Is all-natural cat litter still effective?

posted: 01/19/13
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In the eternal battle between cat lovers and dog lovers, cats have always had the advantage when it comes to cleanliness. It's easier to housebreak cats, because they naturally prefer to eliminate and bury their waste in a litter box filled with sand-like material. Traditional cat litter consists of clay pellets that cats love. However, urine tends to gather at the bottom of the box, requiring cat-owners to change it often. Since the 1990s, cat owners have been able to buy special clumping litter that swells up when wet, making urine easy to clean up without needing to empty the litter box frequently. This convenience can make a cat the perfect low-maintenance animal companion for any household. But what do you do when you discover that this special clumping material might be a health hazard for both your pet and yourself?

Many common brands of litter use sodium bentonite, a clay material that expands about 15 times its original size when wet, making urine deposits easy to scoop. But consider that a cat can ingest litter pellets by licking those that get stuck in its paws, and some say this could wreak havoc on a cat's digestive system. Additionally, long-haired cats can get the pellets stuck in their fur.

Another common ingredient in many cat litters is quartz silica. This is a carcinogen that's present in the dust that comes off of the litter. You can inhale it while changing the litter box, or your cat can inhale while kicking up the litter.

After considering these hazards, you may want to switch to alternative litters. Because they use less hazardous material, these are sometimes referred to as "natural" cat litter. Although alternative litters might not be quite as effective as the clay clumping litter, you can find many suitable options. All-natural litter is usually made of such nonhazardous materials as wheat, corn, recycled paper and even green tea leaves. For example, those made of processed wheat supposedly use wheat enzymes and starches to neutralize odor and absorb moisture into clumps. These clumps, however, are rather fragile and crumbly when scooped. In addition, the litter tends to stick to the sides of litter boxes and is hard to remove when cleaning.

Remember, many cats are fairly selective about the kind of litter they like. Essentially, it won't matter how effective or cheap your cat litter is if your cat refuses to use it. Luckily, you can find alternative litters in various consistencies, such as pellets, flakes and granules. Many cats prefer fine, sandy consistency, but this kind also tends to track on floors more easily. You may need to experiment with different kinds to determine which is easiest to clean up and whether your cat uses it.

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