What is cat litter made of?

posted: 05/15/12
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What is Cat Litter Made of?
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Cat litter isn't something most of cat owners think much about. After all, we adopt cats for their beauty, grace and quirky personalities, not for the side benefit of scooping poop everyday. But, in order to create a successful waste management system for your pet -- one that your kitty will actually use -- it helps to know a thing or two about litter.

Cat litter was once a do-it-yourself material that people created from whatever was available in abundance, such as sand, dirt or fireplace ash, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The problem was that these materials were not very good at absorbing cat waste or odor, although they were great at getting tracked all over the house. It's no surprise that shortly after World War II, cat-loving Americans were excited by the invention of commercially produced cat litter made of a substance called Fuller's earth, a clay material capable of absorbing its weight in moisture.

How does this early litter work compare to what's on the market today? To answer that question, let's take a look at some different types of litter.

What are some different types of litter?

Cat litter made from traditional absorbent clay was the gold standard of kitty litter for several decades and is still widely used by pet owners. In the early 1990s, a new twist on this old classic became available. It was called clumping litter because of its ability to form clumps upon contact with moisture. The main difference between the two lies in how the litter box is maintained. Traditional clay litter needs to be scooped every day and completely replaced about once a week.

Clumping litters are a bit different. According to the American Chemical Society, scooping only the clumps out of the box should keep it clean for two to four weeks, assuming additional litter is added regularly. Both clumping and non-clumping litters are great at neutralizing odors, but which is better at this task is a matter of some debate among cat owners.

In addition to clay-based litters, there are also products made from silica crystals, which are composed of sand or a blend of sand and other materials. Silica is also very effective at absorbing moisture and neutralizing odor, but does not form clumps. This type of litter needs to be replaced about once a week. There isn't much difference between silica and clay in terms of masking a cat's waste, but silica may be more earth-friendly, albeit more expensive.

Biodegradable litters

Although there is no scientific evidence to suggest that traditional clay or clumping clay litters are harmful to cats, many consumers feel that natural and biodegradable alternatives are healthier for animals, humans, and the environment.

These alternatives to clay litter include products made from plant-based materials such as paper, wood chips, or wheat. These products are great at absorbing cat waste and have the added benefit of being earth-friendly, so they can be reused as garden mulch. To understand how these biodegradable litters work, let's take a look at a wheat-based product.

Wheat starch is a naturally absorbent substance that also tends to clump when it comes into contact with moisture, which makes for easy scooping. It also contains enzymes that neutralize odors, which is a helpful component of any litter. Litters made from wood chips, corn and other plant-based materials work on similar principles and many are available in clumping and non-clumping varieties. Some cats love these types of litter, while others have hard time getting used to the larger pellets.

Do-It-Yourself Cat Litter

You can also try making your own cat litter. There are a variety of household materials you could use, including old newspapers. This is a particularly practical idea for those who already have the daily paper delivered to their homes each morning. Just follow these simple steps, courtesy of Planet Green:

1. Shred the newspaper.

2. Soak it in water with a bit of biodegradable soap.

3. Drain, and repeat step 2 minus the soap.

4. Sprinkle the wet paper with baking soda.

5. Knead the soggy mixture, pressing out the water and creating clumps.

6. Crumble over a screen and let the clumps stand to dry for a few days.

7. Put a two-inch layer of your homemade litter in the box.

8. Sit back and enjoy the eco-friendly "loo" you created for your little lynx. Scoop daily and change once per week.

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