The Scoop on Kitty Litter

Here's our question today, and as usual, it's a good one:
Dear Cat,

I'm about to become a new cat owner, and I'm very confused by all the different kinds of kitty litter!  Which is most cost effective which is easiest to keep clean, which do cats like best?  Help!!

signed:   Litter-ally Confused in Minnesota

Whoa, Minnie-lady, you gotta lotta questions there...fortunately, Cat has all the answers!

Be careful when you decide to try out or change a cat's litter. Any abrupt change in the type of litter used can make a cat anxious and cause it to have "accidents" outside the litter box. Make changes GRADUALLY, phasing in the new, mixing it with the old. The changeover should take about a week.

"Cleaning up after your pet is just plain good manners," the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) declares in its literature on "Responsible Pet Ownership." The cats and I wholeheartedly agree!  But we also know that tending to the litter box happens to be one of the things a human doesn't like to do, if not dreads.

So in the interest of making a human's life a little easier (and because we ARE self-centered -- we see the benefit to us is that maybe we get a cleaner litter box), here is a litter comparison with writing credit to Kelly Alexander, a North Carolina-based writer and a consulting editor for Saveur magazine, from an article she wrote for Slate Magazine.  Ms Alexander helps to answer the ageless question:  Which kind of litter is best at keeping the litter box cleanest for the longest the best cost?

Just what IS cat litter? The most common type of cat litter is made of clay, and it's dusty and pebbly. Within this category are two sub-types: non-clumping and clumping. Non-clumping cat litter has been around since about 1950; as the oldest type of commercial cat litter, it's also known as "traditional," and it works best if you're willing to scoop out the deposits every day and then refill the entire box in a month's time.

Clumping litter, on the other hand, is more modern and more popular; when a cat urinates on it, the particles stick together to form scoopable clumps. Clumping is good because you need only replace the burgerlike patties rather than dump the entire litter box and start over again.

There is both deodorized and non-deodorized, but this distinction doesn't mean much. Some cats don't like the deodorized kind (like me) just as some people don't like perfumed toilet paper, but this doesn't affect the product's effectiveness. Also, many humans think it doesn't really help with the "smell factor" so it's your call.

Two newer types of litter exist in addition to the traditional clay and the clumping kind:  Crystals, which are made of silica granules instead of clay, and Organic cat litter, which can be made of corn or of various finely shaved woods such as cedar.

Litter Test #1
Litter: Scoop Away (clumping)

Approx. Cost: $10.99/28 pounds (39 cents/pound)

Directions say: "Remove clumps and solids. Do not flush. The rest of the litter stays fresh. Add more as necessary to replace what you remove. Once a month, empty entire litter box. Dispose of contents in the trash."

Review: I thought it best to begin with the litter that cats are most used to. The waste forms patties that are easy enough to remove and then toss. Nothing much for a cat to complain about EXCEPT if these patties are not removed every day! However, all in all, the litter box area remained fairly neat and tidy, and if attended to every day, the smell factor is not a big problem.

Litter Test #2
Litter: Fresh Step Premium Clay Cat Litter (non-clumping)

Approx. Cost: $6.57/21 pounds (31 cents/pound)

Directions say: "Remove solid waste regularly between complete litter box changes and add more litter each time. Change the entire litter box once a week."

If you have a kitten or unusally small cat, remember to get a litter box that a kitten can climb into and out of. Some of the litter boxes have very high sides to them...and a kitten won't be able to get in or out of them!

Review:  We'll cut to the chase and tell you the cat didn't like it. He sniffed around, looked perplexed, clawed the floor in front of the box. He did not use the box for a few days. As for the smell factor, after three days and fewer deposits than usual, the litter box area was not (ahem) "pleasant," and quite a bit of it was out of the box and "littering" the floor. Although this litter claimed to have "new triple action odor control," it was not right for this cat.

Litter Test #3
Litter: Clear Choice (crystals)

Approx. Cost: $18/7.6 pounds ($2.37/pound)

Directions say: "Pour entire bag of Clear Choice into litter box. Remove solid waste daily after it has dehydrated, and stir crystals occasionally to extend life. When the dark blue crystals have faded, the litter should be replaced."

Review:  It has very attractive packaging in a clear, soft bluish-green bag that Clyde called "fancy." The crystals themselves are pretty nice looking, like big pieces of kosher salt, but Clyde was very hesitant at first to use this litter. It took one day for him to make a move on it, but after that it was smooth sailing, and he seemed to go back to his regular schedule. A few crystals began discoloring, as promised, but he kicked none of them out of the box. The smell factor was practically 'nil.' Amazing!

Litter Test #4
Litter: World's Best Cat Litter (Organic)

Approx. Cost: $9.20/7 pounds ($1.31/pound)

Directions say: "After your cat has used the litter box, just scoop the clump and flush. For good hygiene, you should remove all clumps and solid waste daily. Guarantee odor control and cleanliness by changing all of the litter once a month."

Review from a cat's point of view:  "It's nice to feel good about products like this one, made of whole corn kernels and resembling unpopped brown and yellow pieces of popcorn. A cat can even safely eat it if she wants to! A human can flush it down the toilet with no problem because it's biodegradable. This litter has a softer texture than other kitty litter products and smelled somewhat different...a faint outdoorsy whif...but it wasn't unpleasant. I found it "interesting" but it took me a couple of days to actually get up the nerve to use it. Frankly, it just felt/smelled too different from my regular type and after a week, I still wasn't used to it. As for the smell factor, nothing extraordinary after a week, even with a couple of lapses in daily maintenance."

The Results

If cat litter were compared to toilet tissue, I'd liken the clumping kind to Charmin, the non-clumping kind to one-ply sheets, the crystals to a plush towel, and the organic to recycled toilet paper. For us cats, I'm sticking with the clumping kind because it is the overall best combination of price, convenience and smell. While the crystals are awfully tempting; it's a little pricey for us right now but maybe just the ticket for you!

Join us again for another installment of "Cat Knows Cat Care."   Because understanding your cat makes you a better CatFriend...and being a better CatFriend makes it a better world for all of us!

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