- Types of Cat Litter
Types of Cat Litter
There is no perfect litter. Let's just get that out of the way right now. Cat litter is made of several different substances, but none of them are perfect. The best way to keep the box odor free is to clean it. Don't rely on heavy perfumes to mask odors. The most important thing to remember when it comes to litter is that even a small amount of urine smells strong to a cat. Their sense of smell is highly more sensitive than ours! With all non-clumping litters, regardless of the type, only the feces are removed and possibly a small amount of the urine, thus only ‘flushing’ half of the cat’s toilet.
Recycled paper. This is litter made from recycled paper that is turned into pellets or granules. Paper is dust-free, highly absorbent, and biodegradable. Usually in pellet form, the paper doesn't form urine clumps, but the granule form does.
Pine. Pine litter is also recycled and is typically made from lumber scraps that are heat-treated to remove toxins, oils, and allergens from the wood. This type of litter comes in pellets, granules, or roughly crushed pine. It has a pine scent, which is very good at controlling odor. The granules and cobble (roughly crushed pine) are somewhat clumping, but in pellet form, the pine turns to sawdust that must be regularly replaced.
Walnut shells. This litter is made from crushed walnut shells and is dark brown in color. Walnut shell litters have clumping ability, offer excellent odor control, are highly absorbent, and biodegradable. However, they can be very dusty, and because of the color, it makes the clumps difficult to see. Also, you need to be aware of the allergy factor. Do you or anyone in your family have allergies to tree nuts? Do any of your friends that would come visit your house? Having the dust on your cat's paws and he or she being near your friend would be dangerous.
Corn. Corn-based litter is biodegradable, absorbent, and provides odor control. It is made of crushed corn kernels. However, since most kitties ingest a bit of litter each day during grooming, and broken kernels of corn are 3-4x more likely to develop mold than intact kernels, this is cause for concern. Some cats may not even recognize it as litter and will try to eat it. Because grain-based litters can easily develop the mold aflatoxin in a moist environment (read: a litter box), we recommend avoiding them. This applies for wheat as well.
Wheat. Wheat litter is made from ground wheat. It clumps and provides odor control, is biodegradable, and is low on dust and tracking. This can also be a source of danger for visitors that have a wheat allergy! Some cats may not recognize it as litter and may try to eat it.
Grass. Grass litter is new on the scene. Grass litter is biodegradable, controls odor, and has good clumping ability.
Silica gel crystals. The crystals are made of tiny silica gel beads similar to the ones in the tiny pouches packaged with new shoes and other products that can be damaged by excess moisture. Crystal litter is highly absorbent, controls odor well, and is almost dust-free. Some people say it tracks less than other types of litter. Crystal litters are usually more expensive, but they tend to last longer. Downsides are that some cats don't like getting the crystals on their paws due to the sharp edges on granules and they make a crunchy sound when rubbing against each other that may make some cats uncomfortable. They can also be dangerous if ingested in large amounts or over a period of time, which happens when cats clean their feet. This kind is not recommended for kittens. Also, as you only change the whole litter once in a while, silica granules that have absorbed urine may remain in litter box for quite a long time. This can lead to cats avoiding using the box because while it may look clean to you, to your cat, it is icky!
Clumping clay. This type of litter is typically made from sodium bentonite, which is a highly absorbent clay that forms solid clumps when your cat urinates because it swells up to 15 times its size when it gets wet. It is strip mined, thus placing yet another burden on our planet. Due to the great absorbency(and the price point), more than 50% of the cat litter sold in the US is made with sodium bentonite. Commonly known brands include Tidy Cats and Fresh Step. Clumping clay makes litter box scooping and cleaning easy. However, it is non-biodegradable and heavy to cart around. Additionally, the small particle size creates dust, which can be unhealthy for humans and cats alike. Most clay litters are laden with harsh chemicals, dust and perfumes, not to mention silica dust, which is a known respiratory irritant.
Non-clumping clay. This type of litter is made from clays other than bentonite. It absorbs urine but doesn't form clumps, so it's easy to leave bits of moist litter behind when you scoop the box. This means it will start to get smelly sooner rather than later, and will require more frequent changing than clumping clay. However, non-clumping litter is often cheaper than clumping.
No matter what litter is used, do not use covered boxes. In addition to preventing cats from being able to see around them, a covered box basically forces them to inhale dust. Think about it: Do you like to be in a small space with the smell of feces and urine (example: port-a-potty)? Cats don't either! So clean the box OFTEN. If you decide to switch litters after reading this guide, do so gradually, over a period of several weeks.