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Is Carrying My Pet in a Backpack Inhumane? Or Do They Actually Like It?

Advice from an animal behaviorist, a certified veterinary assistant and a person who regularly puts her pup in a doggie backpack

Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.

The Very Basic Concern

I have two small dogs and a cat, and I love to take them on adventures. We visit the beach, hike the local trails and walk around town, checking out the shops and drinking puppuccinos.

I saw one of those funky cat backpacks the other day — the ones with the plastic bubble that allows your pet to look out while you’re walking around. It got me thinking, should I get some carriers for my animals, so we can get around town more comfortably? I’m kinda hesitant since I saw a bunch of comments online saying they’re inhumane, and “anyone who puts their cat in a backpack deserves to be slingshotted across the Atlantic Ocean.” Dramatic, I know, but I’d hate to put my pets in an uncomfortable situation (and also, to be slingshotted across the Atlantic).

Basically: Are animals cool with being put in a bag, or do they absolutely hate it?

The Expert Advice

Dr. Jill Goldman, certified applied animal behaviorist: This advice applies to all kinds of enclosures, including crates, carriers and so on. I have no personal or professional experience with the cat backpack — I haven’t met anyone who uses it, but the short answer is basically experience. Have these animals had experiences in these enclosures in the past, and has the experience been positive? By nature, these crates are supposed to make the animals feel comfortable, secure and safe. But what happens sometimes is that these animals’ first encounter with these enclosures is traumatic, because they’re locked in, and they can’t get out. That experience can be traumatic enough to last the animal’s lifetime, which would explain the difference [between a cat that doesn’t like it and] a cool cat — you know, “I’m hanging out. I’m going in. I’m doing my thing.” A lot of cats can go on walks because they can deal with that exposure, but others who’ve been housebound all their life could never manage that. It’s the same thing with these enclosures and backpacks — all of them need to be introduced gradually.

Doing so includes getting the animal comfortable in the enclosure before the door is closed, and it should be associated with a positive experience: Treats or toys, whatever turns the animal on. When you do an introduction, do it in short increments, then gradually increase the duration of the animal spending time in that confinement — don’t put them in and leave them there for a couple of hours or overnight, you need to do it gradually so the animal never experiences stress in that enclosure. 

Linda Michaels, dog psychologist, certified veterinary assistant and author of Do No Harm Dog Training and Behavior Manual: Although carrying your pet may be convenient — or fashionable — unless carrying your dog or cat is necessary for safety reasons, it’s better to let them walk or ride in a stroller. Our dogs and cats need exercise, just like we do.

If you’re protecting your dog or cat from dangerous dogs, overheating, steaming hot blacktops or icy sidewalks, opt for a stroller with a screen, just like you would with a baby. Jostling around in your ‘carrier’ or purse isn’t any more comfortable for your dog or cat than riding in a car with no shock absorbers or seat belts would be for you. If your dog or cat suffers from separation anxiety, he or she may complain, however it’s in your dog’s best interest that you seek treatment so they can enjoy the great outdoors.

Remember, too, that their bodies aren’t designed to sit straight upright, but rather with the protected organs within the rib cage and spine facing toward the ground. So car seats that exert pressure on delicate organs may be harmful. 

We all need novel experiences: Get your dog or cat out and about town, but do so with their safety and comfort foremost in mind.

Rachelle Kuebler, a dog owner who often uses a K9 Sport Sack: Kona loves her backpack. We walk, often miles, for long periods of time. She’s a small dog, and when she gets tired, she stops and asks us to put her in the backpack — she stops, turns to me and paws at my leg. Then I say, “Up, up!” If she jumps into my arms, she wants in the backpack. It’s so much easier — and kinder — to carry her that way, rather than trying to drag her the rest of the way home, or carry her in our arms.

This is my wife and our dog!

It took her a minute: We had to teach her to get in and out of it. And it was a bit of a challenge at first to get her to sit down in it — they have to sit, then you put their feet through the holes and zip it around them. She kept trying to stand, so it took about three tries.

But again, now she absolutely loves it.