The Scoop on Cat Litter
Cat litter is a two billion dollar business that provides over five billion pounds of litter to cat owners every single year (1).
It's something every cat uses and every cat owner questions about. What cat litter should I use? There are so many options out there clay, wood, walnut, sand, crystals … the list goes on and on. There is even more to consider when choosing the perfect cat litter such as cost, how much the product tracks, absorbency, clumping ability...again the list goes on and on. As a more naturally minded cattery we are looking for the best quality, natural, low cost product. Of course ever since I was a kid we always used clay litter and when I started the cattery I stuck with the same but the more I read about clay litter, the less I wanted to use it. Unfortunately over the past three years of breeding we have tried MANY types of cat litter, yet nothing fit our exact needs until about March 2020! This blog explores all the litter types we have tried and how they have worked for us from first hand experience with our domestics, bengals, males, females, intact, altered and kittens! There is a hefty check list of factors I use to evaluate a litter. Price- just like anyone high quality and low cost is a goal
Clumping- Despite many litters being labelled as clumping, not all clump the same. Some tightly clump others easily break apart when you go to scoop it. Clumping litter is easier to clean but it also helps the litter last longer. In addition our cats urinate a lot due to their diet providing lots of moisture so it needs to be able to form tight clumps and not just saturate the litter.
Tracking- while I spend a lot of time cleaning, less is more of course. We have scatter mats under all our litter boxes but there are some litters that just seem to be in, on and around everything.
Dust Levels-We want a low dust product not only for us humans but for our cats who are right in that litter multiple times a day. We don’t want them breathing the dust in or causing any kind of respiratory issues.
Absorbency- This often goes hand in hand with clumping. We want a product that is going to easily hold the urine especially. If it doesn’t then you are stuck with wet litter that is harder to scoop, can get all over the cats’ paws and requires you to completely replace the litter more often.
Scooping Ease-Scooping ease is important for keeping things clean. If the product can’t be easily scooped it takes longer to clean the litter and at times can waste good litter if it can’t be sifted through.
Odor Control - While raw fed cats like ours have nearly scentless feces, the smell of ammonia can build up fast from urine especially in litters that do not have good odor control. Not only is this unsafe for your companions but it also means you are completely replacing litter often which may cost you more in litter and funds than you think.
Eco friendliness- As a more natural breeder we want something safe for our cats and kittens. As a cattery we go through so much litter that we also want to reduce our carbon footprint so the potential to compost (in your non food compost) is an added bonus.
Length of time before dumping-This is an important factor. You can have a cheap litter but if you have to dump it daily, are you still saving money? This factor also gives nods as well to the litter’s ability to control odor, clump and ease of scooping.
Weight- this is a minor factor but when running a cattery and you have a litter box to fill or top off for every cat plus several more you don’t want to lug around 40 lbs of clean or dirty litter.
An additional thing we have to look at is what is best for the life stage. Kittens learning to potty train will need a different litter sometimes than a pregnant mom or a stud boy.
While all our cats of course could use the same litter, part of our program is to expose our kittens to many different types. Not only does this provide exposure to various textures it also sets them up for success with their new owners who may use different types of litter than what we use at the cattery. CLAY
Clay litter is one of the most popular and well known litter types. It comes in various textures (pebbles, fine etc), clumping abilities, dust levels, scents and more.
In the wild cats are used to using fine sands and soils to eliminate, clay seems to be the perfect medium. Most clay litters, and cat litters in general come in two types non clumping and clumping cat litter. Non clumping litter is made of zeolite, diatomite and sepiolite. Clumping litter typically has bentonite clay added in order to allow the litter to clump. It can also contain quartz or diatomaceous earth. Clay litter has always been at the top of the list in regards to its low cost, strong ability to clump and its odor control. If scooped daily, it lasts quite a while preventing the complete dumping of the litter box as frequently as other litters. Unfortunately it comes with a fair share of cons including its weight.
While both clumping and non clumping litter are natural, it is not biodegradable and holds several other concerns. Any type of silica dust is a known respiratory distressor and carcinogen for example. The clumping agents pose a concern for septic systems as well as the digestive tract because they can absorb liquids and expand. Additionally the process to obtain clay for litter is environmentally damaging to wildlife and their homes, forests, causing soil erosion polluting local water sources and those that live in them. Furthermore, chemical contaminants can be released as well into the environment (2,3, 4).
In addition to the environmental impact clay litter has, we must also worry about some potential health concerns. The most common is asthma. Cats have very sensitive olfactory systems and are more closer to the ground than humans so when they scratch and cover in the litter box, despite the addition of dust reducers, dust particles still can be inhaled causing allergic reactions, bronchial irritation and more which can increase in severity overtime (5).
Because of the clumping agents in many cat litters curious kittens or daily grooming can increase the chances of ingesting litter. These litter particles that are extremely good at absorbing moisture do the same in your companion which unfortunately can put your companion at risk of internal blackages. CLUMPING
Our review of clay litter is based on Special Kitty Clumping Fragrance Free from Walmart and Paws and Claws Clumping from Tractor Supply. Believe it or not these are two very different products. Both are clay and both have a similar texture. They also are heavy as is expected for clay litter but what I noticed in dust levels and clumping were much different. Special Kitty has some dust but nothing to the extensive of Paws and Claws. I left the litter box in a dust cloud! Special Kitty also clumped better so order control lasts at least a month and I don’t have to dump the box completely as much. The Paws and Claws seemed to break up more easily which not only made scooping harder but odor control was lower and I had to completely replace the litter more often. While we are really trying to get all the cats off of clay, we do have to say it ranks pretty high on our checklist and all the cats without fail will use this type of litter. NON CLUMPING
We have also used Special Kitty Non Clumping and Laura Lynn Clumping Litter from Ingles grocery store (which was more expensive than what it normally costs me) with similar results as clumping litter minus the clumping aspect. This also means odor control was limited, cleaning the box was harder and we had to dump the boxes much more frequently. .
I am not a fan of non clumping litter. It is recommended not to use non clumping clay litter for kittens learning to potty trained in case they try to eat it, however there are other alternatives much safer and natural litters to choose from.
WOOD There are so many wood based cat litters to choose from. Not only are there different woods such as cedar and pine but textures as well like pellets and shavings, all having various pros and cons.
Wood is a natural material and very biodegradable. It also makes a great addition to the non-food compost pile to enrich your soil.
While a wood base is natural cat owners must still be very aware of the ingredients added to litter. Most fragrances are chemical based and can harm your feline companion’s sensitive physiology. It is also important to understand how the products are made. If they are not processed properly there is a concern for oils and phenols present in many woods that are dangerous for our feline companions. Most of these oils are removed during the manufacturing process. Some of the wood based cat litters we have tried include Pine Pellets from Tractor Supply, Cedarific and Catalyst.
Pine Pellets are the product of compressed wood often a by-product of the lumber industry. As mentioned above wood oils and phenols can be a concern for cats causing respiratory sensitivity and liver damage however it seems most pine pellets no longer contain these oils after the manufacturing and heating process that destroy them. However it is always important to talk with the litter company just to make sure.
What attracted me first to this type of litter was its cost, only $5 for 40 lbs of litter and its eco friendliness. It is fairly light weight and when the cats urinated it just turned to sawdust. The pellets themselves had no dust and I felt safe using this for my kittens. The pellets are fairly hard so one taste and the kittens surely would not try it again. Unlike the other products, I felt the pine smell of the litter was not overwhelming and didn’t seem to bother the cats or kittens. In addition this litter is also perfect for longer haired cats and those that have recently had surgery and need to keep themselves clean. There are several downsides to this product that really disappointed me however.
Sure the cost is fantastic. At my Tractor Supply its $5 for a 40 lb bag BUT it does not clump or have good odor control capabilities. So you are left with a box full of smelly saw dust after only a day or two of use, forcing you to completely dump the litter box. Not very cost effective in my opinion unfortunately. In addition it's quite hard to scoop the urine and the feces. Once the cats pee on it, the product turns to dust and since it doesn’t clump it's hard to sift out the dirty litter. The feces also doesn’t clump and because most litter scoops have larger slots to sift litter, and the pellets are too big for these slots, you often just end up collecting clean pellets. The tracking on this product is crazy! We were finding saw dust even in our beds and all over the cat trees and blankets. What a mess and kind of gross! At least it is eco friendly and compostable so it's certainly not a complete waste. Most of our adults did use this product consistently but we found some of our kittens did not, we assumed it was not a favorable texture for them. CEDARIFIC
This wood based produce is made from reclaimed wood and cedar chips. It is basically shredded wood but looks kind of like larger pieces of glitter and has a similar soft consistency. I figured the cats would like this being similar to sand or clay litter in texture.
I had high hopes for this product. I liked that it was eco friendly, lightweight and a soft sand like texture plus there was no dust. The smell was a smidge strong but it was a little better at controlling odor than the pine pellets. While the smell of this product was pleasant to me, I don’t think my cats were a fan. Probably about 50% of them used it while the rest had accidents outside of the box.
Similar to the pine pellets, we had problems. The product did not clump, poorly absorbed fluids and unfortunately had to be dumped very regularly. We also found it tracked everywhere because of how lightweight it was. This primarily was more an issue with the kittens (they can be messy).
This product, while a tad more expensive than the other products we have tried per bag, surpassed all expectations. Catalyst is a powder-like soft wood product. It is a by-product of the lumber industry. It comes in three varieties including multicat, scented and non scented. The first thing I noticed was the sweet subtle smell and absolutely no dust! When I went to scoop, it clumped BOTH feces and urine in tight clumps and of course it was lightweight so I wasn't lugging around a ton of heavy litter waste. I was unsure of the price but the 10 lb bag (normally I get 40 lb boxes of clay for $10), I used only half of it in 3 weeks!
My cats weren’t tracking it everywhere unlike the pine pellets or cedarific so I wasn’t cleaning up constantly. It held the urine AND odor really well which also prevented me from dumping the whole box every time like the other two wood products. It was fairly easy to scoop and it actually didn’t stick to the bottom of the litter boxes which is a common issue I have with clay litter unless I add baking soda! In addition I did contact the company and they were amazing. Everyone was super nice and the customer service was above and beyond. Really my only complaint has nothing to do with the company. I have one girl who pees so much clay does work the best for her. But heck all my other cats and kittens did great with Catalyst and feel comfortable using it for adults and kittens!
Paper Pellets are often made from recycled paper. This eco friendly, light and dust free litter is a great option for litter training kittens or mothers who may be inclined to have kittens in the litter box. It also may be ideal for long haired cats and those recovering from surgery as well. Not only is it biodegradable, in general it is non toxic (be aware of the dyes that may be used for any recycled newspaper litters you may try) and moderately light weight, it also is unscented so cat owners don’t have to worry about chemical perfumes harming the sensitive olfactory system of our feline friends. Unfortunately this is probably one of my least favorite cat litter choices. Sadly odor control is terrible. While it absorbs liquid you are just left with a soggy smelly mess. It does not clump urine or feces and some cats may be particular about this litter due to its bulkier pelleted texture on their feet.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY LITTERS OATMEAL
I have no idea why I decided to try this but I did and it worked! I primarily use quick cook oatmeal to start litter training my kittens. I figured it's soft, feels like litter and if they take a taste no biggy it won’t harm them. So far all my kittens have taken to this as a litter option. Of course with everything they are messy with it but it surprisingly clumps and controls odor super well. It's easy to scoop and sift although if it gets too wet you obviously end with sticky oatmeal. However, it is eco friendly and dust free as well. Really my only complaint is I can’t use this for my adults. One canister of even generic quick cook oats is almost $2.50 so it’s not very cost effective in the long term or for anything older than a kitten.
CHICK LAYER CRUMBLE
Chick layer crumble can be found at feed and farm supply stores. It is a high protein food for laying chickens made of soybean meal, corn, wheat middlings, alfalfa, minerals and vitamins. While we don’t recommend feeding this to your cats and kittens (a raw species appropriate diet is best) it is a more natural option for litter. It is similar in many respects to Catalyst. It is soft in texture, it does clump, has decent odor control especially compared to some of the other products we have used and low dust. Although there is some dust it’s definitely not even close to what is produced with clay. It's also fairly low cost. We got 50 lbs for about $14. Unfortunately it doesn't last as long and the odor control isn’t as top notch. While it does clump it does break apart a little easier which also makes it a tad harder to tell what is used litter and what is fresh. It works but falls a little short. It’s been quite the adventure trying these litters over the years. It really seemed that I would be stuck with clay litter and settling for the unfortunate cons of using it. The price point of many litters and the poor customer service while researching the various brands started feeling daunting. With perseverance comes reward and I can definitely say these years of searching has been well worth the trouble.
Weighing all the pros and cons of each litter and comparing this to everything we are looking for in a cat litter, we found that Catalyst is our ultimate cat litter choice. After YEARS of searching we are beyond thrilled to find something that works for ALL our cats and kittens and fulfills every need we were looking for to be covered! REFERENCES 1. Gross, Daniel (2 February 2015). "How Kitty Litter went from happy accident to $2 billion industry". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
2. "Cat Litter – To Scoop or Not to Scoop: The Clumping Clay Controversy". Retrieved 30 April 2015.
3. "1999 Prop 65 Regulatory Update". Archived from the original on 23 October 1999. Retrieved 30 November 2008.
4. Donge, Lily (22 October 2009). "Kitty, Litter Not! 6 Cheap Ways to Reduce Your Pet's Environmental Impact". Groundswell. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
5. “Feline Asthma: What You Need To Know.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 20 July 2014, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-asthma-what-you-need-know.