Material

Cat litter is available in a huge variety of different base materials. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Clay * Silica Gel * Shredded Diaper * Corn * Wheat * Wood * Grass or Grass Seed * Paper * Walnut Shell * Tofu

Clay

Clay litter is the first kind of litter that was ever sold commercially. Clay litter is still the most popular choice for litter among cat owners all over the world. Clay litter comes in both clumping and non-clumping types.

Non-Clumping

Advantages

  • It’s cheap
  • Heavy litter may be most comfortable for large/heavy cats or cats with mobility problems to stand on

Disadvantages

  • Lots of silica dust
    • silica dust is a known carcinogen when inhaled
  • Can track through the house a lot
  • Heavy litter may be hard for some people to carry
  • Only safe disposal option is putting it in the garbage
  • Not long lasting and requires frequent total box changes
  • Limited ability to absorb liquid and control odor
    • Typically contains added ingredients for odor control
  • Environmentally unfriendly, usually requires strip mining to produce

Clumping

Clumping clay litter comes from the same basic material as the non-clumping variety, but has additional Bentonite clay added for forming clumps. Clumping clay litters also come in lightweight varieties. They have the same basic advantages and disadvantages of the standard weight litters, plus some others.

Advantages

  • Bentonite clay can absorb up to 15 times its weight in moisture
  • Clumps are easy to scoop, allowing you to remove urine and feces often while leaving the unused/clean litter behind
  • Lasts longer than non-clumping clay because you don’t need to dump the entire box as often for cleaning
  • Better odor control because you can remove soiled litter easily and often

Disadvantages

  • Lots of silica dust
    • silica dust is a known carcinogen when inhaled
    • also contains Bentonite clay, which may cause additional problems when inhaled
  • Tracks through the house a lot
  • It’s as heavy as traditional clay litter, although you will use less of it
  • The only disposal option is the garbage
  • Environmentally unfriendly, usually requires strip mining to produce

Silica Gel

Silica gel litter is made from sodium silicate and has an amazing ability to absorb liquids. Silica litters are always lightweight. Silica Gel litter comes in clumping, non-clumping, and diagnostic or health alert varieties.

Non-Clumping

Advantages:

  • Can be an inexpensive option
    • More expensive in multi-cat homes or homes where the cat has diabetes, kidney disease, or any other condition that causes them to pee a lot
  • Minimal effort for cleaning
    • Scooping feces and stirring the crystals are all that is needed (until time for a complete change)
  • Some varieties have color changing granules to alert you when the box needs changing
  • Relatively dust free when compared most other types of litter

Disadvantages:

  • Gives no warning when it’s “used up”
    • Sudden urine puddles and dramatic change in smell is usually how you know
  • Often not accepted by cats
    • Sometimes it’s rejected for texture and changing to a different style (round vs. irregular) may get your cat to accept it
  • Sometimes messy
    • round beads of silica can track everywhere
    • irregularly shaped litter tracks less but is more often rejected by cats

Clumping

Advantages

  • Clumping action makes it possible to remove only the used portion of the litter
  • Long lasting odor control because of the combination of odor/moisture absorption of the silica and the ability to scoop clumps away

Disadvantages

  • “Clumping agent” is often not specified on the label, so you don’t know what you’re exposing your cat (or yourself) to
  • A little more expensive to use than the non-clumping variety because you’ll be scooping out the urine clumps rather than leaving that litter behind to continue absorbing moisture
  • All the same texture and tracking disadvantages as the non-tracking kind

Diagnostic or Health Alert

Some silica gel cat litters are formulated in a way that can alert you to a potential health problem in your cat. These kinds of litter are typically coated with a pH reactive substance that changes colors based on certain conditions in your cat’s urine. Aside from the special coating they will share all the same properties of other silica gel litter.

Diagnostic litter tends to be a little more expensive than the basic silica gel litter.


Shredded Diaper

This particular litter is sneaky – it’s often marketed as a recycled paper product with “gel lock” technology. In reality this type of litter looks like paper but is made from the castoff/waste material from making the lining of baby diapers. This is a lightweight litter.

Advantages:

  • Very absorbent
  • Often has clumping properties
  • Virtually dust free
  • Possibly compostable or biodegradable, but the added “gel” agents make that claim questionable

Disadvantages:

  • Soft, squishy material can be uncomfortable for cats with arthritis or mobility issues
  • Expensive
  • Small pieces typically track a lot
  • Clumps are typically weak and will fall apart when scooping
  • Dangerous if ingested
    • “gel” agents can be toxic
    • high probability of causing intestinal blockage

Corn

Corn litter is most often made from corn cobs rather than corn kernels. Corn litter is typically lightweight, which may or may not be an advantage for you and your cat.

Advantages:

  • Virtually dust free
  • Soft on kitty toes, usually comfortable for them to walk on
  • Flushable
  • Often naturally clumping due to the high amount of cellulose (plant fiber)
  • Generally considered to be environmentally friendly because it uses biodegradable “waste” from food production
  • Inexpensive if you use chicken feed instead of litter
    • Avoid feed coated with vitamins, molasses, or anything else

Disadvantages:

  • Some versions have a strong, natural odor that might be offensive
  • Can cause allergic reactions in cats with corn allergies
  • Diabetic cats may be tempted to eat the litter
  • Great for growing bacteria, mold, or bugs
    • Aflatoxin, a toxic mold, is a particular concern
  • Expensive if you buy “cat litter” versions

Wheat

Wheat cat litter is a category that also includes litters made from oats, barley, and mixed grains. Wheat litter is usually lightweight. Wheat litters are usually granules, but sometimes come in pellet form.

Advantages:

  • Soft on kitty paws
  • Safe to ingest for most cats (unless they have an allergy to the grain)
    • can be a good choice to use with kittens
  • Flushable and compostable
    • Possibly septic-safe
  • Less dusty than most clay litters, and the dust from it is not made of silica

Disadvantages:

  • Tracks a lot
  • Diabetic cats may be tempted to eat it
  • Dangerous for cats with wheat allergies
  • Can be a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, or bugs
  • Weak clumps fall apart easily during normal cleaning
    • Though sometimes the opposite problem of “cement” clumps will occur
  • Poor odor control causes a urine-soaked grain smell
    • Sometimes contains added odor masking/controlling ingredients

Wood

Wood litter is generally available in a pellet form made from compressed sawdust. The most common wood in the pellets is pine, though sometimes mixed woods are used. Avoid any products that contain cedar because cedar oil is toxic to cats.

Advantages

  • Relatively dust free, and the dust they do have doesn’t come from silica, so it may be safe to inhale
  • Solid pellets do not easily track through the house
  • Crumbled pellets are flushable and compostable
  • Some varieties have green tea added for natural odor control and anti-bacterial properties
  • Inexpensive if you opt for wood stove pellets or horse bedding pellets
    • Be careful if buying horse bedding, because some pellets contain cedar
    • Some horse bedding is coated with chemicals to stop horses from eating them

Disadvantages

  • Almost always comes in a pellet texture that many cats don’t like
  • Natural odor from the materials can be offensive, and can aggravate asthma/allergies in cats and humans
  • Often not good for odor control and requires multiple cleanings per day and frequent total box changes
  • Expensive if you buy “cat litter” varieties
  • Cats can have allergic reactions to the natural oils in the pellets
  • Wood pellets are known to release deadly carbon monoxide (CO) during storage
    • Avoid storing large amounts of wood pellet litter inside your home
    • Reduce your risk of poisoning by installing a carbon monoxide monitor as close to your stored litter as possible
    • If storing litter outdoors in a shed or bin without a CO monitor, open the doors and let the space air out for at least 10 minutes before entering to remove any litter

Grass or Grass Seed

Grass cat litter comes in two basic types: made from the green parts of plants, or made from seeds. Most of the “grass” litter available in stores is actually made from grass seeds. All varieties of grass litter are lightweight.

Advantages

  • Grass seed litter has a lot of natural starch and forms strong clumps
  • Good odor control because you can scoop away all the soiled parts of the litter
  • Usually flushable or compostable
  • Grass smell is often very attractive to cats
  • Usually free of added fragrance or chemicals for clumping

Disadvantages

  • Expensive
  • Clumps will fall apart if they’re too wet
    • Diabetic cats or those with kidney disease may pee too much for this to be a good litter choice
    • May not work well in multi-cat homes if your cats all try to pee in the same spot in the box
  • Natural odor from the grass material can aggravate allergies/asthma in cats and humans
  • Cats might be tempted to eat it
  • Can be a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and bugs

Paper

Paper cat litter most often comes in a pellet form made from recycled paper. There are some granule varieties available, but they can be hard to find. Diaper based litter is often classified as paper litter. Paper litter is usually lightweight.

Advantages:

  • Virtually dust free
  • Safer than clay litter because there’s no silica dust to inhale
  • Softer paw feel than many other litter types
  • Very little tracking
  • Good for kittens, or cats who need to avoid clumping litter

Disadvantages:

  • Cats don’t always like the texture
  • Poor odor control
  • Can be very expensive
    • Wood stove pellets are the same thing as the cat litter variety, but are a lot cheaper

Walnut Shell

Walnut shell litter is available in both clumping and non-clumping varieties. Walnut shell litter is usually lightweight.

Advantages

  • Generally good for odor control
  • Marketed as dust free
  • Possibly compostable

Disadvantages

  • Should be avoided by anyone with strong walnut allergies
  • Can be incredibly dusty
  • Expensive
  • Can aggravate asthma/allergies in cats and humans
  • Ingesting oils from the litter can cause allergic reactions
  • Dark color
    • makes tracked litter obvious on light floors
    • makes it hard to see when box needs scooping
  • Molds easily in storage or in the box
  • Some people have said this kind of litter stained their cat’s toes or the fur on their feet

Tofu

Tofu cat litter is made from the fiber of soybean peas, the “dregs” leftover from making Tofu. Tofu litter usually has added starches and gums to giving it clumping ability. Tofu litter is lightweight.

Advantages

  • Can usually absorb twice its weight in liquid
  • Generally good for odor control
  • Virtually dust free
  • Flushable and compostable

Disadvantages

  • Usually a pellet texture that many cats don’t like
  • Sometimes has added fragrances