Mar 22 2017

How To Navigate The Dizzying Options In The Cat Litter Aisle

As a cat owner, you may be suffering from decision fatigue when it comes to choosing a litter for your cat. It seems like new varieties are introduced monthly, and just when you think you’ve found the perfect brand, the company discontinues it.

Marketing for cat litter is aimed squarely at owners, usually focusing on odor control and ease of clean up. But don’t forget that your cat’s opinion matters too. Your cat doesn’t care if his litter clogs your vacuum cleaner or if it’s easy to scoop when he pees in the corner of the box. But a cat’s stamp of approval is easy to discern. If he uses the litter and not your carpet, he likes it.

Therefore, the best litter is the one that meets both your needs and your cat’s needs.

You will find multiple brands made of basically the same material. These are the most common options found at your local store.

Conventional (clay) litter
Pros: usually the less expensive option, absorbent
Cons: dusty, heavy

When mass produced cat litter first became available in the 1940’s, it was made from clay. Clay is absorbent and the grains are larger than sand, which was previously the commonly used substrate for cat boxes.  Clay litter is less likely to be tracked outside of the box than sand is, and can have additives intended to control odor.

Clay litter does not form large clumps, meaning the owner will need to completely empty the box and replace the litter with fresh litter more often, to prevent odor.  Clay litter is usually dusty, which may be a problem for cats with asthma or other respiratory issues.  It’s also heavy.

Clumping
Cons: heavy, may clog vacuum cleaners, may cause intestinal issues when ingested during grooming especially long haired cats
Pros: easy to scoop, may last longer than other litters

Clumping cat litter was introduced not long after conventional clay.  Clumping litters are also made of clay, but use a granulated form which may be mixed with other agents. It clumps together when wet and forms a separate solid mass that can then be removed from the box.

Since urine clumps can be removed, clumping litter tends to last longer before odor becomes a problem. This type of litter has the potential to clog pipes, so it should not be flushed.

Flushable
Pros: easy to dispose of
Cons: tends to be expensive, may not be an option for certain septic systems

Clay litter and clumping litter cannot be flushed but certain brands of biodegradable litters can be. This is a personal preference. Flushing waste reduces the need to bag waste in plastic and dispose of it, which can be a viable alternative for apartment dwellers. Read packaging carefully to see if your litter can be flushed and don’t be tempted to flush it anyway if the package says not to. Doing so could result in serious plumbing problems.

Crystals
Pros: lightweight, very absorbent
Cons: when saturated, urine may pool at the bottom of the box, some cats may not like the texture

Crystal cat litter is made from dried silica gel, which is the same material found in silica packs inside medication and food packaging. It is extremely absorbent but does not form clumps. Crystal litter is also rated highly for odor control, but some cats don’t like the way the litter feels.

Scented
Pros: Helps eliminate or cover odor
Cons: Heavily perfumed versions may be offensive or overwhelming to owners or cats

This is a personal preference.  Some owners like scented litters to cover smells between scooping, but some cats find the scent additive overwhelming and will not use the litter.

Corn/Wheat/Natural
Pros:renewable resource, biodegradable, less dust
Cons: expensive

Biodegradable litters are made from various plant sources, including corn, wheat, sawdust or recycled newspaper. These kinds of litter tend to be among the most expensive. They are generally less dusty or completely dust free, providing an alternative for asthmatic cats, and some versions are flushable or compostable.

Pine/Wood Pellets
Pros: easy to scoop, large pellets unlikely to stick to long hair, be ingested or stick to paws or surgical sites
Cons: may not be compatible with automatic litter boxes, pine pellets may have an overwhelming smell that can be objectionable to owners or cats, some cats will not like the texture

Litter made from pine pellets or other wood is attractive to a lot of owners because of the size of the pellets. They don’t tend to stick to long fur or surgical sites, and they don’t track outside of the box as easily as other litters. Most pellet type litters do not form clumps.

There is no right litter or wrong litter and you have to choose what works for your cat and your household.  Dr. Danna favors an automatic box for her cats, while one of our techs always uses a flushable clumping corn formula that is dust free for her asthmatic cat.

Need more advice on cats and litter boxes?  Check out this recent blog post: Your Cat Wants You To Know He Hates His Litter Box

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