- Cats prefer the softest texture they can find, so if your cat is going outside the litterbox (and your veterinarian has ruled out a medical issue), try a granular, clumping litter. (Click here for more info on litterbox avoidance.)
- Pelleted litters do not clump.
- If litter tracking is a problem, CatsRule makes a great litter mat that really pulls the stuff out from between their toes (Target carries a similar product). It’s too fragile for direct vacuuming, so be careful when cleaning.
- All cats will ingest a small amount of any type of litter while grooming (except pearls). Normally it will pass through without any problems, but in cats with dietary sensitivities, plant-based litters could become allergenic.
- If possible, when switching litters, make a gradual transition.
- Even if the litter says it’s flushable–don’t. Flushing cat litter is illegal in California; it’s thought to be a source of Toxoplasma, a parasite implicated in the death of sea otters. It isn’t okay anywhere else, either. (Although plumbers will love you–and charge you!–when you need them to snake your pipes.)
- Do not compost any used litter. It is unsafe to do so because of the massive amount of bacteria it accumulates from urine and feces.
- Even if the litter says it’s compostable, don’t. It could potentially transmit parasites or diseases to wildlife. Certainly don’t use it around plants being grown for food.
- Don’t use scented litter. Poop is never going to smell pretty, no matter what! Heavy fragrances can repel your cat, or irritate her (and your) respiratory system.
Corn: Clumping litter made from corn has become quite popular, despite its higher cost. It’s made by grinding corn cobs into dust and then gluing it into bigger grains. It’s less dusty than clay (though it does eventually degenerate, especially with vigorous scooping). However, the dust seems to be much less irritating than clay. (Personally, my own asthma improved about 90% with the corn litter!) The clumps are not quite as adherent as clay, so you have to gather up the little pieces that fall off; but my cats liked it and used it perfectly. It also tracked less than the clumping clay we used previously, although recent reviewers say that quality is variable, and some batches are much dustier than others. It does a reasonable job of odor control. World’s Best is the most popular corn-based litter, and the company gets extra kudos for its donations of thousands of pounds of litter to shelters. Of course, more competitors are now making similar products. Corn is a renewable resource that would be grown anyway; so using corn litter is a form of recycling. However, most U.S. corn is genetically modified and therefore loaded with the toxic herbicide glyphosate. The small amount of dust a cat would naturally ingest through grooming may not be a significant concern; but don’t use it if your cat is one of the few who likes to eat it. Theoretically, it could also pose an allergen risk to sensitive cats, though I have not heard of any cases of this happening. NOTE: Although starter chicken feed looks and acts exactly like corn-based kitty litter (and comes at a much lower price), it contains vitamins, minerals, and sometimes even antibiotics. Some vitamins and minerals are toxic, and the additive effect between food and ingestion of litter dust can pose problems. I have seen serious toxicity from using chick feed as cat litter.
Wheat: The idea behind wheat litter is similar to corn, and its properties are also similar. No U.S. wheat is genetically modified, so that is a small advantage. However, a lot of wheat is sprayed with glyphosate just before harvesting, and this toxic herbicide would be present in any products made from it. Breathing the dust or ingesting the litter may be a problem, especially for those rare gluten-intolerant cats. It is no more dustless than any other type; some reviewers did not like the dust or tracking. There are multiple versions with different textures. The scented variety is overwhelmingly perfume-y.
Walnut Shells: This newcomer is similar in texture to corn and wheat litters. It’s a sustainable and renewable resource, and makes use of material that is otherwise a waste product. This litter has no odor itself, and is pretty good at odor control. The clumps adhere a little better than corn and wheat. Despite the dustless claim, it does produce a dark, fine dust that is more visible on objects in the area due to its dark brown color. Vigorous scooping and shaking makes more dust; I learned to be a gentle scooper! It does seem sturdier than corn and wheat, which break down more quickly. The walnut litter tracks about the same corn and wheat, but less than clay. Again, its color makes it more obvious. It seems to last a little longer than other litters.
Vegetable Fiber: Seems about on par with the other plant-based litters. Manufacturer will not say what sorts of plants are used, other than there are no grain products included. Very soft and fine. It’s imported, and therefore more expensive.
Pine: Pelleted pine sawdust is a favorite with many people, but most cats are repelled by the smell of pine. Many cats find the pellets unpleasant to walk on. Like other pellets, pine disintegrates when wet, which can be both a blessing and a curse. The aromatic oils in raw pine are toxic to cats, so if you want to try it, be sure to get a kiln-dried product specifically made for cats (although some oils will still be present). Wood is not as sustainable as fast-growing crops. Warning! Never use the similar-looking pellets made for wood stoves, which contain 100% of the toxic factors. (I’ve seen this cheaper option highly recommended on the internet–but it is not safe!)
Wood: Clumping litter made of “wood” is also available, but it is made primarily from conifers and carries the same warnings as pine in terms of toxic aromatics and non-renewability. Reviewers complain about texture, excessive tracking, dust, and aggravation of allergies.
Crystals (Pearls): These are made from silica gel. Not all cats will reliably use them (including mine). Pearls are larger than crystals but have the same absorbent properties. Crystals get tracked around the house more than pearls. Reviews are mixed; people like their lighter weight but not the high price and the (surprising) dust. Crystal size and quality varies widely among brands. Many people complain that it is quite painful to step on stray crystals in bare feet–and this is okay for the cat because…? My cats wouldn’t use it as litter, though they were happy to play in it and kick the pearls all over the place.
- It’s dusty. Even “dustless” litters still give off very fine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs. Clay litter may contain silica, which can damage lung tissue, resulting in fluid accumulation and scarring (“silicosis”).
- There has been only one published case of possible clay toxicity in a cat who was known to eat clay litter. It’s a sad story of stupid owners, and the cat was killed because of their abysmal moronicity and colossal stupidity; but it does illustrate the potential toxicity of clay’s components.
- Many people have reported illness, intestinal blockages, and even death in kittens and cats who ingested clay litter.
- Clay is strip-mined in an environmentally unfriendly manner.
- Clay is a finite, non-renewable resource.
- Clay is radioactive. Reporter Daniel Engberg, writing for Slate.com, did the research, and found that, “Yes, the clay in cat litter does give off radiation in very small quantities. There is naturally occurring radiation all around us; the radiation in cat litter comes from trace amounts of uranium, thorium, and potassium-40.” Even if the amounts are small, your cat is exposed to it many times a day, every day, for life. Radiation damage from any source is cumulative; it is theoretically possible that cancer or other radiation-related illnesses could occur from this exposure.
Newspaper: Some of us remember the primitive days before kitty litter, when we spent many hours tearing newspaper into narrow strips and shreds. To our cats’ everlasting credit, they used it! Today, newspaper is compressed into pellets that disintegrate when wet. A lot of folks swear by it, but I can’t imagine how stepping on hard little pellets can be comfortable for a cat, especially declawed cats for whom it is frequently recommended. Its odor-neutralizing ability is limited. There is also a concern with potential toxicity from the chlorine used to bleach the paper, as well as the ink. While older petroleum-based inks were quite toxic, many of today’s inks are safer (although they are made from genetically modified soy, which is itself problematic). However, colored inks may still be petroleum-based. The amounts of soy and chemicals absorbed or ingested may be small, but again, long-term chronic risks are unknown. Purina’s Yesterday’s News is the most prominent brand; Petco also makes its own line. Purina heavily promotes the use of this litter for newly-declawed cats. On top of its many other disadvantages, that promotion is unconscionable. Hence, it is my very last and highly un-recommended choice.