Cat litter is one of the most important materials any feline pet parent has to have in his or her home, perhaps second only to premium quality cat food if not sharing equal importance. It is the cat litter’s function to absorb the byproducts of your kitty’s digestive and urinary processes, both feces and urine and everything else that’s associated with it. But do you know what really makes a good cat litter? We’ve searched the market as well as talked to passionate cat pet parents about what they think is the best cat litter. Here’s what we found out.
Best Cat Litter Buying Guide
The feline pet care market is actually inundated with a variety of litter products that offer many benefits in varying degrees. There are those that offer amazing absorption and odor-control properties while there are products that afford ease of scooping and environmental friendliness. Sadly, many of these products don’t actually have what it takes to be considered a good cat litter.
In this cat litter buying guide, we’ll walk you through the different types of cat litter as well as a look at the characteristics of a good cat litter. We will also try to determine which between clumping and non-clumping litter is better before we finish the guide with tips on using cat litter and managing the odor from your litter box.
Different Types of Cat Litter
Cat litter has come a long way since its early beginnings in the 19th century. Over the course of many decades, cat litter manufacturers have found newer and better ways of improving on previous products, spawning the development of a variety of cat litter. If you visit pet stores today, you’d get a headache just looking at the wide array of cat litter. To help you decide on which cat litter is best for your pet, let us try to understand the different types of cat litter.
This is the granddaddy of all cat litter products and has been around for almost 8 decades. These are relatively inexpensive and have exceptional absorbent properties. The main issue is that they contain silica dust which is a known human carcinogen especially when inhaled. It is heavy, too, so carrying it around can be cumbersome. Clay cat litter also sticks to your cat’s paws leading to issues of tracking. It is quite tricky to dispose, too as you cannot compost or flush it down the drain. This makes clay cat litter environmentally-unfriendly.
- Bentonite Clay
Bentonite clay cat litter is also called clumping clay cat litter. It is produced by combining conventional clay with calcium bentonite or sodium bentonite. It has greater absorbent power than traditional clay. Moreover, it forms clumps so scooping is made a lot easier. However, it still retains some of the downsides of traditional clay cat litter in that it is still dusty, easily tracked, quite heavy, and not really eco-friendly.
- Silica Gel
Also known as crystal litter, this type of cat litter is made of sodium silicate granules giving it good absorbent property. Because it is super-absorbent, silica gel litter can be a very economical alternative to other types of cat litter. It is also dust-free and lightweight. The downside to such type of cat litter is that it doesn’t give you a warning that it already needs replacing, although newer brands come with color-changing gel as visual feedback for replacement. Also, not many cats like to walk on gel. Moreover, these little round balls can roll on the floor especially if you have a digger for a cat. While there are silica gel formulations that come in irregular shapes, these may come with sharp edges so it really won’t be safe for your cat’s paws.
- Biodegradable Pellets
This type of cat litter is mostly made of recycled paper or even wood, making them very environmentally-friendly. It doesn’t track and is very easy to dispose of since the pellets easily absorb pet urine and form into sizeable crumbles. These are relatively dust-free, too. There’s one drawback to biodegradable pellets, though. Most cats hate walking on pellets perhaps because of the uneven feel on their paws.
- Biodegradable Granules
These cat litter products are almost the same with biodegradable pellets except that these are mostly made of other natural materials like corn, pine, wheat, and barley. The cellulose found in these ingredients is what gives these biodegradable granules their amazing clumping properties. The proteins and enzymes found in the substrate are also what controls odor emanating from cat urine and feces. Overall, biodegradable granules are lightweight, longer-lasting, easy to dispose, and very eco-friendly. Unfortunately, these can be easily tracked and may not really be as effective as bentonite clay in controlling odor. Speaking of odors, the natural scent of its ingredients may be quite offensive to some cats. These are a bit dusty, too.
What Makes a Good Cat Litter?
Based on the different types of cat litter it is clear that there is no clear-cut winner since everything has its own pros and cons. That being said, it is natural for cat owners everywhere to ask what makes a good cat litter. Here are some characteristics of a really good cat litter.
First and foremost a good cat litter should be able to absorb as much urine as possible. This is the very reason why you have cat litter in the first place. Otherwise, if it cannot absorb urine then you’re more likely to be emptying its litter box every time your cat urinates.
- Controls Odor
Odor control is a very important factor among many pet parents. This helps ensure your home will not stink with dried-up cat urine and moist feces. Some products come with fragrances. It usually is not a good idea to use scented cat litter unless your cat finds the scent appealing. Unfortunately, the fragrance may not react very well with cat urine.
- Clumps Well
This is tantamount to saying don’t use non-clumping cat litter. Clumping allows for the more efficient removal of pet urine. Instead of dumping the whole system, you can easily scoop those areas that have clumped since this is an indication that urine is present in these areas.
While only a few products are able to provide zero-dust capabilities, you should always strive for cat litter that will produce very minimal dust if none at all. This is basically for your own safety as well as your cat’s.
Unless you don’t mind following your cat after every session it has on its litter box, you’d want to have a relatively trackless cat litter. This helps keep your home clean by minimizing the scattering of cat litter all over your house.
- Cat-friendly Texture
A good cat litter should invite cats to step and walk on it. If it has jagged edges or it feels not comfy enough, then your cat will be inclined to do its business elsewhere.
Clumping and Non-Clumping: Which is Better?
The difference between clumping and non-clumping litter is in the ability of the clumping substrate to solidify once it has been soaked with pet urine. This allows easier removal of the soiled litter, giving you the chance to replace only that area of the litter box that you removed the clump from. This helps improve the longevity of the cat litter. On the other hand, non-clumping litter may require more frequent replacement since you cannot remove substantially less substrates from the box. In most cases you’ll be inclined to replace all of the cat litter in the box more frequently.
So, which is better? Well, if you’re talking about less frequent cleaning of the entire box and easier management of soiled litter, then the obvious winner is a clumping cat litter. However, if you prefer something cheaper and don’t really mind replacing your cat litter more frequently, the non-clumping cat litter is better.
Useful Tips on Using Cat Litter
Getting the right cat litter for your pet is only one aspect of total feline pet care. The next crucial element is learning how to use such products correctly. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
Scoop the cat litter on a daily basis with or without visible clumps or fecal matter. This helps aerate the substrates that are in deeper layers while also helping minimize odor build-up.
If you have a litter box that has shorter sidings, it is wise to put a higher barrier around the box to keep the cat litter contained. Make sure to provide an access for your feline friend to get in and out easily. If not, invest in a cat litter box that has high side walls.
Regardless of how absorbent or super-clumpy your cat litter is it is still very important to clean your cat’s litter box regularly. The box should be washed and rinsed thoroughly to make it more pleasing for your cat to go in and do its business.
If you find cat litter around your cat’s box make sure to clean this immediately. You can also schedule regular sweeping and vacuuming of the area where the litter box is located.
To improve the odor control characteristics of your cat litter, you may want to sprinkle a good amount of baking soda at the bottom of the box just before filling it with your chosen cat litter. This can greatly aid with controlling nasty odors. It’s also cat-friendly.
Don’t skimp on the number of litter boxes for your cat especially if you have a multi-cat household. As much as possible you need to have a 1:1 ratio of cats to cat litter boxes. You may have cat litter that’s designed for multi-cat households but this will still pale in comparison to having a dedicated ‘restroom’ for each of your felines. If you have only 1 cat, having an extra cat litter box won’t hurt.
Use mats and rugs to help you put tabs on litter tracking.
How to Get Rid of Cat Litter Box Odor?
We mentioned above that odor control is one of the most important characteristics of a good cat litter. While some products may have superior odor control properties, you can still improve these odor-busting qualities by considering the following tips.
- Scoop the cat litter more frequently. While daily scooping may be a good idea, doing it twice a day should really help you reduce nasty odors coming from the litter box.
- Add a layer of baking soda at the bottom of the cat litter box. Even if you already have an odor-controlling cat litter, the addition of baking soda can greatly reduce foul odor from the box. This can also help absorb excess moisture. As you know, moisture contained in a tight space for a long time can lead to the growth of odor-causing germs.
- Clean your litter box at least once a week. Even if you’ve got excellent odor-controlling cat litter, clumped litter that gets in contact with the surface of the box can transfer some of the odor to the box. As such even if you do manage to perform daily scooping or even after-use scooping, there is still a change that you’ll miss a relatively small area. This can still turn stinky over time. It is best to clean your litter box on a weekly basis with ammonia-free cleaners, rinse it well, dry it thoroughly, and then put fresh cat litter.
- Place your cat litter box in an area where there is adequate air circulation. Poorly-ventilated spaces only concentrate the odor a lot more, making your cat’s litter box really stink. While adequate ventilation is needed to make sure the odor dissipates quickly and will not stick to the surfaces of the litter box, do keep in mind that the location should also not be in areas of high foot traffic. Your kitty needs some privacy, remember?
- Replace your cat litter box on a yearly basis. This is especially true if you notice scratch marks or small grooves inside the litter box. These surface imperfections are more difficult to sterilize. This gives odor-causing germs a natural haven upon which they can proliferate from.
Cat litter can be either clumping or non-clumping, depending on its ability to solidify once it’s soaked with urine. From this classification of cat litter comes the different types depending on the substrate used in the manufacture of the cat litter. We also know that absorption, odor control, and clumping ability are just some of the important characteristics of a good cat litter. Hopefully, with our tips on using cat litter combined with some pieces of advice on managing litter box odor, you will find it more meaningful to use any of the cat litter we featured in this article.
For some great ideas, be sure to read our review of the best self cleaning litter boxes every cat owner needs.