What's the Scoop Behind Cat Litter?

By Loyal Biscuit Co. | Jun 16, 2014

Out of all the pet products to scrutinize over, one would think picking a cat litter would be something you wouldn’t have to put much thought behind. However, there are so many different kinds of litter on the market, it can make the task of choosing the right litter incredibly overwhelming. Should you choose clumping or non-clumping? Clay, silica gel, walnut shells, or newspaper? What about pellet litters? The amount of varieties are vast and seemingly endless. Today, I’m going to break down some of the different types of litter, talk about their pros and cons, and then walk you through the brands you can find at the LBC.


The types of cat litter basically falls into three categories: clay, silica, and biodegradable. The very first cat litters, introduced in the 1940s, were made from dry and pelleted clay (fun fact: an ex-sailor named Ed Lowe was the man who became responsible for clay litter. Though most cats were indoor-outdoor in the 40s, some families still kept boxes of ashes or sand in their cellars for their cats. After hearing his neighbors complaining about the mess the cats made tracking the sand or ash through the house, Ed suggested they try an absorbent clay that his father’s firm made to be used to clean up industrial spills). While clay litter is still around, now it is more often than not made with a specific type of clay derived from volcanic ash called sodium bentonite. The sodium bentonite makes clumping cat litters clump. When urinated on, the highly absorbent sodium bentonite swells, clumps together, and solidifies, making scooping an easier task. Unfortunately, there are many concerns surrounding sodium bentonite. There is some thought that if inhaled or ingested (which is a valid concern since cats self groom and would most likely ingest litter stuck to paws or fur), the sodium bentonite might lead to problems such as diarrhea, kidney problems, irritable bowel syndrome, anemia, lethargy, and respiratory problems (the latter attributed mostly to the fact that clay litters have a tendency to be very dusty). The other big concern about sodium bentonite is that to obtain it, a process called strip mining is used. Strip mining has a negative impact on the surrounding vegetation, water resources, and topography. It basically leaves the area infertile. There are, however, some clay litters on the market that do not contain sodium bentonite.


The second category of litter is silica. Silica litter are made from silica gel which is silica dioxide, found in quartz, mixed with oxygen and water. Like clay litters, silica litters are incredibly absorbent. Silica gel has a high surface area so it can absorb water easily and it also acts as a desiccant, or drying agent (that’s why you’ll often find little packets of silica in packages of consumables that could be damaged by moisture). Also like clay litters that contain sodium bentonite, silica gel litters could potentially cause some issues, specifically GI upset or intestinal blockage if ingested. Silica gel can also cause a lot of respiratory irritation if inhaled and, again like clay litter, silica litters also have a reputation of being very dusty.

The third category of litters, and the category we stock in all LBC locations is biodegradable. Biodegradable litters are made from ingredients such as plant materials (like corn, pine, wheat, etc) or recycled paper products. They are also typically free of dust and non-toxic and can come in clumping, non-clumping, and even pellet like formulas. Plus once disposed of, they won’t clog up landfills. There are really no health drawbacks to biodegradable litters, but some people may find that the odor control and/or absorbency isn’t as strong or long lasting as the silica or clay litters. I have found that to be the case with some biodegradable litters, but not all. In fact, the brand I currently use, Blue Naturally Fresh in Multi-Cat is if not on par with clay litters I’ve used in the past, actually superior. The brands of litter we carry are World’s Best which is corn based, Yesterday’s News which is recycled paper, and Blue Naturally Fresh which is made from walnuts.


The bottom line is you have to choose what best fits you and your cat. Some cats can be very finicky when it comes to what is in their box, so it might take a few tries to discover not only a litter your cat will use, but one that won’t cause any health issues. There may never be that perfect litter that every cat and cat owner uses, but knowing the pros and cons of each kind can help you make a more informed decision.


We’d love to hear what brand of cat litter you or your cat prefers! Drop us a comment on our facebook page.


Until next time, Loyal fans!


Sources: Dogtime: “Clumping Cat Litter; PetMD: “What is in Cat Litter?”,Eco-friendly Cat Litter,and “Clumping vs Non-Clumping Litter: The Pros and Cons of Each Litter Type; WebMD: “Cat Litter and Litter Boxes.”


The Loyal Biscuit Co. is an award-winning pet supply store with locations at 442 Main St., Rockland; Reny's Plaza, 1 Belmont Ave, Belfast; 39 Mechanic St., Knox Mill, Camden, and coming soon to 99 Main S., Waterville. You can find the LBC online at loyalbiscuit.com or fb.com/loyalbiscuit.
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