What’s In Your Litter Box?

Sat, Mar 29, 2008

Litter & Hygiene

Cat Litter

As you may already know, the type of litter that you use can have a significant impact on your cat’s health. There is a great deal of information available about different types of litter. And with all the new “natural” cat litters now on the market, it can be overwhelming. I’ve been wanting to know more about the natural litters and was looking for information on why I should consider switching. In my research, I uncovered some startling facts about traditional litters and why we should stop using them immediately. For those of you who have not looked into this yet, I will summarize for you what I’ve found.

Types of cat litter

Traditional clay-based litter This is the type of litter that absorbs moisture and odors, but does not clump for easy scooping, therefore requiring the entire contents of the litter box to be replaced regularly. Almost all clay-based cat litters contain silica, which is a known carcinogen and can cause health problems for both you and your cat when inhaled.

Scoopable/clumping clay-based litter With clumping litter, the litter forms a solid mass when liquid is deposited, allowing you to scoop the clumps along with the solids, reducing the need to completely replace the litter. In addition to containing silica, scoopable clay-based litters almost always contain the clumping agent sodium bentonite. When liquid is added to sodium bentonite, it expands to 15 times its original volume and forms a completely insoluble mass. And that is exactly what it will do when your cat inevitably ingests litter granules while grooming. To read a very moving story about why clumping clay-based litters are dangerous to your cats, please visit catmom.com to read an article by Marina Michaels.

Silica gel crystal litter These litters consist of small pellets that absorb large amounts of liquid. You simply scoop the solids out regularly and replace the pellets periodically. Because they are made of silica, they pose the same potential threat to humans and pets as the clay-based litters, plus, if the pellets are ingested, they can cause severe health problems for your cat.

Natural litters Several companies have developed alternative litters using natural materials, all without silica or sodium bentonite. Natural litters seem to fall into three categories, 1) plant-based materials like wheat or corn (using either the kernels or the cobs), 2) wood-based made from pine or cedar, and 3) newspaper-based utilizing either virgin newsprint or recycled newspaper. The wood-based and newspaper-based litters are pellet-type litters. The pellets absorb the liquids and allow you to scoop the solids. The plant-based litters have a similar texture to traditional litters, which may make them easier to transition to, and often contain natural clumping materials that make it easy to scoop. Many are even flushable. After her experience, Marina Michaels compiled a comprehensive list of alternative cat litters.

Other considerations

In addition to the health factors mentioned above, your cat litter choice impacts the environment, too. First, consider if the litter is made with renewable resources. Clay comes from strip mining while natural litters come from renewable resources like plants and trees. Second, think about where the litter is going after it is used. Non-biodegradable clay litters go into the landfills where they will remain in an insoluble state indefinitely. All of the natural litters are biodegradable and many can be used as compost (with solids removed and on non-edible plants only, please).

My experiment

I have officialy decided that I will never use clumping or non-clumping clay litters or silica gel litters again. I had clumping clay litter in the boxes this morning and it has all been disposed of and replaced with natural litter. I plan to test several types of natural litters and will report back with my findings. I will be testing litters that are easily available at mass retailers. I currently have three different boxes set-up, one with Swheat Scoop (wheat), another with World’s Best Cat Litter (corn), and a third with Arm & Hammer High Performance (not specified on package, but research uncovered that it is in fact corn-based). I will track the performance of these natural litters plus some others and will post my experience.

A huge thank you to Marina Michaels at catmom.com for taking the time to help spread the word about this important topic.

. . .


Please read the following posts to learn more about flushing cat litter:

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64 Responses to “What’s In Your Litter Box?”

  1. 51

    I tried WBCL and my house smelled like a zoo, so I had to go back to Tidy Cat for multiple cat households. I’ve tried feline pine pellets, but the cats don’t cover their poop well because the pellets are so large, and also one of my cats hated it.
    I’d like to use something that isn’t clay based, but so far none of the alternatives seem to work as well.

  2. 52

    Great website! I currently use World’s Best for my two cats, Gregory and Chantal. I swear by it and will use no other. I had tried many other litters in addition to World’s Best and nothing else compares. Really the best!

  3. 53

    I used ARM&HAMMER Multiple Cats Unscented Clumping. Sorry guys but the natural stuff just pisses her off. This is the only kind she will use.

  4. 54

    Yesterday’s news is where it’s at. Long live the http://TreeHuggingCats.com/

  5. 55

    In response to the FELINE FRESH question, YES! It is wonderful. I highly recommend it. I’m also very happy with Worlds Best/Multiple Cat Household. The comparisons between the two: Feline Fresh works equally as well as World’s Best, and the smell is by far superior…even nice! On the other hand, it is finer and so it does track more and can create a bit of dust, but MUCH less than Feline Pine. I currently use World’s Best primarily due to the smallest amount of tracking I’ve yet had. Living in a studio with 3 cats and hardwood floors, this is a big deal! Don’t like the corn smell, but have discovered a product that is great for this. Earth Friendly Kitty Litter Treatment. (and, no, regular baking soda doesn’t work) This stuff is great! There is a new litter on the market that I can’t remember the name of. It is very good as well. It’s oats and potato starch. The caveat here is it must be kept filled to 3″ b/c, if not, it will clump on the bottom and is like concrete to get up. Otherwise, great product…hope this helps!

  6. 56

    I’ve tried 2 different “types” Feline pine (both the pellet & scoop) I found the pellets to just be a mess, yuck. The scoopable works great (I even used it in a cheap automatic litter box, no worries) but you needed to have lots of mats around it to control the dust. I also found I had to add a tablespoon og Baking soda whenever I changed the box to help with the smell. (It has no perfumes which is a good thing but no one likes to smell a “Cat house”)

    I also, out of necessity, tried just plain newspaper! IT works great! I used a LARGE dome type cat box (can’t remember the name right now) and bought a cheap paper shredder and that was it! Hubby found it to be a GREAT way to get ride of junk mail & other stuff you don’t WANT to throw away like bank statements! The box was more expensive than the shredder! I also used baking soda with this as well.

  7. 57

    Okay, I have just switched from freshstep scoopable to swheat…totally in love for the first few hours, kitties loved it, no dust, however dog loves it too…he liked the other litter (or clumps) which was gross but this stuff he is in heaven over…and it doesn’t matter if there are no clumps. Please help, I really want to switch from clay litters but I can’t have my lab eating his swheaties all day long.

  8. 58

    Cat litter is my second most obcessive/compulsive project, second only to pet food. I have four cats: two female and two male, all neutered. The point of mentioning gender is that I’ve found that the males’ excrement has a stronger odor than the females’ excrement. So, odor control and dust and tracking are major concerns. After much experimentation, I’ve found that a 50/50 blend of A&M corn litter and Swheat wheat litter works well for my cats, though it does track a lot and needs to be controlled by newspaper or a carpet between the two litter boxes plus daily sweeping up elsewhere. This combination also reduces the overly sweet odor of the A&M brand, though this problem deminishes after use and with A&M Baking Soda Litter Control added every day.

  9. 59
    Nicole {BKLYNcontessa}

    Arm & Hammer does animal testing – as required by the FDA/EPA any chemical must be animal tested. Be 100% cruelty free an buy natural litters from companies that do not test on animals. There is a great database on Peta’s website.

  10. 60
    Sonia, large dog supplies expert

    Great summary. It’s definitely important to consider the impact of litter on animals that ingest it. Not only do cats run the risk of eating it as they groom themselves, but if you have other animals in your household it can affect them too. Dogs sometimes like eating from the littler box (nasty!) so that’s another consideration. Wheat or corn based litter may be better on your cats but can trigger your dog’s food allergies.

  11. 61
    Kathy Freese

    Would love to see a post about dust and flammability issues with organic litters.


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