How to Choose a Cat Litter

How to Choose a Cat Litter

Jacque Lynn Schultz, C.P.D.T., Companion Animal Programs Adviser. National Outreach

You found your feline kindred spirit and he’s coming home from the animal shelter tomorrow. Today is shopping day. Time to procure the items on your list: cat food, toys, a scratching post and grooming supplies. At the very top of the list are the litter box necessities. You head to the nearest pet supply superstore and are met by row upon row of cat litter choices. What to choose, what to choose! Whether you are an experienced owner or a novice, the multitude of choices is dizzying. This was not always the case.

How to Choose Cat Litter


Pay Dirt
Prior to World War II, most cats lived indoor/outdoor lives and their toileting areas were neighborhood backyards and gardens. For indoor needs, some families kept boxes of sand or ashes from the furnace for their cat’s use in the cellar. Housewives of the 1940s were none too enamored with cats tracking ashes or sand through homes. An ex-sailor named Ed Lowe suggested that his neighbor try absorbent clay, a popular product for cleaning up industrial oil spills in wartime factories which just so happened to be made by his father’s firm. Eureka! Kitty litter was born.

Granulated clay litter offered improved odor control over ashes or sand by siphoning urine to the bottom of the pan and controlling ammonia smells until the litter reached a saturation point – usually within a week in a box used by a single cat. Today, most folks who use granulated clay either scoop solids daily and completely replace the litter once a week or use less litter in the box and dump and clean daily. The granules of traditional litter are fairly large and do not tend to cling to a cat’s paws, so there is a little tracking of litter outside the box.

To Clump or Not to Clump
Granulated clay litters remained unchallenged for nearly 40 years, with little change or refinement until Thomas Nelson, Ph.D. needed a way to supplement his income while in graduate school. The biochemist began to raise Persian cats and ended up developing clumping litter. Quoted in an October 1996 article in Cat Fancy magazine, Dr. Nelson explains, “I hunted around and found clays that were dried but not baked. They were very absorbent and would form a clump when the cat urinated on them. The clump could then be removed, thereby getting rid of the urine. I had a box of litter I did not change in 10 years – I just added more – and it had absolutely no odor at all.”

The removal of almost all urine and feces does produce a better-smelling box area for weeks at a time without completely throwing out the old litter and starting from scratch. However, if more than one cat uses the box, there is a usually a fairly pronounced odor in 4 to 6 weeks time, even with scooping and litter replacement. It is essential to replace the approximate amount scooped out with fresh clumping litter, for if it is allowed to go below a certain volume, urine will tend to pool and cake in corners and odors will arise.

Clumping litters are considerably more expensive than granulated clay. However, by 1999, clumping litters with their superior odor control capabilities, captured more than half of the litter market.

Clumping litters offer a variety of products beyond the traditional scented and non-scented choices found with most granulated litters. Most cats prefer non-scented litter, an especially important point for owners who plan to use covered litter boxes. There are multi-cat formulas that form more cement-like clumps that will keep their form even when tread on by extra cat traffic; these are definitely not flushable! There are less-tracking formulas, which offer slightly larger granules that are more likely to fall off the cat’s paws before he leaves the box. And there are clumping litters developed especially for flushability, a quality most clumping litters don’t have due to their expansive properties. Each year the list of varieties grows.

Several years ago, an article in the now-defunct holistic cat magazine Tiger Tribe questioned the safety of clumping litter if ingested, especially for neonate kittens who often eat litter when it is introduced to them during the weaning stage. Dr. James Richards, Director of Cornell’s Feline Health Center in Ithaca, NY recalls a flurry of Internet correspondence, letters by mail and telephone calls when the article appeared. But after using clumping litter at home and in his practice, and networking with veterinary surgeons and online contacts about the subject, Richards says, ” I have never encountered anyone who has seen a problem related to the clumping litter. If it occurs, it is rare indeed, and certainly we would know by now.” While there has been no proof to claims of problems in the scientific literature, caretakers may wish to delay introducing kittens to clumping litter until three months of age. Any cat older than that detected eating litter should be taken to a veterinarian, since this behavior may indicate anemia or other dietary deficiencies.

The field of cat litter doesn’t end at granulated versus clumping clay. The shelves at the local pet supply emporium also hold an array of litters made from eco-friendly materials including recycled newspaper, corn cob, peanut shell meal, processed orange peel, wheat, pine sawdust and shavings, hardwood and cedar chips, silica gel beads and crystals and automated self-cleanng litter boxes. All promise to be superior odor controllers, long lasting, and earth-friendly. What to choose, what to choose…

In 1990, Dr. Peter Borchelt, an applied animal behaviorist, ran three 10-day tests to determine feline litter preference using a comparison of 14 types of commercial litter as well as topsoil mixed with clay litter, and playbox sand. Each cat had six boxes to choose from; midway through the testing, the boxes were moved to prevent placement preference from overriding litter type preference. In test after test, fine grained clumping litter was used more than twice as often as its nearest competitor, with boxes of wood chips, grain litter and recycled paper litter going completely unused. Borchelt concludes, “These data support the clinical observation that an important factor in cats’ preference for litter material is its texture, granularity or coarseness. . . a finely textured (clumping) clay, was preferred to clay with larger particle sizes. But playbox sand, which is also finely textured, was not preferred much more than coarse clay, perhaps because of the weight of the particles.”

What to choose? As guardian, you control the purse strings, but the ultimate choice is up to your feline friend. If he does not like the smell and feel of the litter, he may leave his business elsewhere.

Lapsed Users
One in every 10 cats will have a litter box lapse in his or her lifetime. The 20 most common reasons are:

  1. The cat is suffering from a medical problem involving the urinary tract.
  2. The cat experiences a bout of geriatric constipation.
  3. The caretaker does not keep the box as clean as the cat wants it to be.
  4. The owner changes the brand or tries disposable plastic liners.
  5. The owner changes the location of the litterbox.
  6. The owner switches to deodorized or perfumed litter.
  7. The owner buys a new box and throws out the old one or covers the box with a hood.
  8. The owner cleans the litterbox with too harsh a cleaning product.
  9. The location of the litterbox is too busy or not private enough for the cat.
  10. The home is too large for just one litterbox.
  11. The cat inadvertenly gets locked out of reach of the litterbox.
  12. The cat is kept from using the litterbox by another animal in the house.
  13. There are too many cats and not enough litterboxes.
  14. There are too many cats and not enough territory.
  15. Stray cats can be seen/smelled near the cat’s territory.
  16. The unneutered male cat has come of age and is marking his territory.
  17. The unspayed female is in heat and advertising for suitors.
  18. Over time, the cat has developed an aversion to the texture of the litter.
  19. The cat was never properly trained to use the litterbox in the first place.
  20. The cat is stressed by a change in routine or environment, including new baby, new furniture, work schedule changes, vacations, overnight guests or a move.


If you visit a pet superstore, you might be intimidated by the variety of cat litters on sale. Clumping, non-clumping, silica, clay, flushable, walnuts, shredded paper…it’s enough to send you into a tizzy. Don’t panic, there is some method to the madness. Let’s dig in and see which cat litter is right for your kitties.

The first thing you have to remember is that your cat litter has to please your cat. It can be hard to predict whether a cat will like a particular type and brand of litter, so you’ll have to test whichever litter you choose, and be prepared to change it if your kitty finds it irritating or otherwise unacceptable.


Clumping litter clumps, when wet, usually because of an additive named bentonite that absorbs urine. It’s easy to scoop and leaves the surrounding litter cleaner. The non-clumping variety needs more frequently changing, as the urine distributes throughout the litter. The litter may have odor-fighting additives such as charcoal or baking soda that may allow you to go an extra day or two between replacements. Added silica crystal help the non-clumping litter dry more quickly.

You might prefer clumping litter, since you generally don’t have to replace the litter all at once, although the litter might begin to smell and require replacement. It’s higher price is somewhat offset by its economical use. However, the clumping stuff might stick to your kitty, especially if it’s a long-hair. Since cat’s self-groom, they might lick or ingest the litter, which is not something you want to encourage.


Cat Dutifully Using The Litter

Litter manufacturers make every effort to produce non-toxic litter. Cats can inhale litter dust when clawing around the box, and grains can get stuck between toes. It’s not usually a problem, though some cats have a disorder called Pica that compels them to eat the litter. If you detect this behavior, seek advice from your veterinarian. If your cat is sensitive to dust, you can find a low-dust or dust-free variety. Organic dusts from corn, walnut or wheat-based litters may be more or less irritating to your cat than is mineral-based dust. Some ingredients can trigger an allergic reaction in your cat. If you suspect this to be the case, consult with your vet and switch to another type of litter.

Another possible problem is a litter that irritates your cat’s paws. You might try a softer litter to see if that helps.


Well, you know what it is, but some litters disguise it with perfumes or odor absorbers. Scented litters are fine as long as your cat doesn’t mind the smell. Remember that hiding the odor doesn’t give you license to leave the litter box dirty, which is generally an unhealthy practice and not very nice for your cat. Depending on the number of cats sharing the box, you should clean the box at least once or twice per day.


Flushable litter can go down the toilet without clogging it, and you can always pour used litter into a garbage bag. Neither is particularly friendly for the environment. If you use a plant-based litter, you might be able to compost the used litter and turn it into fertilizer for your flowers, but not for your vegetable patch unless you compost it for at least six months.


High tech litter – clumping, dust-free, odor fighting – costs more, although as we mentioned earlier, it might be more economical to use. On the other hand, cat litter is not all that expensive in the greater scheme of things. The most important factors are whether the litter is safe and your cats like it. If you can find a cheaper litter that does the job, go for it.


There is no good excuse for not keeping your cat’s litter box clean. An occasional lapse may occur, but as your pet’s keeper, you have certain responsibilities, and keeping a clean environment for your cats is an important one. In addition, the cat box can notify you if your cat has a health problem, such as diarrhea or suddenly relieving itself somewhere else. If you notice something wrong, bring kitty to the vet and have it checked out. It might be a temporary problem, but it could indicate something serious. Treat your cat box as a resource rather than a chore, and your cat will be happier and healthier.

Choosing Kitty Litter

Not so long ago, people filled their cat boxes with sand, sawdust or ashes from the fireplace. Today, cat owners have a multitude of commercial litters to choose from, but many contain toxic chemicals and respiratory irritants, as well as cause harm to the environment.

When it comes to pleasing our finicky felines, every cat guardian knows that it is essential to have many options available. Cat litter manufacturers know this too, and this is why cat owners can now select cat litters made with a wide variety of granule sizes, scents, materials and potencies. The number of options can feel overwhelming. To make this choice easier for you, Only Natural Pet Store has selected the best natural litters. We’ve highlighted the benefits of each type of kitty litter to help you determine which one is best for your kitty, your household, and the environment.

World’s Best Cat Litter, World’s Best Cat Litter Extra Strength offer healthy alternatives to clay litters, as follows:

Safe, Flushable and All-Natural
• Made of whole-kernel corn, a renewable, biodegradable and all natural material.
• Corn is edible so it will not cause harm if ingested by your pet.
• It is safe for kittens, infection-prone cats, and cats recovering from surgery.
• The flushable formulas are septic tank and plumbing friendly.
• 99% dust free so it won’t cause the respiratory problems for cats and owners often associated with clay and silica litters.
• Better for the environment than clay because it is grown as a renewable crop, not extracted from quarries that permanently scar the earth.

Controls Odor Naturally
• Micro-porous structure quickly absorbs ammonia and urine odor without perfumes or chemicals.
• Clumps well and is “scoopable” almost immediately after your cat leaves the box.
• Moisture quickly combines with natural starches in the corn to solidify and neutralize odor.

Great for Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes
• Will not stick to the bottom of the box or gunk up mechanical litter box cleaners.

Helps Prevent or Remedies Litter Aversion Syndrome
• Studies have shown that World’s Best Cat Litter’s soft “dig”-able consistency and odor-trapping qualities improve litter box aversion in a majority of cases.

Swheat Scoop Natural Wheat Litter is another grain-based natural litter, offering these benefits:

Safe, Flushable and All-Natural
• Made of naturally processed secondary (non-food grade) wheat, a renewable, biodegradable and all natural material.
• Certified flushable formula is septic tank and plumbing friendly.
• Low dust so it will not cause the respiratory problems for cats and owners that are associated with clay and silica litters.
• Wheat is edible so it will not cause harm if ingested by your pets.
• It is safe for kittens, infection-prone cats, and cats recovering from surgery.
• Better for the environment than clay because it is grown as a renewable crop, not extracted from quarries that permanently scar the earth.

Controls Odor Naturally
• Natural wheat enzymes work to eliminate odors without perfumes or chemicals.
• Clumps well and is “scoopable.”
• Moisture quickly combines with natural starches in the wheat to neutralize odors.

Great for Transitioning Cats from Clay Formulas
• Consistency is similar to clay litters and makes for an easy transition from clay litter.

Feline Fresh Natural Pine Cat Litter is fresh smelling plant-based litter that is a hit with many cats:

• Safe and all-natural, uses materials from lumber processing that would otherwise go to waste
• Low dust so it will not cause the respiratory problems for cats and owners that are associated with clay and silica litters.
• It is safe for kittens, infection-prone cats, and cats recovering from surgery.
• Controls odor naturally – pine neutralizes the ammonia in cat urine.
• Clumping formula is available with Feline Fresh

Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract

• Attracts cats to the litter box – the litter is blended with a natural herb attractant that appeals to cats.
• Hard clumping.
• 99% dust free to reduce respiratory irritation.

Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Senior

• Prevents bacterial growth – crystals absorb urine and help dehydrate feces, making your cat’s litter box too dry to sustain bacteria.
• Biodegradable – when put in a compost pile or landfill, the material completely biodegrades in one month.
• Non-toxic.
• Scoopable.
• Helps prevent kidney problems and UTIs – its crystals rapidly trap moisture inside to prevent the growth of bacteria that can lead to infections.

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