Chances are, if you have a cat or kitten, you already know a lot about cat litter. If not, here is a short overview of todays most-used cat litter types.
Major use of clay-based cat litter first began in 1948 with Ed Lowe’s product named “Kitty Litter”, the name now widely applied to any kind of cat litter. Besides being more absorbent than the previously often used sand or soil it is also not so easily tracked around the house. Some brands of this litter type have baking soda or special crystals added in an attempt to better control odor.
Clumping Cat Litter
…is around since the 1950s. Made mostly from bentonite (calcium bentonite) it was quite an improvement. When wet, this kind of clay forms clumps that are easily removed from the rest of the litter. This way it is no longer necessary for the pet owner to change all of the litter, only the solid pieces can be scooped out and disposed of. Still, for sanitary reasons the entire content of the box should be changed every 4 to 6 weeks.
On the downside there is an ongoing debate about the health risks for your cat and especially kittens that come with the use of clumping cat litter. Besides claims that ingestion of this material may be hazardous to your pet there are concerns that crystalline silica (silica dust, also contained in clumping cat litter) may harm your furry friend. Silica dust, while not proven a real risk to humans, is treated as a carcinogen in California. Fortunately there are alternatives if this is an issue for you.
Silica gel litter
A very convenient form of cat litter is made from silica gel. Silica gel, a granular and highly porous material, is synthetically made from sodium silicate. Thanks to its high absorbency, higher than any other litter, it has excellent moisture and odor control. Four to five pounds can last up to four weeks for an average cat. During this time it is sufficient to scoop out solid waste and to stir the cat litter daily (to avoid urine pooling in the box).
As you can easily imagine the amount of silica gel litter used during a month is significantly lower than that of clumping or regular clay litter (approx. 4-5 lb compared to 20-30 lb). It is also easier to handle because it’s much less heavy than clay litter.
Biodegradable litter can be made from recycled newspaper, sawdust, plants (for example pine wood pellets or barley) and even dried orange peel. Considering the amount of non-biodegradable cat litter that ends up in landfills (more than two million tons yearly alone in the US) this type of cat litter is certainly a welcome alternative for cat owners that have the well-being of the environment on their mind. Often biodegradable litter is bought because of its flushability or deodorizing effects or for asthmatic cats which can benefit from reduced dust compared to clay litter.
Most biodegradable cat litter is more expensive than the traditional form, however, same sized amounts compared to clay litter last longer which offset the higher price in part.