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Cat Litter Types And How To Choose

Posted by Pet Pantry on

Cat litter has always been and will always be a huge matter of contention for cat owners across
the globe; There are hundreds of types of litter and brands of litter to choose from, and every
single person and every single cat has a particular criteria that they feel their litter should fulfill.

Deciding on a litter that works equally well for you and for your cat is tough, but not impossible.
There is a litter out there for everyone!

When deciding on a litter it is very important to note what your priorities are--are you in a small
apartment and need superior odour control? Or do you have a long-haired cat and carpets and
are worried about tracking litter everywhere? As nice as it is to have a litter that’s perfect at
everything, different types and brands of litters are going to have very different properties and
will not satisfy every cat (or every human). Choosing a litter depends entirely on what you and
your cat feels suits you best!

Many cat owners will stick to one type of litter throughout the entirety of their cat’s life without
even bothering to look at any other options, but there is a whole world of litter on the market.
Why settle for ‘okay’ when you can find a litter perfectly tailored to you and your cats needs?
Find the litter best suited to you and your home.

CLAY (CLUMPING) LITTER

Many commercially available litters are made of clay--clay litters are dense, clump very
firmly, and tend to have baking soda or other additives to control litter box odour. There are
upsides and downsides to clay litter. On the one hand, they tend to be very inexpensive, clump
well for easy spot-cleaning, typically have pretty strong odour control, and are readily available
pretty much anywhere. On the other hand, they are very dusty and these airborne particles
aren’t good for the health of your cat or yourself--meaning that these litters shouldn’t be used in
closed-lid litterboxes, they are heavy and hard to carry around, the clay isn’t environmentally
sound as it can’t be composted, and it cannot be flushed.

CLAY (non-clumping) LITTER

Non-clumping clay has all the same properties as clumping clay litter with the exception
of the clump. Instead, the particles expand and absorb the urine, and in some litters, will change
colour for easier spot cleaning. The upsides to this are the fact that because it doesn’t have
added bentonite (the clumping compound found in clumping clay litters), non-clumping clay
litters tend to be a lot cheaper. When the granules absorb urine, it absorbs the scent-causing
bacteria as well so the odour control tends to be very strong. Downsides again include a lack of
environmental sustainability, a high level of dust, and because it doesn’t clump if you don’t stay
on top of doing spot cleanings daily the urine can seep down to the bottom of the box and create an even larger mess. Unlike clumping, non-clumping does require more frequent full-litter changes, and so you can go through litter a lot more quickly than you may with the clumping kind. These types of litters are a lot safer for kittens because if they are ingested they will pass through the system rather than congesting in the digestive tract.

CLAY (clumping) ALTERNATIVES

Due to the lack of environmental sustainability seen in clay litters, the pet industry has been branching out in recent years to clumping litters made from alternative, more eco-friendly sources; these include but are not limited to walnut shell, grass, wheat, wheat by-products, corn, wood, and wood by-product. Each and every one of these different types of litters have different properties and even these properties vary from brand to brand with different formulations and additives. Following are some general rules about the litters, although it needs mentioning that these are highly subjective and very basic rules--litters can and will break out of these molds!

CORN: Finer granules (tends to be dusty) but a lot of cats prefer it because it is very soft. Has a pretty good clump, not the best odour control. Dense like clay, so a little goes a long way. Compostable. Due to the dustiness, corn tends to track a lot.

WHEAT/WHEAT BY-PRODUCT: Made from leftovers of the wheat and grain industry. Larger granules, but due to natural starches has a firm clump. Lighter than clay or corn litters, and depending on the brand, these litters have a decent odor control. Most of these are flushable, however it is recommended to leave the litter to sit for a while in the water before flushing. Tends to be more pricy but due to a firm clump even a small bag will last a long time. Compostable.

GRASS: VERY firm clump. Naturally good odour, and it is very light. However it is one of the most expensive types of litter on the market. However, too much moisture and the clumps fall apart so you have to stay very on top of cleaning. Can be dusty and track.

WOOD: Strong natural scent so it tends to have excellent odour control. Some aren’t the firmest of clumps due to a larger granule, but these also tend to be inexpensive. Don’t track all that much.

WALNUT: Walnut is lighter, it’s dark so it doesn’t impose visually, compostable with ok odour control and clumping. Tracks pretty badly. With most of the natural litters, they are compostable (depending on your city district) and tend to be a lot softer than some brands of clay. Most of them won’t clump as well as clay, however in my personal experience some of them will clump even better!!!! Some of the litters are flushable too, which also depends on your city district and their policies on flushing. One of the downsides across the board is that most of the alternative clumping litters are pricier than the clay. 

 PELLETSPellet litters are typically made of wood, though there are a few brands that use recycled paper. Because of the natural wood scent, the pellets are fantastic at odour control and are very absorbent. For someone who has only ever used clumping it can be a bit of a culture shock, as it doesn’t work in nearly the same way. They are fairly easy to clean as you use a very small amount of litter, pretty much just enough to line the bottom of the pan, and you dump it out once or twice a week depending on how much your cat (or cats) use it. The pellet expands and absorbs all the moisture from the urine, but breaking the hard shell of the pellet releases the natural forested scent of the pellet. It doesn’t track because it’s not in the granule form and can’t really stick to the cat’s paws so pellets are good for out-of-box cleanliness as well. It is however very hard to spot-clean, so depending how much litter your cat requires at the bottom of the box you might end up going through more than you expected. It certainly requires a cat owner to be very on top of the litter box. Good news though--you can get it in bulk (very inexpensive) and a 40lb bag will last an average cat up to or over 2 months!

SILICA: Silica crystals are light, and easy to use. Just pour one small size bag into a litter box and it will last up to a month for one cat! They are highly absorbent and will absorb urine for about a month for one cat (solid waste does have to be manually removed), and the absorbency lends itself to very strong odour control. However once the crystals reach their limit, you will end up with a pool at the bottom of the box. There is no dust and no tracking, which is a big plus for people who are concerned about out-of-box cleanliness--however the crystals are large and jagged, so many cats will not like to use the litter no matter how much you may like it! It can poke at their sensitive paws and because silica is mainly used to remove moisture from commercial products, it can dry out your cat’s paws and leave them cracked. On top of this, it is not an eco-friendly product.

This covers only a few types of readily available cat litter--some are available at any grocer, and some you will only find in some independent pet specialty stores--but never fear, manufacturers are constantly trying to find the best solution for cat messes, and new litters are emerging on the market every month.

A lot of finding a good litter is about experimentation. Take home a small bag of litter one month, rate it yourself, then try a new bag the next month--it may take time but you will find the right compromise for yourself and your cat. A good way to find that one litter is to take home a small bag of a new litter every month (remember, some cats need it gradually mixed in!) and try it out!

It’s always a good idea to keep a bag of old litter on hand though, as well all know how little some cats like change.

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