The Pros and Cons of Cat Litters

Jan 7, 2019   Tracey Aston   Health & Wellness

In our earlier blog post, Cats and Litterboxes, we briefly touched on the finickiness of our feline friends in regards to their litter and litterboxes. The good news for pet parents of a persnickety kitty is the number of various types of litter to choose from.  There are pros and cons to all types of litter and it may come down to preference on the part of both parent and pet.

The most common type of litter is clumping clay, which is the type that forms into solid clumps when the cat eliminates. This type of litter is the easiest to remove when cleaning the litterbox, as the clumps are easily scoopable.  It's also the most affordable type of litter on the list. However, the cons to this type of litter are that it's dusty, messy, can be easily tracked out of the box, and depending on the size of the litter you're buying, can be very heavy to lift and pour.  This type of litter is also non-flushable and non-biodegradable.

Non-clumping clay is similar in consistency to the clumping clay, however, as the name suggests, it doesn't form clumps. This litter does absorb the elimination but because it doesn't clump, it's easy to leave waste behind during scooping. For the owner, that means more frequent complete litterbox emptying and cleaning. The cons of this type of litter are the same as its clumping counterpart – non-biodegradable, dusty, messy, easily tracked and very heavy to lift and pour.

Both clumping and non-clumping clay are available in both scented and unscented. Unscented litter uses natural alternatives, such as baking soda or carbon to hide odor, while scented litter will contain artificial fragrance.  Choosing scented or unscented comes down to personal preference and doesn't change how the litter absorbs, how often it needs changed or how easily it is tracked. The artificial fragrances in scented litters have been known to cause allergies and respiratory issues in some cats.

Silica gel crystals provide an option for those who prefer a non-clay litter and are concerned about odor control. The crystals are highly absorbent, dust free and are the best at controlling odor.  This litter type can get expensive and some cats will flat out refuse to use it. Be forewarned, silica crystals are safe for elimination use, but can become dangerous when ingested, which could happen if the cat is licking their paws to clean themselves.

Biodegradable litter can be made from several different options, including recycled paper, pine, corn, wheat, and walnut shells. The popularity of biodegradable litter is on the rise due to consumers looking for a more eco-friendly, sustainable alternative to common litters.  The most lauded pro of biodegradable litter is its flush-ability, closely followed by its eco-friendliness and knowing it won't sit in a landfill for years. Biodegradable litter can be found in many forms, including strips, pellets or granules, each with their own unique pros and cons. Paper strips and pellets are dust free and highly absorbent, but don't form clumps. However, paper or pine made into granule form litter does have clumping ability. Corn, Walnut and Wheat provide odor control, have clumping ability and are low on dust and tracking litter out of the box. For now, this type of litter is the most expensive; however, they provide several pros all in one – highly absorbent, odor control and are safe to pets and the environment.

Both clay and biodegradable varieties of non-clumping litter can pose a risk of bacteria being tracked outside of the litter box because the waste isn't completely absorbed. Waste lying in the box promotes bacteria growth and when the cat steps into the box, the bacteria is transferred to their paws and then around the home.

No conversation about cat litter, and cleaning litter boxes, would be complete without mentioning toxoplasmosis. According to the CDC, “Yes, you may keep your cat if you are a person at risk for a severe infection (e.g., you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant); however, there are several safety precautions you should take to avoid being exposed to Toxoplasma gondii, including the following:

·         Ensure the cat litter box is changed daily. The Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat's feces.

·         If you are pregnant or immunocompromised:

·         Avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.

·         Keep cats indoors. This is because cats become infected with Toxoplasma through hunting and eating rodents, birds, or other small animals that are infected with the parasite.

·         Do not adopt or handle stray cats, especially kittens. (you can adopt from a shelter, but please do so with caution, like having the cat or kitten tested)

·         Do not get a new cat while you are pregnant or immunocompromised.

·         Cats only spread Toxoplasma in their feces for 1-3 weeks following infection with the parasite. Like humans, cats rarely have symptoms when infected, so most people do not know if their cat has been infected.”

Some cats will have preferences on the type of litter they will use and there is a possibility many types will need to be tried to find the right fit for the pet. Scented or unscented, strips, pellets or granules, biodegradable, silica or clay, there are enough choices to make even the choosiest kitty happy. 

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