Budget-saving Cat Litter Tips

Fri, Sep 14, 2012

Litter & Hygiene

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!

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71 Responses to “Budget-saving Cat Litter Tips”

  1. 51

    Have you ever frozen the corn litter to prevent the bug infestation? I freeze flour for 48, and I never get bugs. I may try this corn chicken feed litter, but wonder if anyone has tried freezing it first.

  2. 52

    I meant to say freeze it for 48 hours.

  3. 53

    Some of my cats refused to use the wood stove pellets since they have sharp edges and I think pine litter in general does not appeal to a lot of cats because they can’t dig and cover as easily with it. I don’t think it’s good for kittens either with their tiny paws but they do like to play hockey with the pellets. I really suggest if you try to switch over from a grainy soft litter to the pine you not take away the grain litter since kitty might use your bed instead!

  4. 54
    Monica C.

    I actually really, really love Blue Buffalo Naturally Fresh walnut clumping litter. I originally found out about it on this very blog, back when it was owned by another company. Blue Buffalo purchased the formula this year. It is not a cheap cat litter, unfortunately, but it takes ages to smell anything like cat urine, and it is super easy to clump. When you scoop it, it smells “nutty,” a nice out-doorsy smell that is not even slightly offensive. I have a kitty with asthma, so I have to be careful about dust, but she does fine with the walnut litter. :)

    I used to use Feline Pine pellets, with a box that I had made myself. I got two big plastic storage tubs that, when stacked together, left a gap of a few inches between the bottoms of them. I drilled holes in the top box myself! I would shake the box on top every day when I scooped out the poop, letting the sawdust from the broken-apart pellets fall into the gap below (through the holes). Then I dumped out the sawdust every few days. It was awesome. The only reason I stopped doing is was that I picked up a stray kitty that hated the pellet cat litter. :( He would rather poop on the floor than in the litter box with pellets, but he does fine with any scoopable kind. Alas.

  5. 55

    I use wood pellets that are marketed for use in wood stoves. I purchase from a local pet store. The cost is low and once the pellets disintegrate from urine, you can take the powder into your yard and put around acid-loving plants.

  6. 56

    I do not have a separate freezer but love the idea of this being way cheaper. I am wondering if the chicken feed could be baked in order to kill bugs instead and wonder how long and what temp might work for that. I cant seem to find any info anywhere on it though.

  7. 57

    Thanks for a great article and all the helpful sharing on this post. I’d love to use something besides clay, but we hadn’t found an affordable and effective option. The wood dust may be worse on my husband’s allergies, but at least it’s comparable in price to the clay, so we’ll check it out.

    We use under the bed storage tubs in the closet of the cats’ room, and a regular tall storage tub with a hole in the side (open top) for our bedroom.

    My mom has been using huge black plastic litter tubs for years, but until I saw the photo above, I didn’t realize they were cement mixing tubs. Her cats still manage to miss the box sometimes, though!

  8. 58

    I was wondering if you could do a little experiment for those of us who keep our litterboxes indoors. I use the corn litter and would love to buy chicken feed as a cheaper alternative BUT the bugs you mentioned are a deal breaker.

    The experiment would be to place a layer of the feed in an oven safe dish and bake it at 300 degrees for an hour. I am curious if this has any effect on the feed. The goal would be to kill the bugs and eggs as well as over dry the feed since some feed stores are damp and musty. I wonder if it would still clump when used.

    Please give it a try and let us know.

  9. 59

    Still searching for the perfect litter here too. Thanks for your update. My tip is to use a washing machine pan underneath the box. It catches the mess from those that miss or those who think beside the box is close enough. http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1v/R-100080446/h_d2/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&keyword=washing+machine+pan&storeId=10051#.UFeBq1EkqHg

  10. 60

    This is a great article Kate. Thanks for trying to give us some ideas besides clay. Unfortunately, I’m also still using clay b/c I haven’t found a better alternative yet. I tried wheat based litter but that produced MORE dust than the clay and I heard something about it maybe attracting bugs as well. I can’t deal with bugs, even though my kitties catch and kill them for me! I was reading this post and getting excited until you said the thing about bugs. Here in TX the bugs are already ridiculous so I know the corn won’t work. UGH!! But I won’t give up. Our babies deserve the best :)

  11. 61

    There’s also silica gel. It’s composed of amorphous silicon dioxide (sand), absorbs urine and odors better than all other litters, clumps urine when the litter is fine-grained, and most importantly is most similar to what cats would use in the wild (being descendants of desert cats). I highly recommend “Dr. Elsey’s Crystal Litter for Senior Cats.”. This litter is fine-grained, which clumps fresh urine (pee-balls) and is easy on the toes…seriously, what cat doesn’t track litter? And an 8-pound bag in a one cat home lasts 4 weeks.

  12. 62
    Melissa T

    I use the chicken feed for litter and have for years. Thankfully, I’ve not had any bug issues. For odor control, after I wash the box I spray it with Nature’s Miracle Advanced just for cats odor remover and let it dry. I also add some OdorZout to the litter for odor control.

    If you don’t mind more cleaning effort on your part, potting soil that’s not treated with anything placed in litter pans works okay and is very cheap.

    For large covered litterboxes, rubbermaid (or Sterilite or whatever brand is around) storage totes with holes cut in the end or top are awesome!

  13. 63

    Hubby went by Tractor Supply over the weekend and got two bags of pine horse bedding pellets on sale for $4.99 each. The instructions on the bag say to spritz with water to start it breaking down. Do you do that for your cats? We just left it the pellets and it’s breaking down as they go potty. Just curious how others are using it.

    Second, since we’re not breaking it down right off the bat, the pellets are too big for the little scoop, so it’s, um, challenging to scoop the poop without tossing perfectly good pellets along with it. Has anyone found a larger-holed scoop that works?

  14. 64
    Siegfried Von Feline

    We have an asthmatic cat with lots of allergies so litter has been a challenge for us – can’t use pine or corn based products. We have found Dr. Elsey’s Senior Kitty Litter to work well. All the cats prefer it to the others we have been experimenting with (Walnut based, clumping and non clumping clay).

    For those using the pine pelleted horse bedding – we use it for our horses and you should wet the pellets so that they break down a bit into sawdust. They actually absorb more than if left in the pellet form and allowing urine to break them down.

  15. 65

    I want to say one ting: remove the the feeling of using an organic product from your head. Cut away the stamp that says “organic” on your bag of cat litter. Forget that happy feeling you get when you see that stamp. Then review the cat litter, WITHOUT thinking organic or natural.

    And remember; “I love this litter!” is very far from “my cat loves this litter!”.

    If the cat litter is organic, it’s a bonus, but you don’t give it extra credit just because of that. If you where to review two cat litters, one of them organic and another that isn’t organic, you give them stars for how well they preform and how your cat feel about them, but the organic litter does not get extra stars for being organic. Your cat couldn’t care less, just like your cat doesn’t care that he/she accidentally broke your valuable antique vase. If the cat litters where to get the same score, you would of course go with the organic one. But if the organic one where to fall short, would you be willing to sacrifice a little to get the organic one? And most importantly, would your cat be willing to make that sacrifice?

  16. 66
    N. Morris

    Currently using yesterday’s new as recommended by my cousin who’s cats had issues with infected toenails, it’s the only litter her vet recommended for her cats at the time. My cat has asthma and tried all the natural ideas with low dust to help us both breathe easier. I like the “green” idea of the newspaper-litter but the mess and smell are just too much for me anymore. I scoop the poop twice a day and clean the boxes twice a week because the litter does not clump but falls apart after use.

    Willing to switch over to the walnut clumping litter.

  17. 67

    We’ve been using chick crumble from Tractor Supply Co. (house brand Dumor) for 2 years now. We have never seen a single bug in that time. My cats like it just as well as expensive corn litter. I have a lot of cats and use 80 pounds a month.

    I read somewhere that corn cat litter and corn chick feed are made at same factory and are actually the same thing. Chick feed has vitamins sprayed on it, though it costs about 1/3 or less than corn litter. I don’t think a person could tell the difference between the two. My cats can’t.

    This litter is better for the health of my cats, us humans, and the planet. My pocketbook likes it, too.

  18. 68

    I use a vitapet scented lavender purr fit clumping litter ,I used to use recycled paper pellets,but they stopped making it,this is more expensive,but works well,love the clumping aspect

  19. 69

    The cement mixing tubs are fantastic! My cats prefer them over their traditional litter boxes so we are gradually replacing them at just a fraction of the cost.

    My cats and I thank you so much for the tip!

  20. 70
    Anastasia Alston

    Sweet! I am SO going to my local feed store to check out the chicken feed this weekend! Both my cats & I like the corn litter so far (just got a bag of World’s Best) but the price leaves a lot to be desired. Not even 40# & it was $40!!! I’m willing & able to pay that but not if I can find something better that costs less. I have 6 cats so a 36# bag IS trial size for me. Definitely worth looking into. Thanks for the tip! :) <3<3<3

  21. 71
    Jeannine Denning

    I have been using “the world’s best cat litter” which is supposed to be flushable down the toilet. But is it really?

    I live in an apt building and do not want to plug up the toilet drains.

    This stuff is corn-based.

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