Dear Ms. Kitty,
I’ve used clay litter for years for my cat Rosco. I see so many different types of litter in the store now. Is there something better that I could be giving him?.
– Looking in Loveland
Thanks for thinking of your kitty when considering his litter! While Rosco’s litter and box choices obviously affect your lifestyle, imagine how important that is in his life, where inside cats are forced to go where we tell them.
Think of how you’d respond if someone changed up your bathroom without your consent! We ask a lot of our cats and it’s only right to respect their preferences.
Research confirms what most cat guardians know (or have learned the hard way): cats prefer sand-like litter. Pellets and other shapes are not what cats are drawn to.
And in spite of all the scented cat litter at stores, research also tells us that cats simply don’t like them. Just like air “fresheners” and scented sprays, their ingredients have not been proven safe for humans, let alone animals.
In fact, recent research shows that these contaminants may be affecting thyroid levels in cats, explaining the increase in thyroid diseases in cats. Cats rely on their sense of smell to negotiate the world and these strong odors corrupt that basic process.
The best way to prevent litterbox odors is simple: scoop the box every day. Skip the scents; it’s better for you and essential for your cat!
No matter the ingredient, you can find clumping and scoopable litter with most brands. While some say the silica and bentonite clay that are usually added to help litter clump can be dangerous, the amount in most litter is negligible. Non-clumping litter tends to be dustier, so both you and Rosco will probably be exposed to more dust with that than with clumping.
Clay is one of the cheaper ingredients in cat litter. However, it has to be mined so is less sustainable than litter made from renewable ingredients like wheat or corn, or recycled ingredients like paper or wood.
It is also much heavier, even the lighter-weight clay litters. This can be a concern as cat guardians get older.
Some litters are made of silica crystals, the same product used as a desiccant in vitamin jars. Some say it’s less dusty but some say it’s more. Most agree that the texture is sharper than the sand that most cats prefer. It can also be hard to find an unscented brand.
Most renewable litters have sand-like textures, so they meet the needs of most cats. They are also usually less dusty than their clay counterparts, both during digging and in tracking. They also have more natural additives for clumping,
Another advantage for plant-based litter like wheat or corn is that many of them are flushable. This makes disposal much easier, especially for senior guardians.
One thing to remember with plant-based litters is they don’t clump as immediately as clay. That means the urine will usually form balls on the bottom of the box rather than toward the top.
It’s easier to scoop urine from a box of wheat or corn litter by tipping the box to the side until you can see the urine ball. You’ll be less apt to stir it back in and your litter will last longer.
Speaking of boxes, please make sure to give Rosco an appropriately sized box, especially as he ages. It needs to be big enough to comfortably turn around in and contain the litter when scratching.
If you decide to try a different litter for Rosco, remember he will always appreciate choices. Moving suddenly from one litter to another could force him to go outside the box. (This advice holds for switching litter boxes too.) Offer the new litter in another familiar box to give him time to adjust.
Once he uses the new litter, even if occasionally, you probably have his permission to transition. Add the new litter to the old at no more than 25% a day. This will give him time to get used to the new litter.
Monitor Rosco daily. If at any point it seems like he’s not using the box like he did before, back up to the old litter. Just like us, cats have preferences. That’s his only way of telling you he doesn’t like yours.
Your job, as always, is to find the place where his preferences overlap with yours. Buy the best litter—that he likes—that you can afford.
Elimination is extremely important to your cat and if you get it wrong, you may cause him litterbox issues that can take time to solve…and put him at risk for being surrendered. We want to keep Rosco home and happy!
Sara Ferguson is the Director of Happy Cats Haven. Ask Ms Kitty supports cat behavior consulting offered on our website through our Helpline.