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. 1

    I switched to Swheat Scoop a few months ago and really like it. It lasts for a long time, even with 3 cats, and has the sandy texture they’re used to.

    I cat sit for a friend who uses World’s Best and don’t really like the way it smells. Her cat doesn’t seem to mind, though.

  2. 2

    I have also recently made this decision and have found that PaPurr Scoop and Feline Pine Scoop are my (and my cat’s) faves. I am leaning toward Feline Pine Scoop because it’s very lightweight and doesn’t smell perfume-y at all, but my cat really likes the granules of PaPurr scoop and it’s made from recycled paper, which is a plus.

  3. 3

    Here in Australia the wheat/corn type natural litters are fairly hard to come by (and with celiac disease, i wouldn’t have the wheat in my home, anyway), and recycled newspaper is much more common. This brand in particular is fabulous. I have 5 indoor-only cats, so good litter is very very important! I’ve tried pretty much every brand available here, and have found that the recycled paper pellets are not only the cheapest and least ‘chemical’, they also stay dry longer, have better odour control, and are the only type of litter to be approved of by all 5 cats. Ghastly-bad, though, is one recycled-paper brand that makes ‘flakes’ rather than pellets, it’s dusty, has poor odour absorption, and is terrible for digging in (as a good litter needs to be behaviourally satisfying as well as sanitary, this a serious issue).

  4. 4
    Catherine Chandler

    Oh please give us your reviews! We have tried the silica, before I realised how bad it might be, then switched to pine, which got tracked ALL OVER the house. Then to newspaper, which is great but has to be changed about every 5-7 days because it retains the stench. Then to the World’s Best Cat Litter, which stank because of the corn smell and it tracked all over the house (good thing I got a small bag). Now we’re back to the newspaper litter, but I would love to hear about the Arm & Hammer performance!

  5. 5

    I used World’s Best and it did well for the urine smell, but not as good when my cats did a #2. I also ended up with about 50 little flies around the box because of the corn base.

    I second Leigh that Feline Pine scoopable is the best I’ve found. Yes, they will track it around the house, but I’ve yet to find something they don’t track around. Keeping their nails shorter with regular trims helps though.

  6. 6

    We recently tried World’s Best (we have 3 indoor cats who range in age from 6-11 and have used clay-based litters their entire lives) and my cats hate it. I don’t know if it’s the smell (it smells like a farm) or the texture. Anyway, I’m considering pine since it sounds like it smells better. I would love to hear stories about transitioning from clay to pine… by the way, I asked my vet about this issue just last week and she told me there was nothing to worry about. But I have lost two cats to kidney disease and I can’t help but think it’s related.

  7. 7

    I think World’s Best Cat litter works great for us. One thing to be aware of though… we live near a park and in the winter mice come into the neighborhood.

    I had stored an extra sack of the litter in the garage and the mice chewed into it. I think, being corn-based, it may have smelled like food to them.

    I no longer buy extra, I just buy what we need and keep it inside, in a plastic covered bin.

  8. 8

    Thanks so much for doing this. I have been wanting to try different types of litter but I never know where to start. I look forward to reading your findings.

  9. 9

    I use World’s Best, and I do think it lives up to the name. My cat and I live in a small apartment in a big city, so I actually have to have my litter box in the living room because there’s no other place for it. Thankfully, I’ve never had a problem with the odor at all. (And luckily, we don’t have mice in the building.) The clumping is fine, and it flushes down very easily. The breeder from whom I got my kitty recommended WB and I’ve never had a reason to switch, so I’d definitely recommend it!

  10. 10

    I use Arm & Hammer High Performance and I love it. It works better than any clumping litter I’ve ever used and it does a great job eliminating the smell. My cat likes it too, as it’s got a soft texture and feels more like natural dirt.

  11. 11

    I’ve been using Cat’s Best Öko Plus since my cats were kittens and I’m pretty happy with it.

    It’s biodegradable and apparently you can empty it straight into the compost bin although I haven’t tried that yet. It’s made from untreated fir timber.

    My only complaint would be that it gets kind of dusty after a while, but it’s not bad. I only clean it out properly once a month and I have two cats using the litter and we live in a small flat, so definitely no bad smells.

    It’s a German litter and here in the UK it’s readily available, but I’m not sure about North America.

  12. 12

    My understanding is that cats are very allergic to corn. I am concerned that corn based litters will have their own negative issues over an extended period of use.

    Breathing in any sort of litter dust is generally bad news. Enclosed litter boxes will also always result in an environment where a cat will be subjected to more dust than necessary. So placing an open box in a well ventilated area (like an enclosed outdoor patio) is probably a good idea.

  13. 13

    I’ve tried the Arm & Hammer High Performance and it definitely clumped well. It is a strange flake that seems to make a big mess outside the litter box and was dustier than I expected.

    I switched to World’s Best about a month ago. My cat seems to enjoy it (she’s not very picky actually). I think I enjoy it more than her. The clumping is fantastic, but it still tracks a bit. The litter definitely doesn’t cover the smell of a #2, though I’ve decided that is a built-in alarm to clean the box very regularly.

  14. 14

    I’ve been using Worlds Best with my two kitties since we adopted them a year ago and we love it. I really only notice the corn smell while I’m scooping. It clumps well and the kitties like it. I also use the Litter Locker instead of flushing. Flushing seems like a bad idea. I hate that the litter locker means using plastic, but it makes it so easy to scoop twice a day and not be carrying plastic bags of poop all the time. Worth every penny.

  15. 15

    I too used the Arm and Hammer High Performance for my finicky cats. While I loved how light it was (great for carrying up the stairs) I really, really did not like how it smelled. It had a weird, oddly sweet smell that drove me nuts. It does have an odd flakiness to it that ended up all over my house. My cats hated it so much to protest they decided my bath mat was their new litter box (I keep one litter box in the bathroom). I found it did not resist odors very well at all. I hate walking in the house and smelling the litter box, which is just what happened when I used this. This will not be one I use again.

  16. 16

    I think giving all three a try is worth it if you are really interested in finding a natural alternative. I have switched to Arm and Hammer High Performance and am very happy with it as opposed to some of the previous reviewers. My only complaint is that my cat seems to track it out on the floor a bit more but I got a larger mat for underneath the litter box and that helps. But I don’t find any smell with it, it clumps well and is very light!! I am definitely happy with it.

  17. 17

    I swear by the World’s Best Cat Litter for multiple cats (the one w/the green label). I have 2 cats/2 litter boxes for them. So easy to scoop, the box always looks clean and they’re not inhaling dust!

    Years ago I tried using one of the wheat based litters and my cat had a horrible reaction to it.

    WBCL also has a good reward program – I think you get six $1.00 coupons for 9 UPC codes.

  18. 18

    Great post! As others have already mentioned, there is now wood-based clumping litter available, which is what I have been using. Our litter box is inside a closet with sliding doors so it works well for us with minimal tracking (the bath mat in front of the litter box also helps). I have also found it to be quite economical, as the 11 lb bag seems to last a long time with two cats.

    Good luck with your experiment. I hope you settle on something you and the cats can both be happy with.

  19. 19

    WoW, great to see so many posts. I too have used clay-based litter all my cats lives (14 years).

    After reading Cat Watch (a great newsletter from Cornell’s Vet school), and Kate’s post here I switched and tried WBCL. No transition problems :) . I did notice the corn odor but it dissipated quickly enough (thank goodness), and although there is tracking it’s much more limited and gentlier on my feet.

    I also was worried about the bugs/mice appearances after reading reviews on Amazon about WBCL and sWheat but so far, no problem. Fingers crossed :) .

    I too live in a small NYC apt. so smelling the contents of the litter box is not high on the list. I am able to put a litter box in the bathroom wherein the moment they (I have 2 of them), poo it goes into the toilet. And I love this clumping effect! I tend not to flush it either. Since I go to the gym and they give little bags, to put your gym wear in, I use these as my clump dump. Squirt it with a little Fabreze ’til full then dispose. I even give the litter box a lite spray now and then, particularly after a poo :) .

    Good luck all!

  20. 20

    We switched our two cats to Arm & Hammer High Performance after seeing this article. We’ve tried Swheat Scoop and World’s Best before but the cats tried to eat the litter because of the food-like smell.

    Arm & Hammer clumps very well – initially I was pleased to have found a natural litter. But unfortunately it tracks all over the place and has a very strange bubblegum fragrance that’s obviously added to cover up urine smells. We can’t keep using it because it ends up all over the house. It also produces dust on the hair between the cats’ paws which leads to dusty paw prints on our bed, couch – yuck!

  21. 21
    Catherine Chandler

    I’ve just posted a blog about our trials and tribulations with cat litter and cat food (the kitties turn 1 today!). We now are using Arm & Hammer Performance and will probably stick with it. To reduce tracking, I’ve gotten one of the grassy type of litter mats for under the litter box. Seems to work so far!

  22. 22

    I swear by World’s Best. For me personally, I like that it is a local company (to me since I live in Iowa), but I also like the coupons you can get for a product you’re going to keep buying over and over. Also love the flush-ability of it.

  23. 23

    Has anyone tried Scoopable Feline Fresh (from Plantwise Products)? I saw raves about it recently.

  24. 24
    the zookeeper

    We used World’s Best, and I absolutely loved it, but it got to be far too expensive for a multi-cat household. Now we’re using Woody Pet, a pine pellet litter free that smells great without those pesky aromatic hydrocarbons. It works like the original Feline Pine but with a much finer texture and significantly lower cost.

  25. 25

    When I first got my kitten, I tried the Feline Pine litter as that is what his foster mom used. However I found it to be a little on the expensive side and decided to try other things. I have been using the Swheat Scoop (original) for a little while now and I am pretty pleased with it, as is my cat. There are a few things I do not like about it, but nothing so major as to make me try and switch yet. The clumps for me do break up pretty easily, but considering my cat likes to “wet” in the same spot all the time this is a good thing. Otherwise I would break my scoop trying to get one giant clump out of his favourite corner. My other issue is that it does not really clump around the solids as much as I would like which keeps the odor control from doing a fantastic job. However I did find that this particular litter tracks less around the house then others, which is a huge plus in my book. The actual smell of the litter is almost pleasant and remains that way with regular scooping. I find I do not need to do a full box change as often as with the Feline Pine which in turns saves me some money with less frequent trips to the pet store for more. With one cat, it takes two boxes (about 2 months) till a full chance is necessary as long as I scoop once a day. All in all a good litter and an “almost” perfect match for my needs.

  26. 26

    We use the new Feline Pine clumping litter and really like it. It is NOT like the old Feline Pine pellets (which were OK but not great), but a lot more in texture like sawdust. It clumps fairly well, our cats like it, and the odor control is excellent without it having its own strong smell. The one big drawback is the cats track it everywhere.

  27. 27

    We’ve used the clay clumping stuff (the smell and dust were awful), WBCL (being an Iowa girl, I thought the corn smell was a vast improvement over perfumed silica), and Feline Pine clumping. WBCL and FPC are interchangeable for us in terms of dust, smell, clumping and kitty happiness, but the latter is less expensive, so we’re sticking with (and hopefully not to) FPC. Tracking is an issue, but a little mat helps, and kitty’s dad is a surprisingly and delightfully compulsive vacuumer.

  28. 28

    We have 4 cats and use WBCL and love it. The smell doesn’t bother me, but our boxes are in a large utility closet. We do have one cat who *absolutely refuses* to use traditional cat litter. She will only use Carefresh Pet Bedding: http://www.petsmart.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2753657

  29. 29

    My cat was raised from a kitten on pine pellets so I’ve continued to use those once I adopted her. I’ve found that the pressed pine pellets you can get for wood stoves at Rona or some other home improvement store are EXACTLY the same stuff as the Feline Pine pellets (original, not the clumping). The pellets from the home improvement store come in a big bag for the same cost as the smallest size bag of Feline Pine (about $5). I like ALMOST everything about the pine pellets, nice subtle woodsy smell when they are new, no dust, low tracking, absorb urine with no uriney smell (the pellets turn to sawdust and fall to the bottom of the litter tray once they are peed on). The one thing I DO NOT like about them are that they really do nothing to neutralize the smell of good old #2. I’ve sprinkled a bit of baking soda in the bottom of the litter tray, but this doesn’t help much. I’d love any suggestions on how to best (and most naturally) neutralize the odor (other than cleaning the box out immediately after use :) I don’t want to use chemically smelling room freshener sprays for my sake and my cat’s. Any suggestions? I was thinking of setting up a plug in type essential oil diffuser in the bathroom where the box is located. Any thoughts?

  30. 30

    I have been using pine pellets exclusively for 5 years, and wouldn’t use anything else! I now have 9 indoor cats (yes, 9!) and rarely have a litter box odor. I buy 40 lb bags of pine pellets sold for horse bedding at my local feed store – I use 2 of these bags a week and each bag is about $7. Currently I’m using conventional, covered litterboxes, but I saw on the website of a cat breeder how she makes her own using 2 rubbermaid-type shallow storage boxes stacked inside each other – the top one having holes drilled all over its bottom. She just scoops out the poo, and shakes the set vigorously a couple of times a day, and the “sawdust” falls to the bottom, where she can easily empty it out. She adds more dry pellets to the top as needed. I think that sounds like a project for my dad to make for me while I’m visiting he and mom tomorrow!

  31. 31

    No matter what I like, my cat is the ultimate decision maker about litter.
    I love WBCL but she hates it and if Jersey hates it she won’t use the box consistently.

    I am currently combining two litters.
    I put Nature’s Miracle all around the edges where it provides excellent odor control. I fill the rest and lightly cover NM with that Cat Attract litter which clumps well and helps Jersey avoid the temptation to pee in inappropriate places.

    So far this works well for both of us.

  32. 32

    I’d been using World’s Best Cat Litter for years with my older cats and it was perfect. But I recently got 3 new cats and found that it was not sufficient to cover their odor. I tried the Arm & Hammer High Performance and it worked great on smells but the scent was too potent for me. Now I buy both and mix them together and it’s the best combo you could ask for. All natural, which is important for the cats, AND FLUSHABLE which is crucial for me.

  33. 33
    Boo Boo Lu

    I have 4 cats & have tried many natural litters. The Feline Pine scoopable was too fine almost like dust & really showed up on our black kitty. Feline Fresh Scoopable is a fantastic newer pine litter for odor control plus less dust & tracking. This litter also lasted much longer & clumped well compared to any clay, wheat, or corn litters we’ve tried.

    We recently bought a Litter Robot & unfortunately Feline Fresh is too light to for this type of automatic Litter Box. So I am currently on a new search for a perfect natural litter for the litter robot.

    Here is the link for Feline Fresh. The best litter we had for an old fashioned litter box. http://www.planetwiseproducts.com/feline.htm

  34. 34
    kathleen bridgers

    I use Arm & Hammer and it works well, but I am always willing to try a new kind that could be better.

  35. 35

    Gunny’s been using Ever Clean for awhile now, I’m sure he wouldn’t have a problem switching though he’s pretty flexible. We’ve used the Arm & Hammer in the past and he was happy with that litter too!

  36. 36
    Dana Charlee

    I currently use arm and hammer multi-cat but when I go to the store today i’ll pick up their new one you mention. I never thought about them ingesting the litter! That sounds terrible!

  37. 37

    We have tried so many litters, and seem to never be quite satisfied with any. Maybe combining them like some have suggested is the way to go? Currently we’re using a litter called Integrity, which we’re planning on switching from because of the clay/dust issue. Prior to this we were using Swheat scoop, but I really didn’t like the lack of clumping (and sometimes the smell of the litter itself was a bit overpowering). It seems it’s hard to get that combination of odor control and easy scoopability with some of the more natural litters, but then the clay litters not only have the health and environmental impacts, but also leave dust everywhere and are easily tracked.

  38. 38

    I started with clay litter, moved on to Feline Pine and now I am using Yesterday’s News. My cats seem to like it. It covers the odors very well, provided my brats cover their poop!

    After a consultation with behaviorist from Cornell, they recommended World’s Best or Swheat since one of my cats urinates outside of the litter box. I plan to try them next time I have to get litter.

  39. 39

    I currently use Swheatscoop. I would love to be able to use this product but since I foster kittens & I am not able to afford it.

  40. 40

    I tried all the natural ones and was considering going back to clay based because they really do deodorize better; however, I will not. We are still using the cornbased, cedar scented.

    I try to walk my cats frequently so they go out in the yard. They seem to like au naturel!

  41. 41

    I absolutely LOVE World’s Best Cat Litter. I had to make a drastic change in the litter we used in our apartment after getting our rabbit. Being litter trained, he’s constantly hopping in and of the litter box. He picks at it alot and even eats bits of it occasionally, so we needed to get something natural that wouldn’t bother his stomach. Since he’s very small and low to the ground, when he hops into the litter his face ends up very close to it, too, so it also had to be safe for him to breathe in.

    With three cats and a rabbit, you’d think our apartment would smell like a farm. The litter really has its work cut out for it, and it does its job magnificently. :)

  42. 42

    to Ruth, comment # 3

    I use recycle paper pelets from day one with my kitty too.
    I use the one with no fragrance, no chemicals, no dyes from Exquisitcats
    I do not smell anything around her litter box, unless she poops for the first couple minutes… It absorbs really good…
    And yes, it is cheap…like 10 USD for 25lb bag
    here is the link:

    when I was researching litters, i read moderncat analyses too, but have decided for the one i have now, which was not analyzed anywhere.

  43. 43
    Lorraine Galletely

    I just wish my cat could make it to the litter box. Yes. I would love to win.

  44. 44
    Courtney Witty

    I’ve always used the clumping clay-based litter. I would love to try the more natural types of litter. I wish my local pet supplies stores carried World’s Best Cat Litter because I would happily make the switch.

  45. 45

    We use crystals but slowly weening off as we are in training using the litter kwitter… The boys are learning to use the loo instead of the environment.

  46. 46
    Michellena S.

    Currently I use Cat’s Pride flushable and also breeze system. Interested to see how flushable WBCL is.

  47. 47

    i’ve fostered a couple groups of kittens and all were raised on pine pellets. i adopted two girls from the first group and i’ve tried different types of litter with them but we always come back to the pine pellets.

    i tried a clumping litter once, which i can’t recall the name of, but it didn’t clump well and didn’t receive the approval of my cats. i tried silica litter for a short time but later heard that it was bad for cat and human health. i bought a bag of WBCL but one of my girls thought it was food and kept snacking on it. ick!

    so yes, pine pellets it is! i get the ones made for wood stoves from rona, which are way cheaper than the pet store brands. i also add some arm & hammer baking soda (the cat litter deodorizer kind) and it helps a lot with odor control.

  48. 48

    I currently use tidy cats scoop crystals blend for my four cats. But now that I read that clay and silicia could cause potential health problems, I’m reviewing alternatives. WBCL sounds like a good candidate. Especially since its healthier for my cats, eco-friendly and flushable!

  49. 49

    I just use plain old Arm&Hammer stuff.. it is really messy. and no matter what they say, the smell still gets throughout my apartment! My kitty is quite smelly… I would love to try something that is a little more eco-friendly :-)

  50. 50
    Katrien Verplancke

    I have the best product: OKOPLUS, made of paper and wood, eco-
    friendly,clumping, without fragrance, not expensive because it’s such
    a good quality that I change the litter not more than once a month. I use every week one bag to fill a bit the cattoilets.
    I have 4 cattoilets and 7 cats in an appartment and you don’t smell
    anything at all. Okoplus (cat’s best) is a german product and I live in


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