Scratcher is sturdy and can withstand up to 32 pounds of cat. It requires some light assembly upon arrival. This scratcher falls in the middle of the pack in terms of price. Considering how frequently my cats use it and their continued interest in it over time, it’s well worth the cost.
Pros: Clear and flexible, made from durable marine-grade vinyl, withstands sharp claws, installs quickly with upholstery twist pins, waterproof, comes in four sizes, can be cut down to smaller sizes, made in the United States, long-lasting
Cons: Visible on furniture and carpeting, upholstery pins may leave marks on delicate materials
One way to prevent a cat from destroying furniture is to make the locations they enjoy scratching less desirable, according to Sanchez. Covering an area with slick vinyl can discourage destructive tendencies.
Of the two vinyl guards I tested, the Clawguard Furniture Shields offered the most protection from scratching. Not even an X-acto knife left marks and a push pin could only fully penetrate it with heavy pressure. The clear, flexible material attaches to upholstery or carpeting with twist pins inserted through holes that line the length of the border. When the shield is screwed tight, the clear plastic caps on the pins look like small buttons. It took me less than five minutes to completely install one shield.
These shields are waterproof and made in the United States. Each package of two shields comes in four sizes with six to eight pins (we tested the 7.5-by-18.5-inch extra-large version), and the shields can be cut down as needed with scissors. The best thing about Clawguard Furniture Shields, aside from the protection they offer, is that they will last for months, if not years, without needing to be replaced.
Despite being made of clear vinyl, Clawguard Furniture Shields are easily visible. And while my upholstery did not show signs of having been embedded with pins when I removed the guard after testing, it is possible that more delicate materials will.
All in all, Clawguard Furniture Shields are a quick fix for making an ugly problem disappear, as long as your cat has attractive, alternative locations for carrying out their natural scratching instincts. After figuring out the vinyl was unpleasant to scratch on his first attempt, my furniture-scratching cat did not touch it again, preferring instead to use the nearby posts and pads.
The best scratch tape
Soft Claws Cat Nail Caps allow your cat to scratch and use their paws naturally without causing damage to your furniture.
Pros: Flexible vinyl, fits medium-size cat claws well, variety of colors, last four to six weeks, comes with 40 caps plus nontoxic adhesive and six applicators, affordable, doesn’t interfere with natural scratching and claw extension
Cons: May be difficult to get on, may fall off before four to six weeks are up, many cats will not tolerate them
Nail caps prevent your cat’s claws from scratching your furniture. Calder likes Soft Claws (also called Soft Paws), and out of the two nail cap brands we considered, we found the medium-size Soft Claws nail caps to be better sized for the claws of a 9- to 13-pound cat.
Soft Claws are made of a durable, flexible vinyl that slips over the nail. The caps don’t interfere with a cat’s ability to extend or retract their claws and come in a wide variety of colors. Each package comes with 40 nail caps, six applicators, and two bottles of super strong nontoxic adhesive that keeps each cap secure for four to six weeks.To test their staying power, we glued nail caps to a plastic fork and ran it over a scratching post 100 times per week for five weeks. Soft Claws did not shift or loosen in any way.
According to Calder and Sanchez, nail caps can be a good solution for preventing damage without taking away a cat’s ability to practice the innate behavior of scratching. While it’s important to teach a cat to focus their scratching on posts and pads, in the short term “these nail caps may be just the relief your furniture needs,” Sanchez said.
The biggest drawback of nail caps is that many cats, including mine, will not tolerate them. Even those whose cats are okay with their claws being handled may find getting them on and situated correctly is a challenge. And while the caps stuck firmly to plastic for an extended period, it’s not uncommon for caps to fall off real claws before their four- to six-week lifespan is up.
Pros: Simple design, affordable, made from recycled materials, recyclable
Cons: Slides around some on hardwood floors
Some cats like to scratch vertically, some like to scratch horizontally, and some like a little of both. If you’ve found destruction on rugs, carpets and flat cushions, your cat falls into one of the latter two categories and providing them with a properly placed floor scratcher may be the solution to your problem.
We tested four floor scratchers and found that the simple design of the Our Pets Double-Wide Cat Scratcher was the most universally attractive to our feline testers. This affordable scratcher made from recycled corrugated cardboard is 18-inches long and 10-inches wide and raised 1.25 inches off the ground in a cardboard frame. It also comes with a small bag of catnip to help entice the feline set. It
The durable interior pad of the scratcher is reversible, so even if your cat claws through the top layer in short order, it can be rejuvenated just by turning it over. How long that will take is specific to individual cats, but after nearly two months of use by my two cats, ours still looks almost new. When it is completely worn out, the pad and frame can be recycled.
The scratcher slides around a bit on a smooth floor when a cat really gets clawing, but ours has never flipped over or shot across the room. Despite the sliding, this is hands down my timid cat’s favorite scratcher. She not only uses it multiple times daily but posts up regularly on the pad to snooze or watch squirrels outside the window.
While it doesn’t have the play elements of some of the other scratchers we tested, that also means the Double-Wide Scratcher has nothing to distract from its true purpose: serving as a place for cats to stretch and condition their claws.
The best cat claw covers
Soft Claws Cat Nail Caps allow your cat to scratch and use their paws naturally without causing damage to your furniture.
Pros: Flexible vinyl, fits medium-size cat claws well, variety of colors, last four to six weeks, comes with 40 caps plus nontoxic adhesive and six applicators, affordable, doesn’t interfere with natural scratching and claw extension
Cons: May be difficult to get on, may fall off before four to six weeks are up, many cats will not tolerate them
Nail caps prevent your cat’s claws from scratching your furniture. Calder likes Soft Claws (also called Soft Paws), and out of the two nail cap brands we considered, we found the medium-size Soft Claws nail caps to be better sized for a 9- to 13-pound cat’s claws.
Soft Claws are made of a durable, flexible vinyl that slips over the nail. The caps don’t interfere with a cat’s ability to extend or retract their claws and come in a wide variety of colors. Super strong nontoxic adhesive keeps each cap secure for four to six weeks. Each package comes with 40 nail caps, two bottles of adhesive, and six applicators.
According to Calder and Sanchez, nail caps can be a good solution for preventing damage without taking away a cat’s ability to practice the innate behavior of scratching. While it’s important to teach a cat to focus their scratching on posts and pads, in the short term “these nail caps may be just the relief your furniture needs,” Sanchez said.
The biggest drawback of nail caps is that many cats, including mine, will not tolerate them. Even those whose cats are okay with their claws being handled may find getting them on and situated correctly is a challenge. It’s also not uncommon for caps to fall off before their four- to six-week lifespan is up.
What else we considered
All of the products we tested for this guide to protect furniture from cat scratching are high-quality enough to get the job done. Here are the ones that didn’t quite make the cut but may work for your needs.
Max & Marlow Tall Scratch Post: At 26 inches, this was the shortest of the scratching posts we tested. But, with a soft bird toy attached to the top by an elastic cord and another on a spring on the base, it also has the most bells and whistles. My vertical scratching cat likes this post but uses the On2Pets Skyline Scratcher far more frequently, possibly because it has three posts instead of just one, plus a scratchable base.
Petfusion Ultimate Cat Window Scratching Post: I liked the design of this scratching post, which has a perch at the top that suctions to a window for stability. My cats, however, did not feel the same. They used neither the sisal scratcher nor the perch.
Smartcat Ultimate Scratching Post: The Smartcat Ultimate is tall enough to accommodate a full body stretch and has a sturdy wooden base. However, my cats showed no interest in using either this scratcher or the similarly shaped Frisco Sisal Scratching Post, which seems to be due to its imposing column shape.
Frisco 33.5-inch Sisal Scratching Post: This scratching post is similar to the Smartcat Ultimate, but with a cream-color faux-fur covered base and top, it’s less aesthetically pleasing. Like the SmartCat Ultimate Post, my cats did not use the Frisco scratcher, apparently because of its imposing column shape.
Furniture Defender Cat Scratching Guard: Like Clawguard’s Furniture Shields, these furniture guards are clear and flexible but with slightly thinner vinyl that may be easier to penetrate than the marine-grade vinyl used in the Clawguard Furniture Shields. The Furniture Defender comes in five sizes and carries a 100% money-back lifetime guarantee.
Clawguard Protection Tape: Although this tape is high quality and looks nicer on furniture than Sticky Paws, it does not have a sticky exterior. As a result, Clawguard Protection Tape functions more like a temporary furniture shield with an adhesive backing for twice the price of Sticky Paws On a Roll.
Kong Naturals Cat Scratcher: Of the floor scratchers we tested, Kong’s incline version was the second simplest design. While my brave cat liked this ramped scratcher, my timid one was not impressed.
K&H Ramp and Track Scratcher: One of my cats enjoyed both clawing this expensive inclined scratcher and playing with the ping pong balls embedded in its base. He unfortunately lost interest in it within a month, even when I sprinkled it with catnip and moved it to different locations in the home.
Bergan Star Chaser Turbo Scratcher: Both of my cats enjoyed the light-up ball that rolls around the track that encircles this scratch pad. I even chose it as one of our favorites for Insider Reviews’ guide to interactive cat toys. But while both liked the ball, only one of my cats was interested in using the scratch pad at the Star Chaser’s center.
Purrdy Paws ($13): These nail caps were similar in quality to Soft Claws and they stayed firmly glued to our scratcher fork throughout five weeks of testing. They are, however, about 50% longer than Soft Claws, which some cats may find awkward.
How we tested
All of the products were provided as editorial review samples by their manufacturers with the exception of the nail caps, Max and Marlow Tall Scratch Post, and Furniture Defender Cat Scratching Guard, which Insider Reviews purchased.
In an attempt to objectively compare the products in each category of this guide, I devised the following tests:
To determine how the furniture guards and scratch tape would hold up over time, I scratched them with three different tools: a fork, a push pin, and an X-acto knife. Each tool was dragged across the same section of the product 50 consecutive times and I noted if any penetrated the material and how long it took to do so.
I used the same three tools in the penetration test. I conducted three trials with each tool as I attempted to make a hole through the material. First, I applied light pressure, then medium pressure, and finally, my full strength.
Nail caps test
Because neither of my cats volunteered to try out the nail caps, I tested their longevity by sticking two caps from each brand onto the tines of a plastic fork. Each week over a period of five weeks, I scraped the fork on a scratcher 100 times and looked for any shifting or loosening of the caps.
Our best overall product and our top scratching post have remained in use since testing for the first version of this guide began in October 2020. I assessed each to identify any aesthetic or functional deterioration in their material over time.
Cat attract test
I doused each floor scratcher and scratching post with catnip and introduced them to my cats. I placed each in the locations they prefer to scratch and rotated them weekly, noting which scratchers they avoided, which they used occasionally, and which they returned to again and again.
Why didn’t we include cat scratching deterrent spray?
Although a previous version of this guide included scratching deterrent spray, our experts confirmed that they are not helpful for redirecting furniture scratching. “They don’t really work, and they’re an aversive,” said Calder.
In animal behavior, an “aversive” is any tool or technique that uses discomfort, pain, fear, or intimidation to force an animal to change their behavior. Deterrent spray is aversive because it assaults a cat’s extremely sensitive senses of smell and taste, making them sneeze and cough.
Preventing a cat from practicing inappropriate scratching by using scratch tape or furniture guards combined with training that teaches them to love scratching appropriate toys like scratching posts or pads is a more effective long-term strategy for changing their behavior than aversive tools and techniques. “Our goal is not to scare the cat, it’s more about finding out why the behavior is occurring in the first place,” said Calder.
Why do cats scratch furniture?
Scratching is a natural, instinctual behavior for cats, according to Sanchez. “Scratching serves many functions for a cat, including a communication tool that leaves both scent and visual marks at a site, a way to clean and condition the claw beds, and a great way to stretch the muscles of the legs and toes,” she said.
Cats who don’t have easy to access scratching posts or horizontal scratch pads may turn their claws toward furniture and carpeting. But just owning a scratching post or pad isn’t helpful if it’s not in a place your cat likes to scratch. Cats need a variety of choices in various locations to be fully satisfied. Sanchez recommends placing them in high-traffic areas and near your cat’s favorite resting spots.
Another reason your cat may prefer your furniture to a scratching post or pad? The material it’s made from. “Some cats will strictly scratch on softer materials such as cardboard boxes or scratch pads, while other cats will only use carpeted or tall, sturdy posts,” said Sanchez. Many cats enjoy scratching a sisal rope or cloth, but some may find other materials more attractive. If your cat is attracted to carpet, for example, Quagliozzi recommends framing a piece of carpet for them to use.
Should cats be declawed?
To prevent a cat from scratching, some veterinarians offer declawing, a surgical procedure that removes a cat’s claws. Although declawing techniques have become less painful with laser technology, it is a surgery that still carries potential complications.
In fact, some countries as well as US cities have banned the practice, including England; Italy; France; Germany; Austin, Texas; and St. Louis, Missouri. The American Veterinary Medical Association also discourages the practice and instead recommends providing scratching surfaces like the ones featured in this guide as well as frequent nail trims and positive reinforcement training. Complications of this procedure can include infection, tissue necrosis, and back pain, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
In additions, removing a cat’s claws prevents them from practicing innate behaviors such as scratching and climbing. Veterinarians also do not know how, or if, declawing impacts a cat’s quality of life and psychological well-being.
While a cat typically heals from laser declawing in around three weeks and pain can be managed with medications such as fentanyl patches, Murtaugh does not believe that the procedure is necessary unless there is a valid medical reason for it.
“I think the best thing is to just provide them with some scratching opportunities and to train them,” he said. “Part of having a cat recognizing the fact that they might take it out on a sofa every once in a while.” And in his opinion, that is a worthwhile trade-off for a pet that provides 20 years of love and affection.
In addition to providing a cat with acceptable scratching alternatives, such as scratching posts and scratch pads, covering a cat’s claws with nail caps is a more humane option than removing them altogether. Some veterinarians will even put them on for you, Murtaugh said.
For this guide to the best products to protect furniture from cat scratching, we consulted the following experts on feline behavior:
Andrea Sanchez, DVM, veterinarian and senior manager of operations support, Banfield Pet Hospital, Vancouver, Washington
Sanchez earned a veterinary degree from Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She currently serves as the senior manager of operations support at Banfield Pet Hospital in Vancouver, Washington. Sanchez is also the acting president of the Portland Animal Welfare Team (PAW Team) in Portland, Oregon, a nonprofit that provides veterinary care to unhoused and low income pet guardians. We consulted Sanchez via email in August 2020.
Calder earned a veterinary degree at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a diplomate with the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. She has held a number of positions at important educational and nonprofit institutions in her career, including the San Francisco SPCA and Midcoast Humane, Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health Center. Calder is also an instructor of animal health and behavior at Unity College. We interviewed Calder over the phone in September 2020.
Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi, cat behavior consultant and owner, Go Cat Go!, San Francisco, California
Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi has two decades of experience working with cats at the San Francisco SPCA, San Francisco Animal Care and Control and with his private practice, Go Cat Go! Quagliozzi’s expertise has been featured on Animal Planet and in a variety of other media outlets. We interviewed Quagliozzi over the phone in August 2020.
Bob Murtaugh, DVM, veterinarian and chief professional relations officer, Pathway Vet Alliance, Austin, Texas
Murtaugh holds a veterinary degree from the University of Minnesota and is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. In his storied career, he has served as a professor of veterinary emergency and critical care at Tufts University, chief of staff for Portland’s DoveLewis Emergency Veterinary Animal Hospital and chief medical officer for Pathway Vet Alliance. Murtaugh currently acts as Pathway’s chief professional relations officer. We interviewed Murtaugh over the phone on February 2, 2021.
If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
There are so many great cat food brands that finding the right recipe for your feline can be tough.
Veterinarians and an animal nutrition expert shared their insights into what makes a nutritious cat food.
Here are some of the best cat foods, including dry, wet, organic, LID, and fresh foods.
This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Finding a nutritious, high-quality cat food that satisfies your cat and fits your budget is an unenviable challenge. To help you choose the best food for your cat, we pored over literature on pet food standards, labels, and ingredients and consulted with animal nutrition experts.
We evaluated the food in this guide according to the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which encompass nutritional adequacy, calorie content, guaranteed analysis, and ingredients. While the experts we spoke with declined to recommend specific foods, they helped us narrow down our selection criteria. The picks in this guide are only some of the excellent options available. If you’re interested in exploring other cat foods, this guide provides the tools needed to evaluate the quality and nutritional value of any food.
A cat can live a long healthy life whether they are fed dry food, wet food, or a combination of both, as long as the food is AAFCO complete and balanced. Just be careful not to overfeed. The average 8- to 10-pound adult cat should consume between 230 and 270 kcals/day to maintain a healthy weight, according to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). An extremely active or sedentary feline may have different needs.
Anyone who is considering a change to their cat’s diet should consult their veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist first.
Dry food is the most cost-effective way to keep a cat satiated. Like all cat food, a kibble must display an AAFCO complete and balanced statement on its label. This ensures the food has the appropriate balance of protein (at least 26%) and fat (at least 9%) as well as the other essential vitamins and minerals.
Cats are obligate carnivores and cannot survive on plant-based nutrients alone. Some form of whole meat or meat meal should be listed among the first ingredients, but don’t worry too much about the order in which they appear or what is listed after.
Many cat foods are prominently marketed as grain-free, but there’s no proven benefit to these diets. “Grains are a source of carbohydrates [and] while cats are obligate carnivores, some carbohydrates in their diets can be helpful if included at moderate levels,” said Kelly Swanson, PhD, professor of animal and nutritional sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fiber, for example, can help minimize hairballs, maintain healthy body weight, and aid in bowel movements.
It is easy to overfeed your cat with dry food since it is more calorie dense than wet food. Keep a close eye on your cat’s daily kibble intake to ensure they don’t gain weight, which can lead to other health problems.
Our picks for adult dry cat food:
The best adult wet cat food
Wet cat food tends to be costlier than dry food. In terms of nutrition, wet food stands out from kibble in a few ways. It contains significantly more moisture, typically 75% to 80% versus 10% to 12% found in dry food. Because of that moisture content, wet food is more filling and may be a good choice for cats who love to eat a little too zealously.
However, Okada and Parker both agreed that feeding a typical adult cat wet food instead of, or in addition to, dry food offers no specific health benefits. It’s a decision that should be based on a cat’s preferences and a guardian’s budget.
Our picks for adult wet cat food:
The best fresh cat food
Fresh pet food is a relatively new trend in which whole meats, vegetables, essential vitamins, and minerals are combined, then frozen to maintain freshness. Some fresh pet foods are available via fuss-free subscription and delivery services and others are available in the freezer section of pet stores.
While fresh cat food is pricier than dry or canned foods, the difference between them is clear. In fresh foods, the whole ingredients are visible with the naked eye and have a consistency that rivals a home-cooked meal.
There are several fresh cat food companies that meet AAFCO standards, but only two have a full-time veterinary nutritionist on staff: Nom Nom and JustFoodForDogs. According to our experts, this is an essential quality to look for when choosing a food for your pet.
Our picks for fresh cat food:
The best limited ingredient cat food
Limited ingredient diets (LIDs) may be recommended for cats with gastrointestinal or dermatological issues that are likely caused by an adverse reaction or allergy to ingredients commonly found in cat food. Veterinarians often use LID foods to perform food elimination trials in order to pinpoint the source of a cat’s food sensitivity.
When it comes to healthy adult cats, Okada told us that there is no advantage to feeding an LID formula. These recipes were historically formulated with uncommon ingredients and novel proteins like wild game, but the inclusion of these ingredients in regular cat food has made it more challenging to identify appropriate foods for a cat in need of an LID. To make it more likely that an LID will work for a cat who develops allergies or food reactions later in life, Okada said that healthy adult cats should stick to regular cat food formulas that are complete and balanced.
Our picks for LID cat food:
The best organic cat food
In order for a cat food to be certified organic, it must meet USDA guidelines for organic human-grade foods, which includes at least 95% organic ingredients. These organic foods tend to be more expensive than regular pet food because the ingredients are sourced from the competitive human food market.
It is true that organic cat foods may contain fewer pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and GMOs, but often the difference is negligible. Ultimately, feeding a cat an organic diet is a personal choice, not a nutritional one.
Our picks for organic cat food:
The best budget adult dry cat food
Even if you have the money to spend, don’t write off budget cat foods altogether. There are a number of affordable AAFCO complete and balanced dry foods that are just as nutritious as more expensive kibble.
Not only do the budget dry cat foods we selected contain whole meats and protein-rich meat meals, they have ingredients like kelp and alfalfa that support gut health and antioxidant-rich blueberries and cranberries. The percentages of protein, fat, and fiber they contain are also on par with pricier brands.
Our picks for budget dry food:
The best budget adult wet cat food
Wet cat food doesn’t have to cost a premium to be nutritionally complete and balanced. The budget wet cat foods we recommend are significantly higher in protein than the 26% AAFCO minimum recommendation for healthy adult cats without kidney problems.
Both the percentage of protein a cat food contains and the sources of that protein are important, said Swanson. Animal-based proteins typically provide the 10 essential amino acids and levels of taurine a cat’s diet requires. Other animal- or plant-based proteins are sometimes added to meet nutritional needs.
Like pricier wet foods, these budget options also contain 78% to 82% moisture which helps to keep a cat feeling full for longer while providing them with an additional source of hydration. Whether your cat prefers to eat only wet food or you feed it as part of a diet mixed with kibble, these recipes are a reliable option.
Our picks for budget adult wet cat food:
The best kitten food
Kittens under a year of age need a somewhat different combination of nutrients to support their revving metabolism and growing bones. An AAFCO complete and balanced kitten food contains a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and extra vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus. These formulas also meet AAFCO’s standards for pregnant and lactating adult cats who require additional calories and nutrients.
Although it doesn’t matter whether a kitten is fed dry food, wet food, or a combination of the two, introducing young kittens to different types of food may prevent them from being picky eaters in adulthood. Regardless of the type of food you select, cats benefit from being fed out of a puzzle feeder instead of a regular bowl. The problem-solving and play required to extract the food provides a kitten important mental stimulation. The more energy they burn on puzzle toys, the less likely they’ll be to become bored and make trouble.
Our picks for kitten food:
The best senior cat food
Once a cat hits 7 years of age, they are considered senior. Senior cats have the same minimum AAFCO nutritional requirements as younger adult cats, but decreased activity can cause them to pack on the pounds. And the more overweight a cat becomes, the more likely they are to develop conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, and pancreatitis.
You can help your senior cat maintain a healthy body weight by closely controlling their portion sizes or by switching them to a senior diet that is lower in calories than typical adult formulas. Just be sure to check the calorie content because some senior foods actually have more calories and may still require portion control.
Senior formulas also have omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients that aren’t required in regular adult cat foods. These ingredients help reduce inflammation, improve cognitive function, and support the immune system. As long as the senior food is labeled AAFCO complete and balanced, it will contain the vitamins and minerals an older cat requires without the need to provide additional supplements.
Different cats have different needs as they age, so consult your veterinarian before switching your cat to a senior diet or determining whether additional supplements are required.
Our picks for senior cat food:
To select the cat foods for this guide, we consulted two veterinary nutritionists and a professor of animal and nutritional sciences. None of these experts recommended specific brands or endorsed any of the products in this, but they helped us understand what makes a high-quality cat food and what to avoid.
The cat foods chosen for this guide were selected based on the following criteria:
AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement: The most basic measure of a nutritionally complete cat food is the presence of an AAFCO statement on the label. AAFCO is a nonprofit organization that defines the standard nutritional requirements for pet food and animal feed. A cat food with an AAFCO statement is guaranteed to be complete and balanced for a cat at various life stages. Read more about AAFCO standards in the next slide.
Guaranteed analysis and nutrient profiles: The guaranteed analysis consists of the percentages of protein, fat, and other important nutrients in a food. Food for adult cats who are not pregnant should have a minimum of 26% protein, 9% fat, and the presence of essential nutrients, including amino acids like taurine, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. There is no minimum fiber or carbohydrate requirement for adult cats who are not pregnant and a complete and balanced food does not require added essential nutrients, said Okada.
Swanson told us that cats without properly functioning kidneys require diets that are lower in protein. The less protein a cat with kidney problems has, the less likely it will be to build up waste products in the blood that make them sick.
If you’re looking to compare wet food to kibble, you’ll find the guaranteed analysis of wet food doesn’t give you the full picture of how much of these vital nutrients is actually present. Read more about how to decipher the guaranteed analysis for wet food in the section on How to read a cat food label.
Expert formulations: For this guide, we prioritized brands that have a dedicated nutrition expert on staff, which aligns with WSAVA guidelines. Both of the veterinary nutritionists we spoke to agree.
Always look for pet food manufacturers that employ at least one full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist or an animal nutrition expert with a master’s or doctorate degree.
Brands that formulate their products with the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist who is not on staff may be unable to ensure the highest quality standards.
“Pet food production requires a thorough knowledge of pet nutrition, pet food ingredients, processing methods and their effect on nutrients, plus a good understanding of physiology, chemistry, mathematics, microbiology and biochemistry,” said Okada. “My greatest concerns are for very small companies that may have the best of intentions but very limited experience and technical knowledge.”
Ingredients list: The ingredients on a pet food label are listed in order of weight. Proteins in the form of whole meat or meat meal should come first on the ingredients list. Don’t get too hung up on the order of the ingredients that come next.
Manufacturing standards: When selecting a cat food brand, it’s important to consider a manufacturer’s quality control measures and the types of facilities where they produce food. Parker said this information should be easily accessible on a pet food company’s website. If not, you should be able to call the company and get quick answers.
Some smaller pet food companies produce their food in facilities used by larger, more established manufacturers. According to Okada, this is a reliable way to ensure food quality and safety. When in doubt, select a larger manufacturer with a long history of making pet food. “If a problem arises, it will likely be discovered sooner if the product is widely distributed,” Okada said.
Calorie content: The calorie content of cat food is listed in kilocalories, or k/cals. According to WSAVA, the average cat weighing between 8 and 10 pounds should consume between 230 to 270 kcals/day. A cat food’s calorie content should be clearly listed on its packaging.
What are AAFCO standards?
Since its establishment in 1906, the nonprofit Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has set nutritional guidelines for pet food in the United States. AAFCO is not a regulatory agency, but the regulatory FDA is an AAFCO member with a non-voting advisory role. AAFCO does not test, approve, or certify pet food brands. Instead, it defines the ingredient, labeling, and testing standards that establish whether a pet food is nutritionally complete for animals at different life stages.
A cat food that meets AAFCO’s minimum standards is considered complete and balanced at one of two life stages: growth and reproduction, which includes kittens and pregnant or lactating females, or adult maintenance, which is intended for cats over a year of age.
To meet the minimum AAFCO standard, an adult cat food must contain at least 26% protein, 9% fat, and essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Food for kittens up to a year of age and pregnant or lactating adults must have a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and higher levels of vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus than adult maintenance foods.
Parker said that almost all commercially made cat foods exceed the minimum standards set by the AAFCO. In order to determine whether a product meets the minimum standards, the manufacturer must conduct a third-party laboratory analysis or feeding trials using AAFCO protocols. A cat food without an AAFCO complete and balanced statement for an individual cat’s life stage should never be fed as the cat’s primary food.
How to read a cat food label
To really understand what is in your cat’s food and to compare one brand to another, you’ll need to navigate its nutritional content.
Guaranteed analysis: The guaranteed analysis on a cat food label is not at all straightforward, especially if you’re attempting to compare the nutrients in a wet food to those in a dry food. Because the two types of food have vastly different moisture contents (around 75% to 78% in wet food and 10% to 12% in dry food), the percentages of fat, protein, and fiber in wet food must be converted to “dry matter basis.”
AAFCO complete and balanced statement: To ensure that a cat food is nutritionally complete and balanced, it must contain one of three AAFCO statements on its label.
1. The first AAFCO statement confirms that the food’s minimum nutrient profile has been verified via a third-party laboratory analysis. It reads:
[Product] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.
2. Instead of submitting a food for laboratory analysis, a company may test the food through controlled feeding trials. These trials are not perfect — the AAFCO requires eight healthy cats to consume a food for six months. At the end of the trial, at least 75% of the cats in the trial must meet four blood test parameters and must not have lost more than 15% of their original body weight. This statement reads:
Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [product] provides complete and balanced nutrition.
3. A cat food manufacturer whose family of products has already met AAFCO’s feeding trials criteria may carry an AAFCO statement for recipes that were not directly tested. That statement reads:
[Product] provides complete and balanced nutrition and is comparable in nutritional adequacy to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests.
Calorie content statement: The calorie content of cat food is listed in kilocalories, or k/cals. A cat food’s calorie content should be clearly listed on its packaging.
Other keywords to look for: The AAFCO has rules around how products can be marketed. If a single ingredient makes up 25% to 94% of a food’s dry matter, it must be called a “dinner,” “entree,” “formula,” or “recipe.” If a single ingredient makes up 95% or more of the dry matter, it can be labeled as “Tuna Cat Food,” “Chicken Cat Food,” or another meat-first name.
If the word “flavor” appears on a cat food label, do not assume that it contains the actual ingredient associated with the flavor. A “tuna-flavored cat food,” for example, does not have to contain tuna. The flavor may come from a broth, byproduct, or meal.
Some cat food labels include the phrase “No artificial flavors,” but don’t be concerned about labels that do not. According to the FDA, artificial flavors are rarely used in cat food.
“Premium” and “gourmet” are purely marketing terms. Foods labeled this way do not necessarily contain higher quality ingredients and they are not required to meet higher nutritional standards.
“Natural” refers to a cat food that does not contain artificial flavors or preservatives unless they come from AAFCO-approved sources.
We spoke to the following experts in fall 2020 and winter 2021:
Valerie J. Parker, DVM, DACVIM, DACVN, associate professor, department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
Parker is a board certified veterinary nutritionist. She earned her veterinary degree at Tufts University and completed two residencies, one in small animal internal medicine at Iowa State University and the other in clinical nutrition at Tufts University. Her interests include nutrition management of chronic kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease, and endocrine and metabolic disease in pets. We spoke to Parker in a phone interview in September 2020.
Yuki Okada, DVM, CVA. PhD, ACVN Resident, Veterinary Nutrition Specialty Service, San Rafael, California
Okada received a veterinary degree from Michigan State University and has a PhD in veterinary biochemistry from Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Japan. Okada is completing a residency with the American College of Veterinary Nutrition to become a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. We consulted Okada via email in September 2020.
Kelly Swanson, PhD, professor of animal and nutritional sciences at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois
Swanson earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Now a professor at the university, he runs an animal sciences laboratory that studies the effects of nutritional intervention on health with an emphasis on gastrointestinal health and obesity. We consulted Swanson via email in March 2021.
The pet nutrition websites below were accessed between January and February 2021:
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
No matter how you slice it, air travel with a cat is stressful. Whether they’re flying at your feet in the cabin of a plane or are being transported in the cargo hold, a well-built, cozy airline-compatible cat carrier is essential for their comfort and your peace of mind.
Over the last year, we’ve extensively tested 20 different airline-friendly cat carriers, including soft-sided carriers, backpack carriers, and hard-sided kennels. That, combined with advice from a veterinarian and pet travel experts, helped us to identify the best carriers for use in flight. Read more about our testing methodology and how to prepare your cat for air travel at the end of this guide.
Pros: Three ways to load, unzips into a bed, machine-washable interior mat, secure luggage strap, padded detachable shoulder strap converts into a leash, folds flat for storage, comes in three colors, limited one-year warranty
Cons: No padded carry handle
The innovatively designed Wild One Travel Carrier converts from an easy-to-transport bag to a comfortable, open pet bed in just a few zips. With a detachable padded shoulder strap that doubles as a leash for a cat harness and a cushioned, machine washable interior mat, this carrier is an ideal home-away-from home both at the airport and your destination.
The Wild One Travel Carrier has two important safety features: an interior tether and snaps on the zippers that prevent them from opening while in transit. On the outside, there are two wide zipper pockets on one side and two small pockets on the other side. The front and back doors both have zip-out privacy screens. A pet can also be loaded through the zippered top.
Wild One’s carrier shined in testing, earning the highest scores in our scrape, zip, and goop tests and its wide luggage strap kept the bag completely balanced on a rolling suitcase. It also has the most ventilation of any bag we tested.
It was comfortable enough to carry this bag by hand, but it does lack a padded carry strap. While it’s among the pricier carriers we tested, for the wide range of features included in its modular design, it’s well worth the extra cost.
Pros: Front and top-loading carrier, expandable compartment increases carrier’s size by more than 50%, secure luggage strap, padded detachable shoulder strap, washable interior plush bolster bed, comes in five colors, folds flat for storage
Cons: Limited pocket space, expandable section can’t be used in flight, no warranty
On long travel days with endless time spent in airports, Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier offers a jet-setting cat extra space to stretch out. When unzipped, a panel on its right side folds out into a mesh atrium that more than doubles the interior space.
The spacious Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Expandable Carrier is front- and top-loading with a roll-up privacy flap over the top door. It passed our in-cabin fit tests and offers plenty of ventilation to keep a cat from overheating. Inside, there is a soft plush bolster bed and safety tether. Outside, there is an adjustable padded shoulder strap and a faux leather carry handle. There is just one 10-by-4-inch mesh zip pocket at the back. When not in use, this bag folds flat for storage.
Mr. Peanut’s carrier excelled in testing. The mesh remained intact in the scrape test, the zipper moved smoothly in the zip test, and both the interior and exterior of the bag came completely clean in the goop test. Although the bed is labeled hand-wash only, it looked nearly new after machine washing and air drying.
On one side, this carrier has a luggage strap for slipping over the handle of a carry-on suitcase. In our luggage test, it remained mostly balanced as we walked, slipping only about an inch to one side. Carrying on the shoulder was comfortable and the strap was easy to adjust to the correct length.
While the expandable section of Mr. Peanut’s carrier can’t be used in flight, the inclusion of this feature in a durable, well-designed bag makes it an ideal option for cross-country air travel.
The Elite Field Soft-Sided Airline-Approved Carrier has a soft fleece mat and safety tether inside and five different pockets outside, one of which unzips to convert into a luggage strap. When slid over a suitcase handle, the luggage strap kept the carrier well balanced on curbs and sidewalks. There is also an adjustable padded shoulder strap and a padded carry handle, both of which are comfortable to use. When carried on the shoulder, the bag does flex inward some.
A whopping 27.5% of the Elite Field is covered in mesh ventilation and it earned the highest scores in our scrape and zip tests. While both the bag’s exterior and its mat washed completely clean in our goop test, a seam along the length of the mat split open in the washing machine. It still fits over its interior panel and, because that panel is covered in polyester, the rip doesn’t compromise the mat’s utility. It collapses inward to store flat.
The only major features the Elite Field is missing is a top-loading door and a warranty. The carrier comes in two sizes, 17-inches long and 19-inches long, and is flexible enough that even the longer version we tested will fit beneath the seat on United Airlines and Southwest Airlines flights.
While it’s not perfect, the affordable Elite Field Soft-Sided Airline-Approved Carrier is easy to carry, rides smoothly on a carry-on suitcase, and has comfort and safety features that are almost as good as its more-expensive competitors.
Pros: Comfortable padded back and straps, plush wrap around interior mat for comfort when upright or laid flat, fits under the seat in most airlines, has several exterior pockets, has locking zippers, folds flat for storage, sold in four colors
Cons: Backpack straps are not removable, no warranty
If you won’t be traveling with a rolling carry-on suitcase, a backpack carrier may be a more comfortable way for both you and your cat to navigate the airport. Mr. Peanut’s Backpack Carrier has adjustable padded straps, padded back panels, and an adjustable chest strap for you. For your cat, it has a luxurious plush mat that wraps around the interior for a soft ride on the back and when laid flat beneath an airline seat.
This backpack has two important safety features: an interior tether and buckling safety zippers. A rollup privacy flap over the panel at the top of the backpack serves as the front-loading door when laid flat. There is a 7-by-7-inch zipper pocket on one side and a mesh water bottle holder and two smaller pockets on the other. At the end of the journey, the carrier folds flat for storage.
Mr. Peanut’s Backpack Carrier did well in testing, earning the highest scores in our scrape, zip, and goop tests. It also has more ventilation than any of the other backpacks we tested, with 17.5% of its surface area covered in mesh. While the carrier has very little flexibility in its frame, it was compact enough to pass our in-cabin fit test. The interior mat is labeled hand wash-only, but it held up well to machine washing and air drying.
Convenient, durable, and comfortable for both you and your cat, Mr. Peanut’s backpack is an ideal carrier for use before, during, and after a flight.
Cons: Expensive, heavy, does not fold for storage, limited ventilation
With double walls, a reinforced aluminum door frame, and a welded nylon-and-aluminum door, Gunner’s G1 Kennel is the strongest, toughest crate we’ve ever seen. In crash tests conducted by the Center for Pet Safety in 2018, the Gunner G1 Medium Dog Kennel earned a five-star safety rating for pets up to 45 pounds and it was the only kennel to withstand our drop testing.
The Gunner G1 Kennel’s door is escape-proof with a built-in lock that comes with a key and a door that can be hung to open from the left or the right. At the bottom of the crate are elevated nonslip feet and there are two extra-sturdy handles and built-in stainless steel tie-down pins on the top. The interior floor is recessed so that if your cat goes to the bathroom or spills their water in flight, the liquid will be funneled away from their bedding.
At 38 pounds, the Gunner G1 Medium Kennel is the heaviest of those we tested, but that weight lends itself to the kennel’s durability. It did not suffer any damage after being dropped 10 feet with a 10-pound weight inside, and when a bag of 30-pound weights was dropped on it from 10 feet above, it left behind only a small exterior divot.
The Gunner G1 Kennel does not have much ventilation or fold down for easy storage. At $599, it’s also the most expensive carrier we tested by far. Despite these downsides, there’s no stronger, safer crate on the market. Plus, it comes with a lifetime warranty. If you want to be sure that your cat will reach their destination safely when flying in cargo, Gunner’s G1 Kennel is your best bet.
With the exception of the Good2Go Expandable Pet Carrier, which I had previously purchased, the carriers in this guide were provided to Insider Reviews as editorial review samples by their manufacturers. The 20 carriers reviewed for this guide went through an extensive series of tests, which include:
Feature comparison: After conducting interviews with our experts, I created a point rubric for scoring each of the 17 soft-sided carriers based on the following features:
Shape and design
Carrying straps and handles
Interior safety tether
No-escape petting hole
Dimensions and in-cabin airline capability
In-cabin airline fit test: I made two boxes out of cardboard with the same dimensions as the underseat space in two major airline carriers, United Airlines (18-inches long, 11-inches wide, 11-inches high) and Southwest Airlines (18.5-inches long, 8.5-inches wide, 13.5-inches high). I then slid each soft-sided carrier and backpack into the boxes to see if they fit.
Scrape test: I scraped a mesh section of each soft-sided carrier 50 times with a fork to test its durability. When complete, I noted any damage or discoloration.
Zip test: To test the durability of each carrier’s zipper, I completely zipped and unzipped one of its loading entrances 50 times. In the process, I noted any changes in the zipper’s ability to smoothly run its course.
Luggage test: Each soft-sided carrier with a luggage strap was attached to a suitcase handle, then rolled over a curb, up a ramp, and along the sidewalk and street of a city block. Inside the carriers, I placed a 10-pound weight and watched to see how well they remained balanced as we traveled.
Ventilation test: According to Wolko, ventilation is important to prevent a cat from overheating during travel. I measured the dimensions of each carrier’s mesh panels and calculated the percentage of the total surface area they comprised. I favored those bags with more ventilation.
Walk test: I took each soft-sided carrier containing a 10-pound weight on a 15-minute walk around my neighborhood. Each was carried using the shoulder strap and held at the front of my body the way I would if I had a real cat inside. For the last block, I switched to using the carrier’s hand-carry straps. The backpack carriers were taken on the same walk but were not carried by hand. With each, I paid attention to how comfortable it was to carry, how much it bounced, and whether it collapsed inwards as I walked.
Goop test: I devised the goop test to determine how easy the carriers would be to clean if a cat vomited or defecated in transit. I mashed together cat kibble, canned food, and water with a mortar and pestle to make the goop, then spread a tablespoon on the exterior wall and interior mat of the contenders. After 48 hours, I wiped the goop from their exteriors using dish soap and water and washed the mats in the washing machine.
Drop test: This test was designed for the hard-shelled cargo kennels. I brought the candidates to a local park and, with the help of my partner, loaded each kennel with a 10-pound weight and threw it off of a 10-foot play structure, looking for any damage that occurred upon landing. In the second test, we dropped a bag of 30-pound weights on top of the kennel from the 10-feet play structure to test for structural integrity.
What else we considered
Soft-sided airline-friendly cat carriers
Sleepypod Atom: This Sleepypod carrier, which earned a five-star crash-test rating from the Center for Pet Safety, has a unique design with a zipper that runs around the perimeter of the top of the bag. Unfortunately, the only way to load a cat is through that elevated opening. That, combined with a shoulder strap buckle that dug into my skin, kept this carrier from the top spot.
Away Carrier: I love this carrier by Away, which also earned a five-star crash-test rating from the Center for Pet Safety. It comes with a hefty price tag, though, and does not fold down for storage. While it beats out the Wild One Travel Carrier for car travel, the lower cost Wild One is a better value for flying.
Mr. Peanut’s Gold Series Carrier: This is yet another good carrier by Mr. Peanut’s that has two points of entry, a padded shoulder strap, a luggage strap, and a safety tether. It lacks an expandable section and has fewer bells and whistles than the Wild One Travel Carrier.
Sherpa Original Deluxe Carrier: The Original Deluxe is a solid carrier, but it was less comfortable to transport than many of the other bags. The buckle on the strap dug into my shoulder and it was difficult to balance the bag on a rolling suitcase.
Sherpa Element Carrier: At 14.75-inches long, 12-inches wide, and 10.5-inches tall, Sherpa’s Element is tiny compared to other carriers. It also lacks padding in the shoulder strap and a safety tether, has only one tiny pocket, and provides less ventilation than most of the other carriers we tested.
Bergan Comfort Carrier: This cozy carrier has a comfy bolster bed inside and zippers with safety buckles. But in our luggage test, it shifted dramatically while rolling on top of a suitcase, which could put a cat in danger of falling. This carrier also does not fold flat for storage.
Frisco Travel Carrier: I really like this carrier and it scored well in our testing. But with no padding on the shoulder strap, it’s less comfortable to carry than the Elite Field. It also comes in only black, a color which Wolko recommends avoiding in pet carriers to prevent a cat from overheating.
Good2Go Expandable Pet Carrier: I like this expandable carrier, but it was the priciest of the expandable carriers we tested and is only sold in black, the color most likely to lead to overheating.
Petmate See and Extend Carrier: For the price, this top- and front-loading carrier was somewhat disappointing. Its expandable section was spacious, but it has no luggage strap for easy airport rolling, no safety tether, and limited pocket space.
Airline-friendly backpack cat carriers
Sherpa 2-in-1 Backpack Carrier: Sherpa’s carrier is innovatively designed with removable backpack straps, one of which converts into a shoulder strap to turn the bag into a traditional carrier. It was missing some of the features of Mr. Peanut’s, though, including safety buckles on the zippers, a privacy flap, a chest strap for balancing the pack’s weight, and a safety tether. It also has a less substantial interior mat.
Kurgo K9 Carrier Backpack: I love the look of this backpack, but that’s about it. This carrier has very little ventilation and a molded base that digs into the back while carrying. Additionally, it only fit under the seat of one of the airlines we tested (Southwest) and our goop test left both the exterior and interior worse for wear.
Crates for flying a cat in cargo
Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier: If Gunner’s G1 Kennel is out of your price range, the Sky Kennel is your next best option. This sturdy crate held up to our drop tests better than the Ultra Vari, remaining structurally sound through both trials. The Sky Kennel is also one of those recommended by Elaine Matthis, pet travel specialist and project manager at Happy Tails Travel in Tucson, Arizona.
Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel: Although this kennel withstood being dropped from 10 feet above the ground, dropping 30 pounds of weights on it completely destroyed the cover. Had a cat been inside, they would not have survived the impact.
FAQs on flying with a cat
Most cats are just small enough to comfortably fly in the cabin of an airplane at your feet. This is always the preferred way to travel with a cat for Wolko. “We have had videos shared with us in which operators drop kennels, sometimes the kennels roll off the moving band, sometimes they flip, sometimes they roll off, sometimes they fall,” she explained. “Those risks are far less likely if your cat remains in your possession at all times.”
How much does it cost to fly with a cat?
Fees for flying with a pet in the cabin of a plane vary between carriers. At United Airlines, a one-way flight for your cat adds $125 to the price of your ticket. At Southwest Airlines, a pet fare is $95 each way. Flying a cat in the cargo hold on a domestic flight is typically around $300 pet flight. Sending a cat on an international flight can cost up to triple that amount.
What are the age restrictions for flying with a cat?
Age restrictions for flying with a pet differ from airline to airline. At United Airlines, cats must be at least 16 weeks of age to fly in the cabin while on Southwest, kittens as young as 8 weeks can accompany their guardians on a flight. Eight weeks is also the minimum age for most kittens flying in cargo. Always check the pet policy of the airline you’ll be flying to make sure your cat meets their requirements.
How do you properly size a cat carrier for a flight?
To fly with a cat in the cabin of a plane, a soft-sided carrier must fit within the dimensions allowed by the airline, which vary a little from company to company. United Airlines, for example, requires carriers to fit in a space 18-inches long, 11-inches wide, and 9-inches high while Southwest Airlines allows carriers 18.5-inches long, 8.5-inches wide, and 13.5-inches high. Within these parameters, make sure your cat has enough room to stand up, turn around, and comfortably lie down inside, said Wolko. Additionally, there should be at least 2 to 3 inches clearance from the top of their ears to the interior roof of the crate.
How much ventilation should a carrier have?
For soft-sided carriers, Wolko said mesh ventilation should be on at least three sides of the bag. In cargo, airlines require that a kennel is ventilated on all four sides.
Do cats need to go to the bathroom on a flight?
Unless a cat suffers from a medical condition, they will be fine without access to a litter box for the duration of a flight. “Just based on the physiology of cats, they could probably go from Boston to Hawaii and without needing to void,” said Bob Murtaugh, veterinarian and chief professional relations officer at Pathway Vet Alliance in Austin, Texas.
In the cargo hold, kennels cannot be outfitted with a litter box or anything other than an absorbent liner and a soft bed or blanket. “If the travel day will be more than eight hours, during a layover pet owners can arrange a comfort stop for cats to be let out of their carrier,” said Matthis.
Do cats need food and water on a flight?
On shorter in-cabin flights, your cat is unlikely to require food or water. However, if you’re flying your cat in cargo, Matthis explained that a food bowl and water bowl should be in the carrier regardless of the length of the flight. She recommends using dishes that fasten to the door of the crate and can be refilled easily from the outside such as Lixit’s Quick Lock Crock 10-ounce bowls.
What else does my cat need to fly?
Most airlines require a health certificate provided by a veterinarian to prove that a cat is safe to fly in the cabin or cargo hold.
What are the signs that my cat may be in distress in flight?
According to Murtaugh, there are a few obvious signs that may indicate your cat is in distress during a flight, either due to fear or excessive heat. A cat that is panting, restless, and vocalizing could be experiencing significant anxiety or overheating. If the membranes in their gums turn bright red, the latter is most likely and it’s important to cool them off quickly. Placing the carrier on your lap so they can feel the air blowing from the vent above your seat or wiping them down with a wet cloth may help lower their body temperature.
How to set up a cat for flying success
The best way to combat a cat’s flight anxiety is to tackle it before getting on the plane. In the weeks before their trip, introduce your cat to their carrier or kennel in a positive way. “Make the carrier feel like a cave or a home or something that’s comfortable, something that they’re not just jammed into the first time they’re on their way to the airport,” said Murtaugh.
Place the carrier in an area of the home where your cat spends a lot of time and encourage them to explore it by placing catnip and treats inside, or by playing with them in and around the space.
Taking your cat on a car ride or on other forms of transportation while in their carrier may also be helpful in the weeks before the flight, said Murtaugh. He recommends placing a bed or blanket that smells like home inside the carrier and using a pheromone spray or collar to help take the edge off.
If your cat has a record of experiencing debilitating stress during travel and will be flying in the cabin, you can speak to your vet about prescribing an anxiety-relieving medication. It’s important, however, to test medication out before your flight. “Make sure there won’t be any untoward side effects. Your vet can help you tailor that to your cat’s needs,” said Murtaugh.
Sedating a cat prior to flying in the cargo hold is not recommended by the International Air Transport Association and can be potentially fatal for old, chronically sick, or highly stressed animals.
Rules for flying with a cat in cargo
While working with an animal shipping professional can help make preparing your cat for travel less stressful, it is not a requirement in the United States. International destinations may have other regulations for air-shipping pets. Always confirm your airline’s requirements well in advance of your pet’s flight.
To air ship a cat, the kennel must meet the following standards established by the International Air Transport Association:
Crate size: The interior width of a crate or kennel must be at least two times the width of a cat. The kennel’s length must be at least the length of a cat plus half their height. The height of a carrier must be at least as tall as the animal’s natural height in a standing position from the tip of the ears to the floor. Matthis recommends using a medium-size crate for cats that is at least 2 to 3 inches taller than this minimum. If you have a cat with a snub nose or smooshed face, the kennel must be 10% larger than for non-brachycephalic pets.
Crate material: A crate must be made from rigid plastic, wood, or metal with a solid roof containing no doors or ventilation. There should be only one metal door that closes securely. “If the crate looks cheap and flimsy, it’s not suitable for air travel,” said Matthis.
Crate extras: Crates in cargo cannot have wheels, plastic doors, or plastic latches. They also cannot be collapsible or have a door in the roof.
Crate interior: The only items allowed inside an animal crate during a flight are an absorbent liner or potty pad, a soft pad or blanket, and clip-in water and food bowls that attach to the crate door
We consulted the following experts and internet sources for this guide to the best airline-friendly cat carriers: