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What types of kitty litter are there?

What type of materials can be used as kitty litter?

Answering the following question got me searching for some resources on here.

Kitten always gets dirty from stool

I've searched the site here and here to look for this question and cannot find it.

Related: Can desert/beach sand work as an alternative for litter?

  • I believe you are looking for a reusable product that can be cleaned, is that correct? A pan full of dirt works but would need to be replaced with clean dirt often. – James Jenkins Sep 10 '17 at 10:19
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    @JamesJenkins looking for kitty litter solutions to direct new pet owners to – In loving memory of Dyani Sep 10 '17 at 10:33
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There are a wide variety of litter options available for cats, although the availability of specific choices will depend on where in the world you are.

What to consider when choosing cat litter

When deciding what litter to use, there are several factors to bear in mind, but individuals will have to decide how much weight to give to each.

  1. Will my cat use it?

This is always the most important factor -- if a cat won't use a particular litter, then none of its other characteristics matter.

Cats need a litter that they are happy to walk on, and which allows them to dig easily to bury faeces, in a litter tray that can be kept clean and odour-free.

According to The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained, unscented litters. Scoopable litters usually have finer grains than typical clay litter and have the added advantage of being easy to keep clean on a daily basis. Many cats are put off by the odor of scented or deodorant litters.

However, many owners have cats who happily use other types of cat litter.

  1. How easy is it to keep the litter tray clean?

Cats are notoriously fastidious, and most cats will find an alternative to a dirty litter box, which will almost certainly be somewhere you don't want them soiling.

So, a litter box should be scooped daily, and completely changed and washed regularly (how often depends on the sort of litter you choose).

Another related factor is: how well does the litter control odour? Neither you nor your cat want the litter box to smell offensive, and scooping regularly is very important for this, but some litters can also reduce odours in other ways.

A scented litter may seem like a good idea, but many cats dislike their smell. Some litters contain other odour control substances such as baking soda or activated charcoal, and cats may or may not accept these -- you will only know if you try. (If you have an enclosed litter box, you can often fit a charcoal filter to control odours).

  1. How expensive it is?

An important consideration for most owners.Some types are more expensive to buy but they last longer/you need less, so don't just look at the purchase price.

  1. How easy is it to transport it?

The weight matters both when you are buying the litter (transporting it home) and storing it, and when changing the complete contents of the tray. Some types of litter are very heavy, others are designed to be very light-weight.

Delivery options are available in some parts of the world, but you will still need to move it around the house and out of the house when it's used (and don't forget, used litter can be up to 40 times heavier than unused litter).

  1. How easy is it to avoid the litter being tracked around the house?

Is litter that escapes from the tray easy to see and clean up, or does it tread into the carpet and/or get tracked around the house on the cat's paws?

  1. How easy is it to dispose of?

Some litter can only be disposed of in landfill and is not bio-degradable.

Some litters claim to be bio-degradable, but they should not be used for garden compost because of the high acidity in cat urine. (Commercial composting sites should handle them OK, if they accept them -- not all do).

Some manufacturers claim that soiled litter can be flushed down the toilet -- speaking with the voice of experience, don't (unless you don't mind blocked drains), even if your local laws and regulations allow it (many don't).

  1. How safe is it?

Is it dust-free, or low dust? (No litter can be entirely dust-free but some are better than others.) Would any dust that arises when changing the tray cause problems for anyone in the house, not least the cat?

What happens if the cat eats it? Is there a risk of poisoning or other adverse health impacts? Be aware that cats ingest a little bit of litter every day when they groom themselves, and kittens at the weaning stage (up to 3 months) are prone to trying to eat litter.

  1. How environmentally friendly is it?

Does production of the litter require mining of non-renewable minerals, or is it plant-based? Is it shipped a long distance around the world? How much energy/and or chemicals are involved in its production.

See Green Living Ideas if this is of particular interest to you.

Clumping or non-clumping?

Clumping (scoopable) cat litters are formulated so that the litter forms a solid clump as it absorbs liquid. This makes it possible to remove urine and faeces from the litter tray daily (or even more often) without having to empty the tray completely. As soiled litter is removed from the tray, it should be replenished by adding an equal amount of fresh litter, so the level in the tray stays constant for your cat. A litter tray filled with clumping litter still needs to be emptied, washed and refilled at intervals (at least once a month, or more frequently if you have multiple cats using the same litter tray and/or your cat is particularly 'productive'.) Clumping litter is more likely to stick to a cat’s paws and be tracked around the house.

Non-clumping cat litter can be good at removing the smell of cat urine because it can absorb a relatively large amount. However, as it becomes saturated, the urine can start to pool in the tray; and it isn't possible to remove soiled litter without changing the whole tray. If you choose non-clumping litter (with some exceptions) you must be prepared to change and clean the tray weekly (or more often in a multi-cat household). Non-clumping litter tends to be cheaper to purchase than clumping litter, but can be less cost-effective overall because it must be replaced more often.

Materials used in commercially-available cat-litter

Commercial cat litter is made from four types of material:

  1. Clay

Clay-based litter is made from clay that has been processed into a variety of granule sizes and then dried. It can be clumping or non-clumping. It's heavy to transport and often dusty (although low-dust formulations are available). It’s the most common commercial cat litter material in use.

More recent processes for making clay litter can produce smoother, lighter particles that are more absorbent and more expensive.

Clay-based litters are prone to sticking to cat's paws, and getting tracked around the house. Litter with larger/sharper granules can be uncomfortable for a cat to walk on, but are less likely to be tracked.

Clay-based litter is not bio-degradable.

Although clay-based cat litters have been in use since the 1950s, clumping varieties are a more recent development. There are some anecdotal reports that the sodium bentonite used in some of these can cause serious health problems for cats when ingested (and anecdotal reports contradicting this) -- see Sodium bentonite cat litter dangers. No scientific studies have been done on the subject, but many cat breeders delay using clumping litters with kittens until they are past 3 months of age (and so less likely to try to eat the litter).

  1. Silica crystals

Silica or crystal litter is made from silica gel that is dried into granules. It is not a clumping litter, but because it adsorbs and retains urine very well (it can adsorb up to 40 times its own weight) and pulls the moisture out of faeces, it is good for controlling odour and needs to be changed as infrequently as clumping litters (as long as solids are scooped at least daily and the remaining litter stirred.)

It is light-weight and almost dust free (although with some brands dust can be an issue when changing the tray). It is more expensive to buy than other types but can be cost-effective because of the reduced frequency of tray changes. Some cats don't like the sharp edges of the crystals.

This litter does track, but not so much as the clay types of litter, and doesn't get trodden in to the carpet so easily.

Silica litter is not bio-degradable, but is less voluminous than clay.

Be aware that silica cat litter is toxic when eaten. In addition, at least one study (here) suggests that silica cat litter is a possible' trigger for sarcoidosis so buy low-dust formulation if you choose to use this litter. (Note: the dust from clay-based litter also contains a lot of silica.)

  1. Other minerals

Other cat litters are available based on different mineral combinations, e.g. Chalk/quartz sand, but will not be covered in detail here. They generally claim to be lighter-weight/more absorbent/longer lasting than the clay alternatives.

  1. Bio-organic materials

Some cat litters are made of environmentally friendly, renewable, bio-degradable materials, such as:

  • corn or wheat: Effective litters, but corn and wheat are some of the common food allergens for cats so you may want to avoid these.
  • recycled paper turned into pellets or granules: dust-free (other bio-organic types are not).
  • pine cedar and other wood-based litter: natural scent may help control odor but may not appeal to your cat.
  • other alternatives such as walnut and grass.

Most bio-organic materials can be clumping or non-clumping (depends on manufacturer and formulation, so check what you're buying carefully). Most bio-organic materials are less dusty and less likely to track around the house than clay-based litters.

These types of litter tend to be more expensive than clay-based litters, and don't have such good odour control as the other types, so the tray will need to be scooped more often.

Home made or low cost litter alternatives

You may choose to make your own cat litter, either because appropriate materials are available at low cost or in an emergency. However, all these alternatives have disadvantages -- notably, they are easily tracked through the house and/or have poor odour control. They will all need changing very often so you must have access to a steady supply of raw material for regular use.

  • Soil/dirt/sand/ashes (This is what was used before commercial cat litter was invented). Most of these do not absorb fluids well, have poor odour control, do not clump (except sand), track everywhere in the house and can introduce bacteria and parasites.

  • Sawdust and/or wood shavings/pellets Absorbs fluids well, is light, you don't need to use a lot and it has some anti bacterial effect. Avoid treated wood, as the chemicals involved may be bad for you and/or your cat. Sawdust tracks; shavings and pellets less so.

  • Shredded paper Absorbs fluid and is lightweight. You need to use a larger amount of it for it to be effective. You can also soak it, mix it with baking soda and air-dry it to create a scoopable litter but this is very time-consuming.

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The types of cat/kitty litter one can get in different shops.

  1. The regular absorbent, typically white/gray and light weight however, sometimes the particles are hard and sharp (some cats do not like how this feels). This type of litter is made from burnt clay.

  2. Heat extruded clay - Round particles, very light weight, highly absorbent and higher cost then most other types (a few cats find this type of litter too lightweight to dig in).

  3. clumping litter - Wide range of types and a wide range of cost, most types contains bentonite, a natural clay mineral. It is quite heavy but one uses less of it (remove large clumps instead or dumping everything) many cats like this type of litter as it feels soft and cool to walk on.

  4. Silicate cat litter absorbs waste the best and is often scent free, a lot of cats like this type of litter. This is actually silica gel, the same product used to keep electronic products dry during transport (the small bags labeled silica gel do not eat) it is non toxic.

  5. bio-degradable litter is made of plant fiber in the form of pellets, it absorbs fluids well. Most cats likes this type of litter, as a bonus it can be composted

The types one can get for free or low cost.

  1. Regular soil/dirt do not absorb fluids well, doesn't take long before it smells. Can contain unwanted bacteria and parasites, you will have to use a larger amount of it (natural for cats to dig in).

  2. Peat (sphagnum) has to be dry before using it, slowly absorbs fluids and can contain unwanted bacteria and parasites.

  3. Sawdust absorbs fluids well, is light, don't need to use a lot and it has some anti bacterial effect. It can sometimes contain dangerous chemicals if made from treated wood.

  4. Regular sand have poor ability to absorb fluids and can contain dangerous bacteria and parasites. It develops a smell quite fast and is best to avoid using unless it's an emergency.

  5. Shredded paper absorbs fluid and is lightweight. You need to use a larger amount of it for it to be effective so it is best to use this only for kittens.

  • What about corncob and wheat litters produced commercially? Sort of a cross between sawdust and clumping litter. – user9803 Sep 12 '17 at 2:28
  • @GypsySpellweaver it is not possible to mention every detail about the different types of litter,the one you mention is the bio--degradable type made from plant fibers(i dont think mentioning the different types of plants used is needed)but it is often waste products from food production. – trond hansen Sep 12 '17 at 9:23
  • Sorry I had to unaccept – In loving memory of Dyani Sep 12 '17 at 14:54

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