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