The Cat Owner's Guide to Kitty Litter Options

Cat in litterbox
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These days, a visit to the cat litter aisle at your favorite pet store can be an overwhelming experience — the options seem almost endless. It appears there's a litter designed to meet every feline — and human — need imaginable. So how do you know which one is best for you and your cat?

Kitty litter has come a long way since the 1940s, when Edward Lowe stumbled onto the idea of using granulated clay in place of ashes in the litterbox. Today, litter comes in many materials, from corn to silica gel crystals to walnut shells — just to name a few — as well as a variety of sizes, textures and scents.

Most cats are particular about the litter they use, so if your cat's happy with your current litter, you probably want to stick with it. But if you have a new cat or are looking for a change, here’s the scoop on the most common types of litter on the market.

Clumping Clay 

Most clumping clay litters are made from a clay called bentonite, which is highly absorbent and enables the litter to form a hard, solid clump as the material absorbs urine. You can find both scented and unscented versions on the market. Fans of clumping clay litter love the convenience of easily keeping the litterbox clean, but critics complain that it’s dusty and non-biodegradable.

Another downside is that clay is heavy, so some people have trouble lifting bags of this type of litter. However, in recent years, manufacturers have listened to consumers and started combining heavy clay with lighter-weight mineral particles, allowing them to compete with lighter-weight substrates.  Tidy Cats LightWeight and Cat’s Pride Fresh & Light are two examples of lighter clumping clay options. 

Non-clumping Clay

Non-clumping clay litters absorb urine but don’t form clumps, so you can’t scoop the liquid waste out of the box; this means the litter many not last as long before it starts to smell and needs to be changed. Like its clumping counterpart, the non-clumping clay litter can kick up a bit of dust. However, non-clumping litter is often less expensive than the clumping version, and sometimes cats simply prefer it. And when your cat likes his litter, you probably don’t want to mess with it!

Following the lightweight trend is Simple Solution 30-Day Cat Litter, a new non-clumping clay litter made from a super-absorbent mineral called attapulgite clay. Simple Solution claims that as long as you scoop the poop, the litter stays fresh for up to 30 days before you have to change it out.

Crystals

Made of tiny silica gel beads (yes, the same things in the “do not eat” packets that come with certain products we buy), crystal litter is highly absorbent, offers good odor control and is known for being dust-free. Some cat owners say it tracks less than some other litters. Crystal litters tend to be a bit more expensive than other options, but proponents claim that it lasts longer, which makes it worth the price. Critics warn that cats may not like the rough shape of the crystals on their paws.

Popular crystal litter brands include  Fresh Step CrystalsPrecious Cat Long Haired and  Nature’s Miracle Crystal Litter.

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