Skye Blake here, your intrepid detective, following some winding trails, answering what I thought was a simple question, “What are the best types of cat litter?” The answer starts by defining what you mean by “best”…best for you, your cat, or both? What are your priorities?
Litter You want…
- no nasty odors
- easy to scoop
- lasts a long time
- easy disposal
- environmentally friendly
Litter Your cat wants…
- fine, sandy texture
- comfortable to walk on and dig in
- clean and odor-free (no lavender, pine, citrus, etc.)
- doesn’t stick to paws or fur
One caveat here. We cats are very individual so your buddy might be fine with using a bit larger grain pellet with some pine scent in it, while somebody else’s might be pickier and only pee in sandy clumping clay. Did you know some kitties won’t poop in the same box they pee in? Aren’t we fun critters?…heehee
Scoop & Clean!
NO LITTER CAN COMPENSATE FOR YOU NOT SCOOPING AND CLEANING IT REGULARLY…sorry, that’s just a fact of life. It’s part of your responsibility in caring for your cat. We’re worth it, though, aren’t we!
Some litters last a lot longer than others but you should always scoop out waste twice a day and clean it completely every 2-4 weeks with mild soap (never bleach or harsh detergents). It’s not hard to scoop and stir when you get up in the morning and go to bed at night. If you do this you shouldn’t have odor problems.
Here are some helpful YouTube videos…
“How to Clean the Litter Box Video”, Yarimar Padua, April 7, 2015
“How To Keep Your Litter Box From Stinking Up Your House!! Control Litter Box Odors”, MyHecticLifePets, Oct 9, 2018
“How to Clean Kitty Litter in 10 Seconds”, Michael Harlow, November 25, 2015
“How to Clean Cat Litter Boxes Using Pine Pellets”, m3rma1d, January 8, 2019
Litter boxes are important scent markers for us cats so there should be no attempt to cover up with fragrances. The good news is your buddy can smell his scent in the box without you having to smell it. He will, however, reject the box if the pee smell becomes too strong from not being cleaned.
Too Many Choices of Litter!
In researching cat litters I quickly became very confused…
First, the names have too many words crammed into the title. This is supposed to appeal to everything YOU want in a litter (and, hopefully, your cat, who frankly, is the one using the stuff).
Second, there are so many different products! But you just want a bag of litter!
Third, there are the manufacturer claims made about each one. Are they true?
Last, but not least, there are the many conflicting experiences of thousands of cat owners as shown in their reviews. It’s enough to make your head spin!
With all this confusing information, here’s the simplest way to make a choice…
Assuming you have the correct number, size, and type of boxes, review what both you and your cat want as listed above. Decide your priorities and start with something simple. If in doubt, go with what your cat will most likely use…the simpler the better.
Most people start with something that clumps well and is dust-free. Medium-sized grains or pellets might be a good compromise between less tracking that you want and what your cat likes to step on in the box.
If you’re considering getting scented litter, keep in mind that we felines have extremely sensitive noses, just like dogs. So we often avoid litter boxes with strong deodorizers either in the litter or nearby (like plug-in air fresheners).
If your cat tolerates it, that’s fine. Just know you’re taking a risk that he may change his mind at some point.
How to Choose the Right Cat Litter
Here are some questions and suggestions of litter types you can use to help narrow down your options. The suggestions are only a few available and are given for your convenience.
Here are some helpful YouTube videos…
“Types of Cat Litter Explained”, Dr. Jo Righetti, Purina Australia, August 31, 2016
“Sanicat to Clump or Not to Clump”, Sanicat, September 3, 2015
Clumping or Non-Clumping?
All types of cat litter, clay, silica, and biodegradables, fall into two categories: clumping and non-clumping.
“Clumping” is what happens when the litter absorbs (or adsorbs) liquid. It forms hard balls or flat pancakes that stick together and can easily be removed from the box. Some clumps are like concrete, others are formed but soft. Clay clumping litter was first brought on the market in 1989. It’s made of fine-grain, sandy granules.
Clumps can form in various ways:
- they can harden quickly but fall apart after awhile
- harden quickly and stay together
- start soft and slowly harden over hours
- remain soft and can fall apart when stepped on or moved
Since there are different versions of each type, it’s best to read reviews of any litters of interest. The more reviews there are, the more reliable are any conclusions you draw from them. Read the latest reviews since they’ll be most relevant.
Reviews give you an idea of how well they clump, if they’re dusty, track a lot, or are difficult to scoop or clean. Some that harden like cement can stick to the sides and bottom of the box and be hard to remove.
Softer clumps can fall apart when scooping, making it impossible to get all the dirty litter out. This causes odors to build up faster and you end up having to replace the entire contents more frequently, which defeats the convenience of clumping litter.
Non-clumping litter absorbs liquid but doesn’t form balls or stick together. Once it reaches the saturation point, it must be replaced to keep odors from being a problem.
Non-clumping clay and biodegradables must be dumped and completely changed at least once a week to avoid odor buildup. Activated charcoal or baking soda is often added for odor control. Once a week replacement assumes one cat using a standard-sized litter box with 2-3″ of litter.
Some specific situations, such as certain medical conditions, require using non-clumping litter. Your finicky feline friend might also just prefer it over clumping!
How many cats are using the boxes?
|NUMBER OF ADULT CATS/BOXES||POSSIBLE LITTER TYPES|
|1 cat/2 boxes||– clumping or non-clumping clay|
– silica crystals
– biodegradables: any not made from corn, wheat or other grain
|2 cats/3 boxes||– same as above in regular or multi-cat formulas|
|3 cats/4 boxes, etc.||– same as above in multi-cat formula|
– biodegradables may not have multi-cat formulas and may be cost prohibitive
Do You have Young Kittens?
Young kittens, under 3 months old, need smaller, low-sided open boxes with a coarser grained litter. This is because kittens are like children, they love putting things in their mouths.
Fine grain clumping litter can be inhaled or swallowed, which could lead to serious medical problems. So until your kitten is 3-4 months old, it’s best to use non-clumping pellets, whether clay or other materials.
Since kittens need something soft to step on, non-clumping clay is most often used. Paper pellets, such as Yesterdays News, are also easier on the paws. Crystals aren’t recommended for kittens since they’re hard and can be sharp on delicate toe beans.
Some people claim that biodegradables such as walnut litter are better for kittens but I’ve found no scientific evidence of this.
Here are some litters usable for kittens…
- Naturally Fresh Kitten Training Unscented Clumping Walnut Cat Litter
- Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Attract Unscented Clumping Clay Cat Litter
- Pioneer Pet SmartCat Unscented Clumping Grass Cat Litter
- Feline Pine Original Unscented Non-Clumping Wood Cat Litter (may still have some pine scent but no extra added).
Does Your Cat have special needs?
Longhaired cats are extra sensitive and don’t like it when their fur brushes against the box or litter. Some types of litter can stick to their fur, requiring extra grooming, irritating both you and your cat.
Crystal litters are good for this situation as long as you avoid the ones with larger pellets that your cat might not want to walk on. They absorb pee and odors well, and don’t discolor or stick to fur. One possible litter is Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Long Hair Unscented Non-Clumping Crystal Cat Litter.
A cat who’s had surgery might need a different type of litter during the healing time. You don’t want litter sand and dust getting into wounds and causing infection.
Declawed (toe amputated) cats can be extra-sensitive to whatever touches their paws. This can last their entire lifetime.
Some biodegradable litters do well in this situation. Yesterday’s News Softer Texture Unscented Non-Clumping is paper based and often used for post surgery needs. You can spray it with something cats find pleasant, like Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Ultra Litter Attractant, if your cat is hesitant to use it.
Does Your Cat Have a Medical Condition?
Cats with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, often need to be monitored for changes in volume or color of pee and poop. Crystals make it easy to monitor these changes, however, they’re not always easy on the paws so might not be accepted by your kitty. Pretty Litter Ultra Premium Litter is specifically made from minerals to change colors when pee is too alkaline or acidic, indicating possible medical problems. It also changes color when blood is present.
An older cat with arthritis needs a low entrance to each box, located near where she lives (not the basement or garage), and litter that’s easy on her paws and joints. Something sandier filled only deep enough for her to be able to dig to the bottom and cover her business will make her more comfortable in the box.
If you or your cat have asthma or other breathing problems, using a dust-free litter is very important. Even if you don’t have asthma, you certainly don’t want to be breathing clouds of dust and having it track everywhere.
Some crystal or biodegradable products work well for this. There might be a few clay products that are truly dust-free but often these claims prove to be untrue. With any litter you use, double check the ingredients. Sometimes things change and a dust-free one becomes dusty. Some options are…
- Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Ultra Clumping Cat Litter
- Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Respiratory Relief Unscented Clumping Clay Cat Litter
- World’s Best Clumping Formula
- Yesterday’s News Unscented
Has Your Cat Been peeing or pooping outside the box?
You may need a special litter temporarily to encourage him to return to the box. There are litters with added cat attractants such as the aroma of catnip to help with this. I’d suggest being a bit careful with catnip aroma since you don’t want her rolling around in the box, flinging litter everywhere. One option is Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract Cat Litter. You can also buy attractant spray to use on any type of litter.
Are You Using a Self-Cleaning or Robot Box?
You’re limited by what litter works with the box. Use whatever is recommended by the manufacturer and hope your cat will accept it. Cost is a factor here especially because your cat may decide she doesn’t like the box or litter. If your cat prefers another type of litter you may be stuck with an expensive useless box.
What is your price range for Litter?
Cheap, Mid-Range, or Top Shelf? Generally, clay is cheapest, crystal and biodegradables are most expensive. There are mid-range in all types. You’ll need to do some comparison price shopping online and in stores.
The simplest way to determine what’s a good value is the same as in the grocery store. Check the price per unit…in this case it’s price per pound. Then factor in how quickly it’s used. You can start with the manufacturer’s claim (usually one month for one cat). Once your cat uses it, you’ll have a better idea how long it lasts for you. Use it according to manufacturer’s instructions to start. Usually 2-3″ depth is best for most cats.
A litter may seem the best value since it’s the cheapest on the shelf but you may use it up in two weeks, requiring twice as much as a more expensive litter that lasts a month. What looked like a bargain turns out to cost you more than the “expensive” litter.
Another factor to consider is weight. Cat litter can weigh quite a lot so shipping costs can be hefty if you order online. You’ll need to decide if it’s worth the extra cost to have the benefit of having it delivered vs. the work of getting it yourself from the store. There are lighter weight options available, especially in biodegradable litter types.
Are you traveling with your cat?
You’ll need disposable trays for use in hotel rooms, RV or other accommodations. PetSafe Scoop Free Self-Cleaning Cat Litter Box Tray Refills is one option.
After determining your situation from the above questions, you may still be unsure. In that case, try getting a few different kinds. Put them in separate litter boxes and see what your cat will use. He’ll let you know what the best type of litter is for him and what isn’t!
RELATED PAGES OF INTEREST
Types of Cat Litter
Follow these trails below if you’re curious about the various types of litters…
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary. Primary are always preferable and have the most reliable information because primary sources are original and directly referenced. Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. However, sometimes they refer to primary sources. Thus, when I use secondary sources most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“5 Best Types of Natural Cat Litter”, by Amy Livingston, https://www.moneycrashers.com/best-natural-cat-litter-reviews/
“7 Best Silica Crystal Cat Litters With Our 2020 Budget-Friendly Pick”, Pet Reviews, https://pet.reviews/best-silica-crystal-cat-litter/
“7 Ways to Reduce Litter Box Smell (and Messes)”, by Jason Nicholas, BVetMed (“Dr. J”), Preventive Vet, https://www.preventivevet.com/cats/7-ways-to-reduce-litter-box-smell-and-messes
“Arthritis In Cats: Symptoms & Pain Relief”, https://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-arthritis-symptoms-pain-relief
“Bentonite and Fuller’s Earth Resources of the United States”. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1522.
“The Best Biodegradable Clumping Litter”, by Susan Leisure, https://pets.thenest.com/biodegradable-clumping-litter-6228.html
“Best Cat Litter for Kittens”, by Mallory Crusta https://www.kittycatter.com/best-litter-for-kittens/
“Cat Litter”, How Products Are Made, http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Cat-Litter.html
“Cat Litter Box Mistakes That Owners Unknowingly Make”, by Dr.Karen Becker, March 23, 2015, https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2015/03/23/common-types-cat-litter.aspx
“Clumping Vs. Non-clumping Cat Litter”, animalplanet.com
“Deluxe and Self Cleaning Litter Boxes”, Cat Litter Boxes, PetSafe, https://www.petsafe.net/litter-boxes
“Difference Between Adsorb and Absorb”, http://www.differencebetween.net/science/difference-between-adsorb-and-absorb/
“The Effect of Natural Zeolite on Kitty Litter”, https://www.kmizeolite.com/odor-control/kitty-litter/
“Feline Pine Cat Litter Review”, by Kate Barrington, We’re All About Cats, https://www.wwwallaboutcats.com/feline-pine-cat-litter-review
“Fuller’s Earth”, Wikipedia, Hosterman, John W.; Sam H. Patterson (1992)
“How Cat Litter is Made”, greenlivingideas.com
“Is Feline Pine Cat Litter Good for Cats?”, December 10, 2014, Pet Place Veterinarians, https://www.petplace.com/article/cats/pet-care/is-feline-pine-cat-litter-good-for-cats/
“Kitty Litter”, by Amanda Yarnell, Chemical & Engineering News, Volume 82 Issue 17, p. 26, What’s That Stuff?, Issue Date: April 26, 2004, https://cen.acs.org/articles/82/i17/KITTY-LITTER.html
“Litter Box 101: What Type of Litter is Best For Your Cat”, by Jason Nicholas, BVetMed (“Dr. J”), Preventive Vet, https://www.preventivevet.com/cats/what-type-of-litter-is-best-for-your-cat
“Non-Tech High Tech Litters the Landscape”, Andrew Kantor (2004-12-10), USA Today
“Understanding Clay, Silica and Biodegradable Cat Litters”, by Lorie Huston, DVM, petmd.com
“What Is Cat Litter Made Of?”, May 1, 2014, https://www.worldsbestcatlitter.com/2014/05/what-is-cat-litter-made-of/
“What Is In Cat Litter?” by Vladimir Negron, petmd.com
Which Cat Litter to Use: Silica vs. Clay-Based, by Chris Brownlow, Chewy.com, Dec. 27, 2017, https://petcentral.chewy.com/which-cat-litter-to-use-silica-vs-clay-based/
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