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The "Scoop" on Cat Litter
by Jessica Turquette co-owner of Moab BARKery

This month’s topic: cat crap! Yep, one of our favorite topics at the Moab BARKery. There is a lot of information and mis-information about cat litter. Recently there has been a lot of talk about how bad clumping cat litter can be for your cat. We want to set the record straight about what is good and bad about cat litter, reviewing each type.

Clumping cat litter – This is the most widely available litter out there with 100’s of brand names, but most of them contain the same base ingredient. The ingredient is Sodium Bentonite, often referred to as “clay” because it is highly absorbent and looks like clay when it is wet. This ingredient expands 15 to 18 times its normal size and creates a strong bond when wet which is why it’s considered clumping. The good parts of this common cat litter are cost effectiveness and availability. Every pet supply store carries some version of clumping cat litter and you can get it for as little as $.20 per lb. The bad part (and it’s really bad) is that strip mining is used to get the base ingredient. This industry is very destructive to nature and often recovery is overlooked and never required by local municipalities. There are a few brands (we carry Integrity) that consider the strip mining impact, and actually have a nature recovery and restoration effort in place. The other bad part about sodium bentonite, it’s a known irritant for people and kitties with respiratory issues, and if consumed (directly by eating it or indirectly by grooming) can ball up in the esophagus or stomach and cause a lethal blockage. These problems are what most consumers are responding to, and why this type of litter is considered bad. Now both of these bad parts are not going to affect everyone. If you have any allergic or respiratory sensitivites or a fastidious groomer, steer clear of any “clay” cat litters.

Non-clumping cat litter – The main ingredient in this product is Quartz Silica (or crystalline silica) and is a known carcinogen when inhaled. What is good about this type of cat litter is again availability and super low cost at as little as $.10 per lb. Of course the bad part is the known cancer risk and respiratory issues if inhaled. This was the most common type of litter 15 years ago, but is no longer the standard as clumping has taken the number one spot and there are many, many safer alternatives.

All of the alternatives to clay litter are superior in safety but many fall short in performance. We have found a wide array of reasons why cats or their owners won’t make the switch to natural and safer alternatives. The main reason is simply the cats won’t use them, but we also hear people say that they hate the smell of the natural litters or their cats don’t like the texture. Here is what we hear about the alternatives and ways to deal with potential problems.

Corn and Wheat litters – Both are made from easily renewable resources and are much more earth friendly than “clay” litters. The usual problem with these litters is texture, tracking, cost and smell. The texture is much lighter than “clay” so there is more in the bag for the same weight (a plus for cost) but more sticks to the bottom of paws too which can lead to tracking litter in the house. Often the smell of these litters is more natural and rarely has that perfume or chemical cover up smell, so you may smell the “cat deposits” more frequently. I personally use a corn based litter (world’s best cat litter) for my cats, and don’t mind the litter’s smell at all, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. Corn based litters often have a larger texture than “clay” as well, so if your cat is picky about this sort of thing, blend the new litter in slowly so they get used to the smell and texture. Wheat litter is often smaller in texture than “clay” so again blend it before you switch so your cat has time to adjust. Both of these options are great for people or kitties with respiratory issues, and even though they cost around $1 per pound you will use less, and have to completely change out the box less too!

Pine and Paper litters – I put these two in the same category because these are the two that are farthest from the look and feel of “clay” litter. Paper litter is often recycled newspaper and comes in a wide variety of sizes and texture. When first introduced it came in pellet form (and was often rejected by cats for that reason), more often now you will find it in a smaller texture. The good part about this litter, it’s super earth friendly! The bad parts are cost effectiveness and odor control. If you are good about cleaning the box this is a great alternative to “clay”. Pine litters are often rejected because of the strong pine smell, it either puts off the owner or the cat but that same factor often helps control a used box smell. Pine has natural anti-bacterial properties so it can help keep a cleaner box. This litter is a good choice for around $.80 per pound. It’s also very different than clay and is often the hardest to switch so go slowly.

The last thing you should know about litter is this. Many brands of litter are scoop-able and flush-able (sounds great right…..maybe not!). It is becoming more apparent that the cat poop we are flushing is affecting the ocean life that comes in contact with it! Cat poop is killing sea otters. How you say? When the flushed “kitty gift” makes its way to the ocean/river it is consumed by the bottom dwellers (crabs, mollusk, catfish). In turn when these bottom dwellers are eaten by sea otters they are dying from Toxoplasma gondii, known to develop and thrive only in domestic cats. There is no way to prove that the poop is coming from sewage or from feral cats, but the guess is both and we can prevent the sewage contribution, right! Consider that the convenience of flushing cat turds is not worth the environmental risk. The EPA recommends using a plastic (biodegradable or not) bag and sending that crap to the landfill.

So which litter is really the most earth friendly, easiest to use and most cost effective? It doesn’t exist, yet. I personally don’t mind scooping the poop more often and paying more for corn based litter, but that is because I have respiratory issues (oh and I only have 2 cats). You just need to decide what is most important for you, and hopefully with all that information above you know exactly what you are buying.

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To see past articles about animals, pets and their care check our archives.

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