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Choosing the Best Cat Litter for Your Pet

By Jennifer Viegas

Choosing the Best Cat Litter for Your Pet

In 1947, Edward Lowe experienced a lightbulb moment. Kaye Draper, Lowe’s neighbor, knocked on his door and asked for some sand, which she and many others at that time used for cat litter. Lowe happened to be experimenting with a natural clay mineral product, called Fuller’s Earth, that absorbs liquids, so he gave her this material instead. Her cat loved it, and kitty litter was born.

Pet owners are now faced with a multitude of kitty litter product choices. Here, PetSmart buyer Steve Nastasi describes the pros and cons of several cat litters.

Clay Litters

Conventional clay litter is still favored by many cat owners, according to Nastasi. It’s a natural product with dark-colored clays mostly mined in central U.S. and white clay mined in Florida.


  • It’s often less expensive than other types of litters.

  • White clay absorbs three times its weight in liquid.


  • Clay is heavy, so bags and containers can be harder to lift.

  • Although clay is a natural product, it’s a nonrenewable resource.

  • It can be dusty.

Scoopable Litter

Scooping, also known as clumping, skyrocketed to popularity in the 1980s, after American biochemist Thomas Nelson perfected this type of granulated clay that Nastasi says was first used “by the military to mop up oil spills.” It clumps together when wet into balls, which can be easily scooped and disposed of.


  • Cleanup is a snap.

  • Manufacturers usually add some kind of odor control, such as baking soda or activated charcoal.


  • The base of scoopable litters is often a nonrenewable resource.

  • Owners frequently flush this product down the toilet -- illegal in some states -- which can later clog plumbing systems and hurt the environment.

Silica Gel Litter

It looks like diamond crystals,” Nastasi says. Made from porous sodium silicate, it has the highest absorbency of any cat litter. The crystal beads are like little sponges that really soak up urine and moisture.


  • It’s lightweight.

  • Absorbency is no problem if the material is not otherwise saturated.


  • When saturated, urine can pool at the bottom of the litter box.

  • It’s not as eco-friendly as other products.

Biodegradable Litter

Litters made from various plant resources, such as wood products, corn, wheat, barley and even dried citrus peels, fall under this category. Below are two common groups of biodegradable litter:

  • Pine and wood-based Veterinarians often recommend cat litters with large pellets for post-surgery cats, since the pellets are too large to adhere to the cat and aren’t easily ingested. The size and compactness of the pellets additionally helps to eliminate dust, but they can get caught in automatic litter boxes.

  • Corn “Customers either love litter made from corn with a passion or hate it,” shares Nastasi. If your cat is resistant, look for a litter made of shredded, dried corn, which seems to appeal to cats that will otherwise reject corn-based litters.

Special-needs Litter

This is one of the newest and fastest-growing segments of the cat litter market,” says Nastasi. A pioneer manufacturer is Denver’s Bruce Elsey, D.V.M., who created litter with natural components to draw your cat to its box. “Over nine million cats suffer from litter box aversion,” Dr. Elsey says. “It’s a leading reason why cats are abused, abandoned and put in shelters.”

The bottom line is that buyers like me, as well as manufacturers, are presented with two groups of customers: the human and the cat. It’s often tricky to satisfy both,” says Nastasi, explaining that what may appeal to owners could be rejected by felines. “It’s up to you to know what’s best for your cat and lifestyle,” he says, “while still keeping in mind that your pet would probably rather just scratch at a little dirt, cover and be done with it.”

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.

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Posted on August 21, 2009

Marion says: We've put all 3 of our cats onto corn based litter products. they all love it and we love that it tracks less and is lower in dust than the clay litters out there!

Posted on October 1, 2009

jonna says: why does my cat like to lick plastic?

Posted on January 13, 2010

debra white says: she has been with us 7mos. she was a stray. but she dosen't like to be pick up and hold.but see will sleep with me.

Posted on August 14, 2009

Teresa says: Interesting article and responses. We; Tarby, Slider, Maggie and me appreciate this info. We prefer scoopable litter.

Posted on August 3, 2009

Dale says: Why is my cat chewing on plugged in wires? What can I do and what kind of litter is the satest, I tried a lot of them.

Posted on August 5, 2009

Ruby says: After a surgical procedure, my vet advised me to use shredded paper as litter for 2 weeks, At the end of the two weeks i was thrilled with the alternate and have not switched back! First of all, it's FREE! Between what i shred at home and at work i have more than enough shredded paper to last more than a week. It is very absorbent and if changed regularly (as all litter should be anyway!) there is no odor problem. It is so much lighter than clay litter and bio degradable too. What's not to love??!!

Posted on July 23, 2009

Mary says: I need to order white clay non-clumping litter online for delivery to my farm. I can't tell which brands are white clay...they don't say. Does anyone know which brand and who sells and will ship?

Posted on July 19, 2009

edith says: my cat has fleas I both a lot fo defferent kinds of spray but is not effective when I use spray I noticed my cat is not happy and she droll. I don't want to do it again but i want to prevent and remove her fleas she's a good and adorable cat cuold till me what is the best for her. thank you ,edith

Posted on July 14, 2009

kitty says: i have two cats an adult(3yrs) and a kitten(3mns). i have tried all kinds of litter and found that other than the clay, they both like to eat the other kinds, a lot. why do they do this, and is it safe for them?

Posted on June 27, 2009

judith says: excellent article on litter choices & what's out there now-a-day. thankyou ;D

Posted on April 30, 2009

Dr.Dickie says: Remember the best litter is the one your cat likes! Cats often have strong preferences.

Posted on May 1, 2009

Heather says: my cats had been using corn based litter (World's Best) for a few years than my supplier stopped buying it, Now I use another brand of corn litter and find I have less health problems with my cats. I tried the clay litter, pine based, silica, and many brands of scoopable, and was always taking a cat to vets, now they are healthy and happy.

Posted on November 11, 2011

Teresa says: EVER CLEAN is the BEST cat litter aval. my cats won't use any other.

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