We know pets don’t like being in small spaces – who does? We all want to make sure we give our pets the gold-standard when it comes to carriers, so when we do have them tag along with us wherever we’re going, they’re as calm as can be.
Table of Contents:
- Our top picks
- When does an expandable pet carrier come in useful?
- What sizes of dog are expandable pet carriers available for?
- How to measure your pet for the carrier?
- What to look out for when buying an expandable pet carrier
- #1 Bow Meow Premium Pet Carrier
- #2 Pecute Pet Carrier Backpack
- #3 PetsHome Dog Carrier
- #4 Halinfer Expandable Pet Backpack
- #5 Papagai Premium Expandable Pet Carrier
- #6 Akinerri Airline Approved Pet Carrier
Our top picks
Best all around: Bow Meow Pet Carrier
Best for small pets: PetsHome Dog Carrier
Best for your money: Akinerri Airline Approved Pet Carrier
When does an expandable pet carrier come in useful?
If you’ve never considered an expandable carrier for your pet, you might be wondering when it would come in handy vs a standard soft-sided carrier or a hard-shelled kennel.
While you might not need an extended space for your pet to lounge if you’re just taking them on a five-minute trip to their vet, they might need more room to stretch out if you’re traveling for longer periods of time. For example, if you were taking them on a road trip or on a plane.
In fact, in the United States alone, over 2 million pets travel by plane per year. Most flights last an hour at the very least, and 19 hours at the longest!
No one enjoys sitting in cramped coach seats on planes or driving for hours on end with no breaks. And why is that? Because it gets uncomfortable when you’re not able to move around or stretch out for a long time.
And that same logic goes for your pets, too! But with an expandable carrier, you’re able to offer them more room to really get comfortable, and even fully stretch out if they wanted! They’ll be much happier next time you take them with you on your next vacation.
But there’s another reason to consider an expandable pet carrier, even if you aren’t planning a lengthy trip in the near future. Animals like dogs and cats can actually be claustrophobic.
For some lucky owners, your pooch might not care about relaxing in a smaller, enclosed space. But lots of pets actually get nervous and show signs of anxiety and stress when kept in carriers.
In fact, your pet might be claustrophobic if you notice any of these symptoms when they’re in an enclosed space:
- Whining: anything from drawn-out whines to full on barks or yelps act as an audible sign of distress.
- Shaking/panting: if your pet is severely distressed, you might notice them drooling, breathing rapidly, or (in the case of dogs) panting.
- Biting/chewing: some pets will gnaw, bite, or excessively lick themselves to the point of injury (indicated by loss of fur or bleeding wounds) when they become stressed.
If you’re concerned about a pet whose exhibiting some of these symptoms when you try to put them in a crate or carrier, you should consider talking to a vet.
And if your pet is claustrophobic, and you need to take them in a carrier from time to time, you would enjoy the benefits an expandable kennel has to offer. The more space your pet has, the less stressed out they’ll be.
Cats and dogs might also dislike being in a carrier if they have had negative past experiences in similar tight quarters. In these cases, offering them more room not only makes them more comfortable physically, but the different layout might help to calm them mentally as well.
What sizes of dog are expandable pet carriers available for?
We all want to give our pets the gold-standard when it comes to carriers. But unfortunately, if you have a large pooch, you probably won’t be able to find one.
The vast majority of expandable kennels are designed to also be airline approved. And, since any soft-sided kennel assumes the pet will be flying in-cabin, that means the size and weight limits are catered to dogs and cats that can easily stow away under a seat.
So, if you have a 45-pound German Shepherd, you might be better off looking for a spacious, hard-shelled kennel.
You are in luck, however, if your companion is within the extra-small to small categories. Most expandable carriers can safely hold up to 20 pounds of pet. That means terriers, pugs, chihuahuas, corgis, and the like are all well-suited to stretch out in a soft-sided palace!
A standard “large” carrier with an extension will be around 20” x 12” x 12” when it’s not folded out. There are a variety of sizes that are more compact to suit every need and fit every (small) pet!
How to measure your pet for the carrier?
Before you go all the way and purchase your pet’s carrier, you want to make sure they can fit in it! To do this, all you’ll need is your pet and a measuring tape.
Your carrier should be large enough for your pet to stand up, turn around, and lay down in comfortably. If you’re looking to take your furry companion along on a flight, you’ll also want to ensure that no part of their body pushes out the sides of the carrier.
You’ll want to take their measurements with them standing upright, if possible.
To get the length, you’ll want to measure from the base of the tail (where it connects to the body) to the tip of the nose. To get the height, measure from the ground to the top of their head.
When looking to purchase a kennel, you should consider adding on anywhere from 2-3 inches for both the length and the height to really make sure the carrier will fit them properly.
What to look out for when buying an expandable pet carrier
When you’re buying a carrier, you’ll want to make sure it checks off these four things:
- High-quality zipper
- Durable shoulder strap(s)
- Strong mesh ventilation
- Whether or not it (or at least the bottom pad) is machine washable
Zipper enclosures are stronger and generally more durable than other types of enclosures, like snaps or Velcro.
When pets are confined to small spaces, some of them will become anxious and try to escape. The most vulnerable areas – which are the ones most likely to fail when your dog or cat tries to push out of them – are the seams by the openings.
Having a strong zipper made from high-grade materials will help prevent your pet from escaping or damaging the carrier. This aspect is especially important when looking for a kennel to bring aboard an aircraft, since air travel is notorious for stressing out animals.
Having a heavy-duty and well-padded shoulder strap isn’t necessarily a matter that affects your pet; it more affects you and your comfort when carrying them from place to place.
Whether it’s a backpack or a faux purse, lugging around a small animal that weighs anywhere from 4 to 25 pounds is bound to weigh on your shoulder pretty quickly.
That’s why it’s important to have shoulder straps that won’t rip at the seams from constant use of carrying that much weight. And while extra padding isn’t a necessity, any extra cushion will prove useful!
Mesh ventilation is a standard on nearly every pet carrier, but that doesn’t mean it’s all created equal. Some companies will use cheaper mesh to try and save money to be able to offer a cheaper product.
But like we’ve discussed earlier, confined pets equal stressed pets who probably want to get out of their carrier ASAP. And while a zipper might be a weak spot for pushing, the mesh is a vulnerable spot for gnawing.
Some pets will chew through cheap mesh and escape from their carrier if they become scared. Having tough mesh that’s well sewn and put together can make all the difference!
And lastly, you’ll want to see if the carrier is machine washable. Most exteriors will be hand-wash only, but some will allow the bottom pad to go in the washing machine.
That’s a major factor to consider because anxious pets tend to have accidents, especially when traveling on a car ride or an airplane. Yes, you could put down pee pads, but sometimes even those just aren’t enough.
When the pad needs a deeper clean, machine washing is the way to go to save you time and energy! And even if they don’t have an accident, smells and bacteria can build up over time. It’s much easier to keep it clean if you can just pop it in the washer and be done with it!
So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of our favorite expandable pet carriers.
#1 Bow Meow Premium Pet Carrier
This little red pet carrier is perfect for both cats and small dogs alike! But what makes it stand out from the other carriers out there is that it expands in all four directions, which adds 46% more space than a traditional two-sided expandable kennel!
And the expansions are the standard “wings,” meaning you unzip a section and fold it down to give it the extra room.
But, since all four sides are taken up for that purpose, you have to load your pet via the top zipper. This can be an issue, because many people report having a harder time putting their squirming pet in a carrier by the top as opposed to the sides.
But it does have important features, like a shoulder strap, seat belt buckles for those long car rides, and even a luggage slip for walking around the airport (which is especially great, since it is airline approved!). That also means that the bottoms and sides are waterproof, which is great in case of water bowl spills or nervous “accidents.”
Another neat feature is that it has zippers that snap together when closed, which provides extra security for your pet who might want to try and escape. Plus, the bottom mat is machine washable!
And if you’re wondering about the quality, the company claims that its mesh is “tear resistant,” and that it has a rigid plastic bottom. And they must be telling the truth, since all the customers rave about how well-built the product is (seriously, this carrier only has 4 or 5-star ratings)!
And when you’re not using it, it conveniently folds up to only 3 inches wide – no more than a standard laptop case. Which is especially amazing considering the non-expanded dimensions are 18” long x 12” wide x 11” tall.
The company also claims that it will hold up to 25 pounds of pet! All of that is not even mentioning that they donate to the Friends of Daviess Animal Shelter in Owensboro, Kentucky for every one they sell (ant it only costs about $40)!
- Very durable
- Lots of space (both for your dog and for storage)
- Many important safety features
- Airline approved
- Holds up to 25-pound pets
- Have to load pet by the top zipper
- Only comes in one size and color
So, to recap, this airline-approved carrier expands four ways, folds up for easy storage, and has lots of neat safety features, including interlocking zippers and seatbelt buckles for long car rides. It also has a shoulder strap, washable bottom pad, side pockets, and more!
Not to mention that it can hold up to 25-pound pets (which makes it one of the strongest on the market). Plus, it’s affordable!
It does only come in one color (red) and in one standard size. Not only that, but you have to put your pet in by the top zipper because the side ones are being used to give your pet more space.
#2 Pecute Pet Carrier Backpack
This expandable backpack carrier is a perfect option if you like taking your pet outdoors (which is what it’s mainly designed for). It is not airline approved, however with the size being 13.4” x 10.4” x 17.3”, it is under the standard size requirements for most airlines (if you had it sideways).
This carrier, which comes in either grey or blue, wears like a regular backpack, just a little more rigid. It has a dual-sided (hand-wash only) pad for your pet to sit on – one side is Oxford cloth (which is better for hotter temperatures), and the other is plush (which is better for cooler weather).
Once you take the pack off, the back portion unzips and expands. However, unlike the standard “wing” expansions, this one neatly folds out into a full-sized, mesh rectangle. This is beneficial because it gives you the same height as the rest of the carrier, instead of the top tapering down.
There is also another zipper you can use while you’re wearing the carrier, and that one is located at the top. It unzips enough to let your pet’s head through. But to ensure your pet doesn’t try to leap out, there is a safety leash inside the pack that latches onto their collar and keeps them inside.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the zippers lock together, making it nearly impossible for your pet to push them apart and escape!
There are also two mesh patches on either side of the carrier to allow increased air circulation and to prevent your pet from overheating! Both of those are coated with plastic to help increase durability. Which seems to work well, because customers (happily) state that their pet’s claws can’t rip through the material!
The mesh on the expansion is uncoated, however, and some people have said that their pets had ripped through it after repeated uses.
And for added convenience for you, it has adjustable, padded shoulder straps. It also has pockets on both sides: one for holding water bottles and doggie waste bags, and the other for holding things like your cell phone, wallet, etc.
The manufacturer states this carrier can hold up to 18 pounds, but customers have said it holds their 20-pound pet with ease! Plus, it’s more affordable than others, costing a little less than $50.
- Safety features like locking zippers and a safety leash
- Full-size expansion
- Additional storage
- Padded, adjustable shoulder straps
- Uncoated mesh on expansion
- Not airline approved
- Not machine washable
To summarize, this pet carrier-backpack offers a full expansion that may be ripped by sharp claws after multiple uses. However, it offers many conveniences like padded shoulder straps and side pockets for storage.
It has unique features, like the dual-sided pad, but it isn’t machine washable. Overall, though, customers are happy with the quality and utility of this carrier!
#3 PetsHome Dog Carrier
If you’re looking for an everyday, incognito kennel, then you would love this expandable pet carrier. Why? Well, for starters, it looks exactly like a purse!
Style was definitely a prime focus when this carrier was designed. It shows in the leather exterior, contrasted stitching, and brass-colored buttons. If you didn’t know any better, it could easily be mistaken for a Michael Kors bag!
And, with its front pocket that can hold your phone, wallet, or pet treats, it literally can double as your purse!
This carrier also has two wing expansions on either side. It also offers plenty of mesh ventilation even when it’s not expanded.
And if you wanted to take your precious pet out for a fashionable walk and show off their cuteness, they implemented a feature on the top which allows you to fasten it open in one of three ways, depending on how much of your dog you want poking out.
And you have no reason to be concerned about them jumping out, because this also has a safety leash on the inside to ensure your pet stays put.
There’s also two handheld straps and a stylish shoulder strap, although some customers have said the carrier is too big to comfortably use the shoulder strap. Customers have raved about the high quality, though!
This bag does only come in one color, which is black, but there are two sizes to choose from:
- Small: approximately 15” x 7.8” x 10.25”. Holds up to 22 pounds. Costs about $60.
- Medium: approximately 17.3” x 9.25” x 11.8”. Holds up to 33 pounds! Costs about $76.
The small size is airline approved, fitting under most airline seats. Both sizes are also waterproof (a requirement for pet travel on planes).
And although they offer two sizes, a common theme among reviewers is that the carrier is really only meant for pets that lean on the smaller side, which can be a little deceptive with the weight it can hold.
- Chic and stylish
- Multiple sizes
- Safety leash
- Holds a lot of weight
- Only spacious enough for smaller pets
- Bottom pad is not machine washable
In the end, this carrier would fool almost anyone into thinking you were carrying around a designer purse – both because of its looks and its quality! Unfortunately, though, that is also reflected in the higher price point.
Not to mention, though, that this bag is durable enough to hold a lot of weight – up to 33 pounds as recommended by the manufacturer! This would be a perfect bag for frequent travel.
#4 Halinfer Expandable Pet Backpack
If you’re looking to take your pet with you on a brisk walk or a steep hike up rugged terrain, you’ll benefit from this expandable backpack!
This sturdy backpack has a transparent plastic “bubble” as its front, which gives your pet plenty of space to look out and enjoy the nature – even when you’re wearing it!
Plus, because its wear-resistant plastic, your pet can’t scratch or chew through it.
It is worth noting that some customers have received the carrier with a small crack in the plastic cover. However, most everyone reports that their customer service was very friendly and quickly rectified the problem.
Like some others, the back panel unzips and pulls out into a full-sized expansion to give your pooch extra room to stretch out and bask in the sunshine.
A unique feature of this backpack/carrier is that it has two side windows and nine extra mesh vents! That means your pet will have more than enough air circulation to keep them cool.
But an even more one-of-a-kind aspect of this carrier is that it is completely toxic-free and eco-friendly. And they even designed it with a little zip up door on the side, so that you don’t have to deal with the hassle of putting your pet in through the top.
It also has high quality shoulder straps and an adjustable chest strap for more strenuous outdoor activity.
It is airline approved, and only weighs three pounds. The manufacturer recommends it for pets up to 12 pounds. However, some reviewers claim that it holds pets up to 17 pounds without any problems.
It comes in two colors – grey and blue – and costs about $55.
- Non-toxic and eco friendly
- Side pet access
- Full sized back panel expansion
- Airline approved
- Hand wash only
- Only holds lighter pets
All in all, this backpack pet carrier will fit your dog if they’re not too heavy. And if you are lucky enough for your pet to fit, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that it’s made of non-toxic materials and is good for the environment.
And even though it is airline approved and waterproof, you do have to hand wash it. Overall though, it is a great choice if you’re planning on taking your furry companion along on longer outdoor excursions.
#5 Papagai Premium Expandable Pet Carrier
If you’re looking for a kennel that will give your pet tons of extra space, then you’d enjoy this luxurious dog carrier that expands to offer nearly twice as much room!
The unexpanded dimensions are 18” long x 12” wide x 11” tall, which might seem small at first. But each of the two full-size expandable sides adds on another 10 inches – that’s almost two feet of additional space when it’s fully open!
Not only that, but this doggie bag is super chic, with its grey cloth exterior and tan faux-leather accents. And it’s a good thing it’s so stylish, because they only offer that one color. But you are getting high grade materials and vogue style at a price of about $45.
Plus, its airline approved. Because it’s soft-sided, the top will fold down to fit under tight seats. And the bottom is waterproof, another requirement for airliners. It also has a safety leash clip on the inside to keep your pet securely in the carrier at all times.
Something unique about this carrier is that it has a plush fleece pad that folds out with the expansion. So, not only is it sturdy and comfortable while it’s folded up, but you get those same benefits when it’s pulled out, too.
This also offers safety features such as metal zippers, rubber feet (to prevent sliding while on the ground), and a seatbelt clip, which makes it easy to keep your pet safe while in the car. It has a luggage strap, too, so you can slide it over your suitcase handle and carry it with ease!
And speaking of convenience, this carrier offers you two ways to hold your fur baby – either by using the reinforced shoulder strap or the padded handle. And that’s not to mention the large exterior pockets to hold all your pet treats as well as things like your cell phone, wallet, and passport.
And even though you have to load your pet in from the top opening, there are mesh viewing screens to let your dog see out as well as keep cool.
Although most customers are extremely happy with this carrier – especially with the high-quality materials – there is a common downside: it’s only big enough and sturdy enough for very small, light dogs.
Even though it expands significantly, the original, unexpanded dimensions are small and can only fit small dogs, small cats, very small rabbits, and guinea pigs. Plus, the manufacturer only recommends holding pets that weigh up to 15 pounds, which isn’t very much.
- Expands to offer a lot of space
- High-quality, long lasting materials
- Airline approved
- Only meant for very small, light pets
- Top-load zipper for your pet
- Only one color and size
Overall, this carrier was designed with care and made with high quality materials. You can travel and rest easy knowing that your pet is safe in this TSA-approved carrier.
The two side expansions that offer nearly two feet of extra room are the star of the show for this carrier. Plus, with the extra large pockets on the sides offering you more storage, you’ll have no problems making this bag double as your carry on.
Unfortunately, though, you only get to enjoy this kennel if you have a smaller, very light pet, as it can’t hold very much weight.
#6 Akinerri Airline Approved Pet Carrier
This dog and cat carrier might look like as standard as they come, but it boasts a lot of extra features.
For starters, this carrier is airline approved. That means that the dimensions (17” x 11” x 11”) not only fits under the seat, but it also is waterproof!
It has two wing expansions on the sides that have scratch-resistant mesh. There are also large mesh screens on the top and front to allow more-than-adequate airflow, which will help keep your pet cool and less stressed!
It offers both a hand grip and secure shoulder strap for carrying around. And for convenience, it also has a pocket at the back for storing treats and other necessities.
It also has self-locking zippers as an additional safety feature, so your pet can’t escape. Plus, it has a safety leash on the inside as well. And that’s not to mention the cozy fleece mat that has a firm board base to keep your pet sitting sturdy.
Unfortunately, though, that durable base is hand-wash only.
But what really sets this one apart from the others is that there is not one, not two, but four places to access your pet from!
You can put your pet in the carrier from the top or from the front (like most standard kennels), or you can put them in from one of the side entrances. Not only does that give you lots of options for hassle-free loading, but it also gives you plenty of access points if you ever needed to get to your pet quickly.
This carrier comes in two colors, black and blue, is suitable for pets up to 15 pounds, and is wallet-friendly at only $35.
- Safety features, like self-locking zipper and safety leash
- Four openings for quick access and easy loading
- Hand-wash only
- Can only hold lighter pets
At the end of the day, if you want an economical carrier that also offers convenience, safety, and extra room for your pet, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Plus, if you have an anxious, squirming pet, you have four ways to put them in the kennel, and four access points to help keep them calm!
The carrier is airline approved, but the bottom pad is hand wash only, so you might want to consider pee pads if you are traveling with them long distance or if they are prone to accidents.