Cat lovers know that the right litter can be the key to living with a happy cat
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Remember when there was just one kind of cat litter? Before 1947, the rare cat who lived indoors might have a box filled with sand, ashes, sawdust or soil, which it then tracked through the house, no doubt to the dismay of fastidious housekeepers. In 1947, businessman Edward Lowe handed a bag of granulated clay to a woman who was complaining that her cat tracked ashes through the house. The clay worked, the woman came back for more and the cat litter industry was born.
Now cat lovers might feel as if they’re in a golden age of cat litter. Beyond granulated clay, which remains popular, there is sandlike clumping litter, silica gel crystals, and litter made from recycled newspaper, recycled pine scraps, corn, wheat, walnut shells and grass. For both humans and cats, there’s a litter type for every concern: low tracking, low dust, attractive scent, no scent, low odor, low price and environmental friendliness. Some litters even indicate that a cat may have a urinary tract infection or other condition.
The anonymous woman who sparked the development of granulated clay litter was concerned about tracking, and that remains an issue for many cat owners. While many litters are marketed as being low-tracking, sometimes a larger litter box can also help to solve the problem. Rosemary George of Falls Church, Virginia, says, “I have four cats, so I use cheap clay litter from the grocery store. There are two really large litter pans out on the enclosed sunporch. I scoop them once a day and change them entirely once a week. Once I got huge litter pans, there stopped being so much litter on the floor.”
Cats like what they like, though, and their preferences can win out over an owner’s desire to not have litter tracked through the house. Tery McConville of Mount Vernon, Washington, uses a clumping pine litter. “It gets everywhere,” she says, “but it’s what Princess likes, and it smells nice.”
Humans and cats with asthma benefit from dust-free or low-dust litter. Dust irritates the respiratory tract and can contribute to coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing when cats kick it up as they dig in the litter box. Litters made from wheat, recycled paper, wood and silica gel crystals, as well as some clumping litters, tend to be low in dust. Unscented litters are also good choices when a person or pet in the home has asthma. Anna Wright uses a wheat-based litter, saying, “It’s expensive, but my health and happiness are worth it. It doesn’t give me headaches or trigger coughs for me like so many other products do. I think the cats like it for the same reasons.”
Older cats may have special needs when it comes to litter. When her cat Shadow was in renal failure, Gail Parker of Philadelphia found that replacing litter with newspaper helped prevent him from urinating outside the litter box. She believes the paper was softer on his paws and found that her other cats preferred it, too. Parker puts sections of newspaper in the cats’ boxes and removes them as soon as they are used.
No litter can replace a veterinary visit, but some litters are made to indicate the need to visit the vet. Coated with a safe, nontoxic pH detector, porous silica gel granules change color when acid, alkaline or bilirubin levels change, suggesting possible infection or illness.
But whatever you look for in cat litter, what your cat prefers is what counts. Offer an assortment of litters to see which one he likes best, and go with that. Provide an extra-large box, and fill it with three to five inches of litter for your cat’s digging pleasure. Scoop it once or twice a day, clean the box and change the litter every week or two, and you’ll have a happy cat.