How To Choose The Right Cat Litter for Your Cat

by catfood

You’ve found your feline soulmate, and he’ll be coming home tomorrow from the animal shelter. Today is a good day to go shopping. It’s time to go out and buy cat food, toys, a scratching post, and grooming supplies. The litter box requirements are at the top of the priority list. When you walk into the nearest pet store, you are greeted by row after row of cat litter options. What to choose, what to choose! Whether you are an experienced or inexperienced owner, the variety of options is bewildering. This was not always the case.


Pay Dirt

Prior to WWII, most cats were indoor/outdoor creatures, using neighborhood backyards and gardens as toileting areas. Some families kept boxes of sand or furnace ashes in the cellar for their cats to use. Cats tracking ashes or sand through houses in the 1940s irritated housewives. An ex-sailor named Ed Lowe suggested to his neighbor that he try absorbent clay, a popular product for cleaning up industrial oil spills in wartime factories that his father’s company also manufactured.

Eureka! Cat litter was invented.

Granulated clay litter outperformed ashes or sand in odor control by sucking urine to the pan’s bottom and controlling ammonia odors until the litter reached saturation – usually within a week in a single cat’s box. Even with scooping and litter replacement, there is usually a fairly strong odor after 4 to 6 weeks if more than one cat uses the box. Because traditional litter granules are fairly large and do not cling to a cat’s paws, there is little litter tracking outside the box.


To Clump or Not to Clump

Granulated clay litters went 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 raising Persian cats before developing clumping litter. “I hunted around and found clays that were dried but not baked,” Dr. Nelson explains in an October 1996 article in Cat Fancy magazine. “When the cat urinated on them, they clumped together and became very absorbent.” The urine could then be extracted by dissolving the clump. I had a box of litter that I hadn’t changed in ten years – I had just added more – and it had no odor.

Removing almost all urine and feces produces a better-smelling box area for weeks at a time without completely removing the old litter and starting from scratch. Most granulated clay users either scoop solids daily and replace the litter once a week, or they use less litter in the box and dump and clean it daily. If the approximate amount scooped out is not replaced with fresh clumping litter, urine will pool, cake in corners, and odors will develop.


Granulated clay is much more expensive than clumping litter. Clumping litters, on the other hand, had captured more than half of the litter market by 1999 due to their superior odor control capabilities.

Clumping litters have a larger product selection than most granulated litters, including scented and unscented options. The majority of cats prefer unscented litter, which is especially important for owners who plan to use covered litter boxes. There are multi-cat formulas that form more cement-like clumps that may retain their shape even when trodden on by other cats; these are not flushable! Less-tracking formulas usually have slightly larger granules that fall off the cat’s paws before he leaves the box. There are also clumping litters that are specifically designed for flushability, which is something that most clumping litters lack due to their expansive properties. The number of varieties grows every year.

Several years ago, an article in the now-defunct holistic cat magazine Tiger Tribe questioned the safety of clumping litter if ingested, particularly for neonate kittens who frequently eat litter when introduced to them during the weaning stage. Following the publication of the article, Dr. James Richards, Director of Cornell’s Feline Health Center in Ithaca, New York, recalls a flurry of Internet correspondence, letters in the mail, and phone calls.

Richards, on the other hand, claims that after using clumping litter at home and in his practice, as well as networking with veterinary surgeons and online contacts on the subject, he was able to “While there has been no proof of problems in the scientific literature, caregivers may wish to delay introducing kittens to clumping litter until they are three months old. Any cat found eating litter should be taken to a veterinarian because this behavior may indicate anemia or other dietary deficiencies.

The debate over granulated versus clumping clay cat litter is not over; 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-cleaning litter boxes are also available on the shelves of the local pet supply emporium, all claiming to be superior odor controllers, long-lasting, and environmentally friendly.

Dr. Peter Borchelt, an applied animal behaviorist, conducted three 10-day tests in 1990 to determine feline litter preference, comparing 14 types of commercial litter, topsoil mixed with clay litter, and playbox sand. Each cat had six boxes to choose from, and the boxes were moved halfway through the testing to prevent placement preference from overriding litter type preference.”

What to choose?

As a guardian, you have control over the purse strings, but your feline friend has the final say. If he dislikes the smell and feel of the litter, he may prefer to do his business somewhere else.

Fine, unscented clumping cat litter is preferred by the average cat. Cats typically dislike the scented varieties that many people prefer. They frequently dislike crystal-type litters as well; most sizzle when wet, which you can imagine would be uncomfortable for a cat! Most cats dislike plastic litter liners, so it is probably best to avoid them. However, each cat is unique, and what one cat dislikes, another cat may enjoy.

Setting up a “litter cafeteria” where your cat can choose from a variety of options is the best way to determine your cat’s litter preference. You’ll need a few uncovered litter boxes that are all the same except for the type of litter they contain.

Cats will preferentially eliminate in the most appealing litter box, allowing you to select the best litter for your cat. You may need to switch litters one or two at a time, sort of like a challenge, with the winning litter going up against the challenging litter until all options have been exhausted.

Wondering about Cleaning the Litter Box How Often Is Best? Check it out on our latest post!


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