The Cat Owner’s Guide to Kitty Litter Options
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.
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 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.
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.
Litter made from post-consumer recycled paper converted into pellets or granules has been on the market for a while. Practically dust-free and highly absorbent, many cat owners like that it’s also biodegradable. The pellet form, like non-clumping clay litter, prohibits scooping out urine clumps, so regular litter replacement is key. The granule type forms clumps, however, so you can scoop liquid and solid waste.
Available in scented or unscented, newspaper litters include Yesterday’s News and Cat’s Pride’s new Fresh & Light Paper Litter.
Pine litter is another recycled product, typically made from lumber scraps that are heat-treated to remove toxins, oils and potential allergens from the wood. Pine litter comes in pellets, granules or roughly crushed pine. Some cat owners like the fresh pine scent, which assists with odor control, and the absorbent wood.
More lightweight than clay, pine pellets disintegrate into a sawdust that must be regularly replaced, while the cobble and granules typically have some ability to clump so they can be scooped. Examples of pine-based litter include pioneer Feline Pine, which offers pellets and clumping granules, and newcomer Okocat, which comes in a pellet and a crushed pellet form.
Corn-based litters are the most prevalent natural option on the market. Fans of natural, biodegradable litter may gravitate toward litter made from corn, which leverages the starch and enzymes in corn for absorbency and odor control.
This natural litter is made from ground wheat and, like corn-based litter, leverages starch and enzymes for clumping and odor control. Happy wheat litter consumers love that it’s all natural, biodegradable and promises low dust and tracking.
The most well-known brand in this category is Swheat Scoop, which has a variety of formulas.
Litter made from crushed walnut shells debuted in the litter aisle several years ago and has held its own, indicating that some consumers like it. Instead of the lighter color of most cat litters, this litter is dark brown, which often surprises first-time customers. Manufacturers claim walnut shells offer great odor control and are highly absorbent. Fans say they love the clumping power and that it’s natural and biodegradable.
You are most likely to find Blue Buffalo’s Naturally Fresh formulas in your pet store.
Grass has made its way into the mainstream cat litter market just this year, so it’s worth mentioning here. Smart Cat has launched a fine-grained litter made from USA-sourced grass fibers to create a biodegradable, natural litter that promises odor control and good clumping. In addition, Dr. Elsey, known for his Cat Attract litter, which uses a proprietary blend of herbs said to attract cats to the litterbox, has recently launched a formula called The Touch of Outdoors. The new litter uses USA-grown prairie grass to help outdoor cats and cats who want to go outdoors feel more at home in their indoor environments.
Keep Your Cat Happy
With so many choices, it can be hard to know which litter is right for your cat. While many litters offer benefits like odor control and clumping abilities that make life easier for humans, the most important thing is how your cat likes it.
If you do plan to switch litters, Pam Johnson-Bennett, certified cat behavior consultant and host of Animal Planet UK’s Psycho Kitty, recommends a couple of strategies. One option is the gradual change. "This is the safest method because it gives your cat time to adjust to the difference without it being overwhelming," Johnson-Bennett says. "In most cases, if you go slowly enough, your cat won’t even realize that a change is taking place." Johnson-Bennett recommends that you introduce a new litter gradually, over three to five days.
You can also offer your cat a "litterbox buffet," Johnson-Bennett says. In this technique, you place an additional litterbox with the new litter next to the current box of litter. Pay attention over the next few days to see which box (and litter) your cat prefers. If he is using the old box, that’s a clear message he’s not interested in switching. But he may like the new litter. "Once he has been successfully and routinely using the new litter, you can remove the other litterboxes," Johnson-Bennett advises.
Cats take their litterbox seriously, and you should, too, lest your feline friend chooses to go elsewhere to do his business.
Consider your options, make changes gradually and, above all, pay attention to your cat’s preferences. With any luck, you can find a brand that makes the entire family happy!