Cat Litter – The Dust Settles

First of all, what is Kitty Litter? If you have a cat or two, you are well acquainted with kitty litter; a substance you deal with on a daily basis. You wrestle the boxes or bags home from the grocery store, you pour the mixture into your litter pan(s), and then in the days that follow, you diligently scoop and scoop, and discard soiled litter placing new in the pan every time.

But what exactly is it made of? Where did it come from? Why do some kitty litter clump and others do not? How many different kinds of kitty litter are there? Is kitty litter really safe?

Note: We may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page.

Starting from Scratch

In 1947 a neighbor asked a gentleman, by the name of Edward Lowe, for something to use for her cat's elimination needs. Currently using ashes and dirt, she explained her husband was upset over the odor and had told her that if she couldn't find something else, the cat had to go!

Lowe operated a small business out of his home, where he sold clay to garage owners to soak up oil spills and cover gasoline leaks. He suggested his clay as an alternate means for his neighbor's problem. Lowe went into his garage and came back with a cardboard box full of his clay product and presented it to his neighbor. The next morning, the neighbor elatedly reported that the clay litter was a wonderful alternative for her.

Upon hearing this, Edward decided to take a big chance. He rented a large semi-trailer and truck and coined the phrase "kitty litter" by painting a sign for the sides of the truck. Then he began to truck his kitty litter across the United States. He stopped at cat shows and trade shows to give away his product.

The gamble paid off. The idea was so well received by grateful cat owners, and the litter industry was born. In 1991 Edward Lowe sold the rights to the kitty litter filler from his then multi-million multi-national company.

The Inside Scoop

The conventional kitty litter consists of filler made from clay and/or sometimes silica. You know what silica is. Silica comes in those really small envelopes inside new aspirin bottles, shoeboxes and beef jerky. Silica's purpose -- to maintain freshness.

The clay litter comes as Bentonite or Attapulgite/Montmorillonite. Bentonite known also as the "performance mineral," can be found in a wide variety of products ranging from environmental products to hazardous waste control. Bentonite is dug out of the earth and processed in special manufacturing plants. Bentonite attracts water to its negative face and magnetically holds the water firmly in place. Bentonite can absorb up to 7-10 times its own weight.

Transported to a special facility in large trucks, then loaded into long cylinder rotary dryers, the clay has approximately 15-20 percent of its moisture removed. The finished product contains a moisture content of between 7-10 percent. The bentonite then becomes processed into either a fine powder or granulated into small flakes, packaged for commercial use, the mixture becomes something cat owners now utilize as Scoopable Kitty Litter.

What A Waste

If it comes from the earth, then it must be environmentally safe, right?

According to the Bureau of Waste Management, approximately 8 billion pounds of kitty litter is dumped into landfills every year! That is over twice the amount of disposable diapers! Also within the clay litter there lays an inherent risk factor. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, silicon particles that can be found in clay litter are a known human carcinogen. Breathing in these particles can cause respiratory illness.

When your cat goes to cover her waste, this dust is kicked up and introduced into the room. Distributed on the floor and anywhere else it chooses to settle, the dust becomes an invasive intruder.

Research has shown that silicon particles do indeed cause cancer-like symptoms in lab rats. But so far, there is no data available to say if it does the same in cats. A

Although there exists evidence that silicon particles cause problems in humans, case studies available only show that cats with respiratory illnesses have six times the amount of silica in their lungs than healthy cats do. But the studies are greatly overshadowed by the needs of cat owners, and the availability and ease of using clay litter.

Another fact that emerged as this article was being researched included numerous reports that clumping litter and kittens do not mix. Kittens are quite curious and some of them taste the litter or lay down in the pan. Because the litter performs when it meets moisture and swells, and kittens routinely lick themselves clean after using the litter pan, if clumping litter gets inside of their system problems can result. Vomiting, frothing at the mouth, and intestinal blockages are only some of the symptoms that can occur.

Always err on the side of caution with kittens and use an alternative litter until they are grown and not so apt to sample kitty litter. Green litters are a good choice for the kitten’s needs.

Cat Litter Goes Green

Although Green Litters are slowly making their appearance and steadily gaining in popularity, it will be quite some time before they actually corner the market and take away the potential sales that clay litter now holds so firm. Green litters are made out of everything from crushed walnut shells to compressed sawdust, recycled paper, wheat, pine, alfalfa, and even corn.

The Green Movement Group claims their litter is safe, biodegradable, even scoopable and/ or flushable, as well as super absorbent. One company boasts that not only does their litter weigh less, but you useless, for the litter goes a long way before needing to be replaced.

Plastic trays to hold the litter have made headway into technological advances, and now you have your choice between computerized litter pans that remove the waste after the cat exits the pan, or a litter robot (an ingenious device that rotates and removes the waste material in timed intervals after your cat exits the robot). There are companies that design litter containment furniture, litter air filtration devices, and even a kit where you can train your cat to use your toilet instead of the litter pan.

The litter industry has traveled a long way since 1947 when Edward Lowe displayed his burst of generosity, trucking his product to give it away to all the cat lovers across the United States. Today the Litter Industry rakes in over 700 million dollars a year!

It's a competitive business, but someone has to help make it cleaner and smell fresher. There are a lot of companies trying and succeeding because with careful research, and cautious investing, they are finding the needs of cat owners are paramount.

If they can come up with the right formula to stop the odor and cut down on the waste, they can become a success in the kitty litter industry today. They can really clean up!

Written by Mary Anne Miller Mary Anne Miller is a freelance writer and member of the Cat Writers' Association. She is a web copywriter, and passionate about feral cats/kittens and bottle babies. You can read more by Mary Anne on her Feral Cat Behavior Blog.

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

11 comments on “Cat Litter – The Dust Settles

dbljj November 18, 2015
I mix crystals and clay litter about half and half. cats seem not to mind.
kntrygrl256 January 27, 2015
I have a 5 cat household and am constantly cleaning litter boxes. I have spent more on litter than food it seems. What doesn't get tracked on my floor, bed, couch, because it sticks to their feet after sever uses (I use scoopable litter.) Thanks danamorton for the link to the pine litter box. It is worth a try. I thought about the Breeze but I agree with the pads not being environmentally safe, which is why we try to find the best litter possible.   I had a cat (see my pic), Raven (RIP), and he had chronic upper respiratory and allergy problems so I had to be VERY careful about the dust in litter. I would have to fill it outside and keep sifting it to get most of the dust out before he could use it. My other cats didn't have a problem.
yarra February 18, 2014
I use sWheat Scoop. The mufti cat version, clumping. It's made from wheat, it FEELS like sand or other fine litters, so it feels really good on kittie's paws. Especially poor babies that are declawed. They are ALWAYS in pain. Even though they don't show you they are. (Please, never declaw) Anywho!!!! SWheat Scoop is AWESOME!!!!!!! It flushes (in small batches), scoops and controls odor like NO other litter I've tried. And I've tried them ALL!!! I am, sooooooooo happy with this litter! The litter itself smells really good. Sweat and clean. I highly recommend it. Ooh! I tried it because I was fed up with natural litters and went back to one of the big brands. It was recommended to me by 3 people before I finally tried it. I wish I had changed sooner!
varsettie February 11, 2014
Thanks Anne, I'm going to do some further digging in to my own litter brands now.
boobear February 9, 2014
Wow really? And why would they test that mineral on an animal!
danaNM December 11, 2013
Ah, in regards to my previous comment, looks like someone already has built one for pelleted litters:   At the moment I am fine with just sifting the litter myself with a scoop. Plus I have the fancy Booda dome box with the walk way, which really cuts down on tracking. 
danaNM December 11, 2013
Hmm yeah the downside is it wouldn't work in a system that requires clumping litter (since it actually does the opposite of clump). I have considered using them in a system like this:, but I haven't tried it. I would think that instead of using the absorbent pads (which seem sooooo un-environmentally friendly), that the soiled pellets would be sifted out into the tray below, and the clean ones would stay up top. There might not be enough space though... my cat pees a lot! 
segelkatt December 11, 2013
I will try those if I can find them , I suppose at a feed store, will let you know how those work vs World's Best Cat Litter and if it works in my Litter Robot
danaNM December 9, 2013
I've started using pelleted pine litter for my cat's litter box as well as my bunnies' litter box. It is really low dust and low tracking, and absorbs odor really well (I live in a studio apartment, so it's important). It's also flushable in small amounts.   The litter is essentially the same as Feline Pine (the pelleted, non-clumping one), but the hot tip I got is to buy "stall pellets", which are sold for horse stalls! They are exactly the same, but cost $7 for a 40 lb bag! AMAZING. You can also find them sold as "stove pellets" for wood burning stoves, just be sure to get the kind that are untreated.    These pellets are used by house rabbit and ferret rescue societies all over the place. They are awesome. My cat had no trouble transitioning too them either, as they don't have a strong aromatic odor.    To scoop them, I use a scoop with really wide slots. You scoop the wet portion, and basically sift out the solid litter. The pellets break apart into saw dust when they get wet, so you save a lot of litter by being able to sift out the whole, clean pellets.  
segelkatt November 30, 2013
Try The World's Best Cat Litter, yes, that's really its name. It's made from corn so it is easily composted and will break down in the dump. It has a very low tendency to dust and it does clump really well. I also have a Litter Robot, the only litter box I have had that NEVER jams. I've had mine about 7 years and it has NEVER jammed unlike the other automatic boxes and yes, I have tried them all. You don't have to scoop this box ever, just change the ordinary garbage bag about once a week with one or two cats, add some litter when it gets low and wash the upper part with a garden hose every once in a while (I do that twice a year only). The drawer that is in the bottom with the garbage bag needs to be cleaned whenever the bag gets too full so keep up the changing of the bag every week or so. I wish I owned stock in either one of these products.  
lesliecat March 2, 2013
So far I'd say that kitty litter manufacturers really haven't come up with anything green that is any different from regular kitty litter. Most of them still have dust. I purchased some walnut shell litter. The cats didn't seem to mind it but I did. It was even dustier that the regular. Also, every time I scooped I'd have an asthma attack. I''tried practically every litter on the market. As far as I can they are just about all the same. Only difference is the price.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *