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How To Choose The Right Cat Litter

Feb 4, 2014 · Updated Jul 14, 2015 · ·
  1. Anne
    How To Choose The Right Cat Litter
    Choosing the right litter for your cat can seem like a formidable task. With so many types of litter out there, which one is the best for you and your Kitty? Clumping or non-clumping? Scented? Silica or clay? Flushable? Wheat, walnuts, corn or maybe recycled newspaper? With so many choices out there, we’re here to help with this quick guide!

    What Kind of Litter Does Your Cat Like?

    Before we jump into the litterbox, there is one thing you must remember. It’s all about what the cat prefers. Cats have their own personal preferences when it comes to litter. These can be the result of sensitive paws, habits created during kittenhood, or simply a whim.

    Why your cat prefers one kind of litter and not another may forever be a riddle shrouded in mystery. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you provide your cat with the kind of litter he or she feels comfortable with. Otherwise, they may reject the litterbox altogether. Elimination problems are easier to prevent than to fix, so make sure you read through this guide with your cat’s preference in mind.

    Cat Litter Considerations

    Clumping vs. non-clumping

    Perhaps the most notable characteristic of cat litter is whether it clumps in the presence of liquid or not.

    Clumping litter usually contains a substance called bentonite which absorbs the urine and creates a nice solid lump, leaving the rest of the litter around it dry and clean. When it’s scooping time, you just take out the hardened urine clumps along with the feces.

    Non-clumping litter simply lets urine sift through, absorbing some of the odor through additives such as baking soda or charcoal. You can only scoop out feces, while the urine dries up in the rest of the litter. The only way to clean the urine from the box is by changing all of the litter, usually once a week. Some non-clumping litter is based on silica crystals. The silica crystals are very similar to those used in desiccants. They absorb the urine more quickly than grains of clay would, allowing the water to slowly evaporate while keeping the "smelly stuff" inside them.

    For the cats, clumping or non-clumping is a matter of personal preference. Owners often prefer clumping litter because it’s easier to clean the box and there's no need to change all of the litter at once. Clumping litter is usually more expensive, yet you need less of it in the long run.

    Some owners find that clumping litter tends to “stick” to the cat. This may be of concern with long-haired cats and kittens, as they are more likely to get litter on their coat, ingesting it as they groom themselves. Which brings us to our next consideration…

    Safety Issues with Cat Litter

    Cats may ingest some cat litter, either by inhaling its dust as they dig around in the box, or by accidentally licking litter grains that got stuck in their fur or between their toes. Generally speaking, manufacturers are aware of this issue and cat litter is non-toxic to cats.

    In rare cases, kittens, or cats with a rare disorder called Pica, may attempt to eat the litter. If you think your cat may have swallowed a considerable amount of litter, do contact your vet.

    If dust is a concern for you, you can find formulas that are intended to be dust-free or low in dust. What the dust is actually made of can also be a consideration. Basically, it can be food-based dust from corn or wheat, or mineral-based from clay or silica. Some cats may be allergic to either kind.

    Cat Litter Odor Control

    Probably one of the most important factors for cat owners! You should opt for cat litter that absorbs odor rather than masking it. Scented litters usually do the latter, surrounding the litterbox with some kind of floral scent. This is fine as long as you realize it does not give you license to leave the litterbox dirty for a longer period of time!

    Cats have a sensitive sense of smell. They will notice if the box is dirty, even if all you can smell is the air freshener in the litter. Some cats may even be bothered by a strong floral scent. As a rule, it’s usually best to stick to unscented good-quality litter and make sure the box is cleaned as often as possible.

    Read more about How To Minimize Litterbox Odor.

    Cat Litter: Environmental considerations

    The accumulated waste produced by used kitty litter can have a significant environmental impact. Disposing of litter by either flushing it down the toilet, or dumping it in bags inside trash bins, is not very earth-friendly, yet with many types of litter those are your only options. If you have access to a garden, you can opt for a “greener” solution by switching to plant-based litter, to be disposed of in the compost pile. This solution can only work with organic matter, i.e. litter made of wheat, corn or some other plant material.

    Specific Sensitivities and Allergies

    Some cats have allergies to specific ingredients in the litter. Both natural minerals and plants, as well as lab-manufactured additives, can trigger allergies in cats. If your cat develops an allergy, you should consider the litter as a possible source as you work with your vet to eliminate potential allergens.

    Even without triggering an allergic reaction per se, some kinds of litter may simply be uncomfortable for Kitty’s paws. Declawed cats are prone to having litterbox problems due to associating the litter with pain in their paws. Sometimes switching to softer litter helps.

    Cat Litter Price and packaging

    Last but not necessarily least, you should consider cost and ease of use. Comparing the prices of litter is not always easy. It’s not only the amount of litter, whether by weight or volume, that needs to be taken into account, but how long you can use it. The main consideration here is if and when you need to completely change all of the litter in the box.

    Packaging can also affect your choice of litter. Huge sacks or boxes of clay or silica-based litter can be too heavy for some people to carry into their homes. This is especially true of non-clumping litter, which is often available in huge containers, due to the need to change all of the litter once a week.

    So which cat litter do I choose?

    Judging by what our members use, clumping litter seems to be a popular choice. If clay-based litters don’t appeal to you, then plant-based litters are also commonly used. Check out our Cat Litter Reviews section to see which brands are more popular and why. Don’t forget though - your cat is the ultimate judge of litter, not you!

    Unless your cat is already experiencing an elimination problem, your safest bet is to stick with the kind of litter you’re already using, but if you do decide to try something new, make sure you transition from one type to another gradually and always leave a litterbox with the old kind of litter around until you’re sure your cat is happy with the new litter.

    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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  1. kapush
    Clumping over non-clumping is a personal choice, yes, but choosing the wrong kind of clumping litter could get your kitty in serious trouble.

    There's a whole lot of (scary) anecdotal material which is rubbished by manufacturers of sodium bentonite clumping litter with - guess what?- a whole of anecdotal material! There's been hardly any research on what may happen to a cat if they were to ingest a clumping material that you are warned against flushing as it will most certainly clog your plumbing.

    Interestingly, it is these same manufacturers who say things like 'our doctors never found a single case of bentonite poisoning in cats' will warn you about the cement like hardening quality of sodium bentonite.

    If you're interested, here's a complete article on why your cats are better off without clumping litter that uses sodium bentonite: Clumping Cat Litter & Sodium Bentonite Clay Hazards (2016 Updated)

    There are loads of safer alternatives (World's Best clumps rather well), please consider using them.
  2. samuel medina
    Great article, very interesting comments. I've been using Special Kitty, and wondering how much i'd need to use if I switched to WB. With special kitty, I've got more half a box left after two weeks, as the box is about 40 lbs,, versus WB's 15 lb bag.
  3. therese
    I have tried them all and my favorite is World's Best Kitty Litter, Multi-cat ( in red and black bag)  It is a little more pricey but is the absolute BEST for scooping clean, no sludge, perfect pee balls, etc., no dust, no smell, no nothing.  See my review for WB Kitty Litter, I have reviewed several " flavors" because it comes in several types.  They also have a pine one that is also very nice but the Multi cat ( I have two large cats, one with IBD ) is the best for odors.  I scoop twice a day and top it off about every other day and I get about six weeks out of a full litter pan of it.  ( I use the extra large open litter pans I get at the big-box pet stores ) 
  4. nansiludie
    I use non-clumping as I think it may cause urinary tract issues, through the dust up the cat and the ingesting during grooming. I do scoop out the urine and feces daily, it doesn't clump but I just use a small sand-castle type shovel. I prefer non-scented. I use baking soda. I use vinegar to neutralize cat urine odor in the litter box when I wash it.
  5. caltritwiamb4
    I choose pine pellets and a sifting litter box
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