Choosing a Cat Litter for Your Cat
Choosing a suitable cat litter for your cat is an important decision. Firstly, it is something which your cat will be in contact with several times a day - so you will want a cat litter which is safe for your cat and which your cat is happy to use. Secondly, your choice will have implications for how often you need to clean - so you will want a cat litter which helps to minimise cleaning out time. Thirdly, once your cat is used to a particular type of cat litter, you may feel reluctant to experiment with another type in case it causes confusion or disruption for your cat - so it is important that you choose a cat litter which you can stick with for the long term.
There is a wide choice when it comes to cat litter e.g. clumping cat litter, non clumping cat litter, organic cat litter - and several sub-types within these main categories. But with so many types of cat litter to choose from, how does the cat owner go about making this important choice? Here we present the main types of cat litter currently available and discuss the pros and cons of each, to help you make an informed choice which is right for you and, of course, right for your cat.
The Purpose of Cat Litter
Before looking at the different types of cat litter available it is useful to define the purpose and ideal qualities of cat litter so that we can compare each type according to how well it meets these requirements.
The main purpose of cat litter is to absorb urine effectively and minimise odour in your home. Some cats need a litter tray available permanently i.e. cats which live entirely or primarily indoors. Outdoor cats may need a litter tray available just occasionally, such as during holiday periods (when the owner is away) or when the cat is staying indoors for some reason, such as during illness or when having kittens.
Apart from absorbency and odour control, there are other qualities which make a cat litter more or less desirable as a choice. As we discuss the various types of litter below, we will be considering how each meets the following requirements:
Safety: Chemicals that have been added to cat litter - e.g. to help suppress odour - can cause allergy problems or can simply be disliked by cat or owner. Chemicals used in clumping cat litter can cause problems if ingested, especially if the main material is non-organic (e.g. clay or silica) and cannot be digested or processed within the cat's intestine. Dusty cat litters can cause allergy or respiratory problems for cats and owners alike, and especially kittens or smaller cats.
Ease of Use: All cat litter trays need to be kept clean for hygiene reasons and so that your cat is still willing to use it (a cat will stop using a litter tray if it becomes over soiled). So some cleaning is unavoidable. But a litter which reduces the amount of cleaning needed will save the owner time and effort. A dusty litter will create additional work for the owner in cleaning up dusty paw prints around the house. The ideal cat litter will also be easy to dispose of.
Cost: Some cat litters have a low purchase price - but these often require larger volumes to be used. Others have a higher ticket price but last for longer. A cost-effective cat litter is one which lasts a long time and where there is minimum wastage (you are not throwing away quantities of clean litter).
Environmental Impact: Many cat owners are also very environmentally conscious and would prefer to use a cat litter which has minimal environmental impact. Ideally, its production should not cause damage to the environment or use excessive resources, and its disposal should not contribute to landfill.
The main categories of cat litter are clumping cat litter, non clumping cat litter and organic cat litter.
Clumping Cat Litter
Most cat litters are of the clumping variety. A clumping cat litter is designed so that when it comes into contact with liquids it will stick together in solid clumps. The clumps can then be easily removed, leaving behind the clean litter. Clumping cat litter is generally popular among owners as it allows them to spot clean without having to empty out a whole tray each time.
While this is certainly convenient for owners, there are some potential health concerns with some types of clumping cat litter.
Most clumping cat litter is made from clay or silica, and often contain silica dust which is believed to be mildly carcinogenic. It is inevitable that cats will inhale and/or ingest a certain amount of this dust as a result of their own natural behaviours. Cats will typically scratch and kick inside the litter tray, which obviously stirs up dust, some of which will attach to legs and feet. Sooner or later they will then clean themselves by licking, resulting in ingestion of the litter dust. Contact with the cat's saliva will activate the clumping chemical and the clumped litter will then be swallowed. In a mature cat these quantities may not cause a problem, but in small cats or especially kittens, the likelihood of intestinal blockage is higher.
In terms of environmental impact both clay and silica are resourced through strip mining, which is highly damaging to local environments. And because it is non organic, disposal can only be achieved by sending used litter to landfill.
So a clay or silica based clumping cat litter does not meet the requirements for safety or environmental kindness. Clumping cat litter is, however, usually quite cheap to buy.
Non Clumping Cat Litter
Non clumping cat litter is generally made of the same type of material as clumping litter - clay or silica - but does not contain a clumping agent. So its qualities as a litter are much the same as those described for clumping litter above, but without the ease of use of a clumping litter. The main benefit is the improved safety of the litter for cats, with less chance of intestinal problems due to clumping chemicals. However, any clay-based non clumping cat litter is still, essentially, a very dusty material and can cause nasal or respiratory irritation for cats and humans.
The lack of clumping also increases the use of perfume or other chemicals in an effort to minimise or mask odours - and these additives can be irritants, or simply be disliked by cats, which have an extremely sensitive sense of smell. While a non clumping clay-based litter is usually the cheapest type of litter, the lack of clumping also makes spot cleaning more difficult, and the tray needs to be completely changed frequently - which often wipes out much of the apparent cost benefit.
So a clay or silica based non clumping litter is somewhat safer for cats but still has some safety issues relating to general dustiness and the usual presence of chemicals. And it still causes environmental damage through strip mining and disposal in landfill.
Organic Cat Litter
Organic cat litter is any cat litter made from organic material such as plant matter. Any organic cat litter will, by definition, be biodegradable and need not contribute to landfill when disposed of. And of course production of the plant matter does not involve strip mining. However, this does not automatically mean that an organic cat litter will be completely environmentally friendly. Ideally, an organic cat litter will use a by-product of an existing crop or production process, rather than requiring its own water and fuel resources to grow. Straw and wheat husks are such by-products, but wood and corn are usually not.
The ease of cleaning depends very much on the format of the organic cat litter used and whether it is easy to spot clean. Ideally, an organic cat litter will absorb liquids in a localised way, which can be easily seen and picked out by the owner, rather than spreading through the entire litter.
The cost of organic cat litters can vary enormously depending on the cost of producing the raw material. Using waste products, such as straw, will result in a much cheaper product than a material which has been specially grown for the purpose.
SmartBedz - The Ideal Cat Litter?
SmartBedz cat litter is an organic cat litter made from processed straw pellets. The straw is processed and compressed to produce a highly absorbent pellet which can absorb up to 4 times its own weight of liquid. It absorbs urine very quickly, which locks away most of it from the air, preventing the formation of ammonia which is a primary source of odour. Since SmartBedz controls odours naturally there is no need for perfumes or other chemicals to help with odour control. Swollen pellets are easily noticed and spot cleaned, so there is no need for clumping chemicals to make cleaning easier. During production the dust from the straw is extracted, resulting in a virtually dust-free product. SmartBedz is 100% biodegradable and can be disposed of easily. It can be composted or safely flushed in small quantities and can also be burned. Finally, one 5kg bag of SmartBedz will last one cat about 50 days - equivalent to using around 35kg of a non clumping clay litter.
In short, SmartBedz is safe, easy to use, environmentally friendly and cost-effective - making it probably the ideal cat litter.