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?
We’re here to help with this quick guide!
The most important thing to remember when choosing cat litter is that your cat's needs come first. You need to choose the litter that your cat prefers and in some cases, there may be some trial and error to go through.
What Kind of Litter Does Your Cat Like?
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.
The "Why" 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 litter box 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.
Why even consider the type of litter?
Thinking of changing the type of litter your cat is using faithfully?
The old adage of "if it ain't broke - don't fix it" works well here.
If your cat is using the box regularly and seems to be ok with your current type of litter, you should probably count your blessings and let it go. You need a VERY good reason to start messing with a cat's litter preference.
Remember - this is about what the cat prefers. For some cats, the type of litter doesn't make much of a difference. For others, it can be crucial enough to make them avoid the litter box following a litter box.
That said, there are situations where choosing a new type of cat litter makes sense.
- Adopting a new cat without knowing his or her previous litter preference.
- Bringing a formerly outdoor-cat indoors.
- A serious issue with the current type of litter used
- Dealing with litter box avoidance which may be related to the type of litter used.
So, how to find the best litter for your cat? What considerations play part in choosing the purrfect cat litter?
Cat Litter Considerations
Let's review the various considerations which should guide you in finding the best cat litter for your cat.
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 some 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.
Generally speaking, it's best to avoid clumping litter for young kittens. This prevents the risk of ingesting clumping litter as well as the risk of irritating their delicate airways. Many shelters opt for non-clumping litter to avoid putting kittens at risk.
Cat Litter Odor Control
Probably one of the most important factors for cat owners - and for cats too, even if for an entirely different reason.
Some cat owners like deodorized litter because well, they don't like the smell of pee and poo around the house.
Cats don't like the stench of the litter box either. And no amount of scent will cover that stench - when a sensitive feline nose is concerned.
Which is why using scented litter isn't the answer. The litter box should simply be clean enough, so as not to produce any stench, to begin with. You can read more here about how to minimize litter box smell without resorting to scented litter.
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.
Some cats don't mind it, 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.
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 is best for my cat?
Now that you know what you need to consider, grab a pen and paper and start assessing what your cat's needs may be.
Do you know if there's a type the cat has been using loyally?
Don't disrupt the cat's habits. At least at first, provide the same kind of litter. If this is a cat that you recently adopted from a shelter, sticking to the same type of litter may help ease the transition. You can deal with switching the litter more gradually later on.
Is this a kitten?
Try non-clumping litter, to begin with.
Is the cat allergic to any substances?
Make sure the litter doesn't contain any of them.
Switching to a new type of litter
If you have no choice and need to start using a new type of litter, make the transition as gradual as you possibly can.
A good way to go about it is to place an additional litter box near one of your existing ones and place the new litter in that box. Give it a few days. Allow Kitty time to get used to the very presence of the new box.
Most cats are curious enough to start exploring right away. With any luck, your cat will start playing with the litter and digging around. Don't remove the old box just yet. Give it a week or two.
Next, start pouring some of the new litter into the old box as well. Whenever you scoop, you lose some litter, so you can now begin to replace that amount with litter from the new box.
As you keep going, you'll be replacing the type of litter - very gradually.
What about actual recommendations for cat litter?
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.
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