Let's first stipulate that the choice of litter depends on what the cat is willing to use, as pointed out by a top feline veterinarian, Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, who told Consumer Ally there are pros and cons to all classes of kitty litters.
Here's a rundown:
- Clumping clay litter. Most cats readily will use clumping clay litter if it's unscented and undyed, Dr. Colleran says. Ecologically speaking, its downside is it requires mining of land, such as for fuller's clay in Mississippi. And economically speaking, it costs more than regular clay litter. The upsides: Theoretically, clumping litter beats regular clay since only the clumped portions need to be tossed out. That means less is used (as pointed out here) and less ends up in the landfill. Dr. Colleran says an upside environmentally is that when clumping litter reaches a landfill, there is reason to believe that its absorptive quality is useful in absorbing chemicals and other toxic materials that then aren't inadvertently spread or aerosolized.
- Recycled paper, wheat and corn litter. Eco-friendly? You betcha. They're byproducts of agriculture that may otherwise go unused or they're old newspaper. Downsides: The wheat and corn litter are organic materials, so Dr. Colleran has concerns that they can harbor organisms like insect larvae and fungal elements. But the bigger question is will your cat use it? While "many cats happily use them," Dr. Colleran says "many will not use them because of the texture that they feel on the bottom of their feet."
- Pine litter. It's biodegradable, it doesn't use perfumes, and it claims to neutralize odors naturally. Downsides (besides costing more than regular clay): It "has a powerful odor that cats may object to because their sense of smell is so acute. The pine oil also intensifies the ammonia odor from urine in some people's opinion," Dr. Colleran says.
Best bet: If you want to give any of these novel varieties a try, build in a transition. Keep at least one litter box with the litter type that your cat is used to, while putting the new litter in a separate box, advises University of Illinois (see here). Alternatively, start mixing the new stuff into the original litter so your cat won't reject it, advises the American Animal Hospital Association (here).
"The bottom line is there is presently no environmentally perfect litter," Dr. Colleran concludes. "The first choice should be the one the cats will use." She's adamant about that. A major reason cats are relinquished to shelters or euthanized is behavior problems and the biggest category with that is "inappropriate elimination" or failure to use a litter box, she stresses, adding: "There is nothing less ecologically appropriate than the unnecessary death of a companion cat."
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