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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.