If you’ve been reading Moderncat for a while, you know that I try to avoid clay litter for a couple of big reasons. First, it is not bio-degradable nor is it a renewable resource, making it an environmental nightmare. Second, silica, found in all clay litter, is a known carcinogen when inhaled (by both cats and humans), and sodium bentonite found in clumping clay litter, may cause serious health problems for your cats when ingested by grooming after using the litter box.
Clay litter is, however, still the most commonly used cat litter and it’s tough to find non-clay alternatives that 1) are available everywhere, 2) are affordable, and 3) perform well. Performance features I look for in a good cat litter include:
- Clumpability – Is it easy to scoop?
- Odor control – How well does it control odor?
- Texture – Do the cats like it and will they use it?
- Dust – How much dust is produced when pouring and scooping?
- Scent – What does the litter smell like? Natural smell or chemical perfume?
- Trackability – Does the litter track easily out of the box or is it heavy enough to stay contained in the box?
- Longevity – How long can you use the same litter (scooping and adding a little new litter) without needing to dump the entire box and refill?
- Weight – How heavy is the bag to lift and get home from the store?
So, back to the cost issue, I have a lot of cats and a lot of litter boxes, so I go through A LOT of litter. At the moment, I’m most concerned with finding a non-clay litter that is affordable and I’ve been experimenting a little. I found out that chicken crumble — used for feeding chickens — is pretty much the same stuff that the commercial corn cat litters are made out of. I went to my local feed store and bought a bag and, guess what? It works! I did a little searching online and this is a common thing to use. The commercial corn litters run about $1/lb and the chicken feed is about half that.
Now, this is not a perfect solution. One thing I learned is that all corn chicken feed will have bugs living in it. They may be dormant, but in a warm and damp climate, they are likely to hatch and crawl around in the chicken feed. Yeah, gross, I know. So the chicken feed litter may not work for everyone. I happen to have all of my litter boxes out on the catio, so if there are any bugs, they won’t get in the house, at least they haven’t so far the few times I’ve noticed them. I also live in the desert, which for most of the year is ideal for using chicken feed litter. I have read horror stories about bug infestations inside, so be warned.
Other than the bug issue, the chicken feed works pretty well. Clumping is good, the texture is perfect and the cats love it. It is pretty dusty and has a “farm-y” smell, but so do the commercial corn litters. All corn litters, I’ve found, break down over time and do have to be completely dumped and replaced fairly frequently, depending on how many cats you have using the box.
As far as I can tell, the commercial corn litters cost twice as much because they treat the corn (probably by freezing it) to kill the bugs for you, plus they add some clumping and odor control agents. I suppose you could try freezing the chicken feed yourself, but I’m not sure how long it would need to remain frozen, and you’d need a really big freezer. If anyone has tips for additives (baking soda, maybe?) to help with clumping or odor, please leave a comment on this post to share your ideas.
I’ve been purchasing 40 or 50 lb. bags of chicken feed at a local feed store. Since raising chickens is really “in” right now, you can probably find chicken feed at more and more regular pet supply stores. I bought a sturdy plastic bin on a rolling card with a lid that seals for storing the feed. The feed stores also have nice big scoops that work well for transferring the litter to the box. I’ve been saving quite a bit of money on litter and I’m happy with the results.
Another budget-friendly clay litter alternative I’ve read about, but I haven’t tried myself, is to use wood pellets made for stoves. These are apparently similar to the wood pellet litters available in pet stores. Others have reported excellent results. I would say that you want to look for wood pellets that are not treated with any chemical additives.
I know I’m always posting designer litter boxes that cost hundreds of dollars, but sometimes you just need plain old utility. I’ve found that cement mixing tubs, available at any home improvement store, work REALLY well for litter boxes. They are designed for easy mixing and scooping, so they have a cuved bottom and no sharp corners inside — perfect for easily scooping litter. They come in different sizes, the small tubs are around 24″ x 20″ x 6″ and cost $6 or $7 and the large tubs measure 24″ x 36″ x 8″ and only cost about $13. I have a large one tucked away on the catio and it is absolutely perfect for a multi-cat household.
So there you have a few budget-friendly cat litter ideas. Maybe not so stylish, but in this economy, we sometimes need to focus on function. Please feel free to leave your own cost-saving litter ideas in the comments!