Cat Litter 101
You might think that choosing a litter will be the easiest decision you’ll have to make in your journey of cat ownership. However, you’ll find that there are many different types and some make wild claims that seem too good to be true. You’ll want to focus on what features matter the most to you, what your cat needs and want, and what has been proven to work.
Types of cat litter
- Clumping clay litter – While this kind of litter is very popular, it can be dangerous to kittens and the earth. Clay is mined from the earth and is used in litters due to its reaction to moisture. The drawbacks, however, are that it is dusty and non-biodegradable. Many vets recommend against using clay litter due to the health issues that ingestion of this type of litter can cause.
- Non-clumping clay litter – This is similar to clumping clay in its dusty and non-biodegradable nature, but it does not react to moisture in the same way. It is often cheaper, but you’ll end up replacing it more often.
- Crystal litter – Most crystal litters are made of silica, which is very absorbent and long-lasting. This type of litter eliminates dust and some even have a color-changing feature to keep an eye on your cat’s urinary tract health. However, many of them do not have any odor-fighting properties, they can be a bit expensive, and some cats do not like this type of litter because the material can be sharp.
- Natural product litters – Usually made of pine, corn, or wheat and are biodegradable. Dustiness is usually not an issue, however you will have to sacrifice clumping. Make sure you take any food allergies or sensitivities into account when looking at these eco-friendly options.
What do cats like?
By now, you probably know that all cats have different personalities and therefore differing preferences. However, there are a few things that seem to be pretty universal amongst all fluffy friends.
- Small litter particles – long ago, when cats were wild creatures, they lived in the desert, which is probably what makes them gravitate towards more “sandy” litter types. It also could be because the smaller particles feel softer on their paws.
- No odor – little known fact: cats sense of smell is better than some dog breeds! Many litters that are advertised as scented are HEAVILY scented in an attempt to cover up the smell of your cat’s waste. But as we all know, covering a scent with another scent is not ideal. Plus as a cat, scents that are intense to humans are probably almost unbearable, and you’ll want to avoid doing anything to deter your cat from using their litterbox.
What do humans like?
With all the wild claims and buzzwords that are featured on cat litters, shopping can be intimidating. Making your cat happy is obviously a priority, but take into account what will keep you and your family happy as well.
- Quick clumping – a litter that clumps and hardens fast will help keep your house cleaner. Litter will have less chance to stick to your cat’s paws and scooping and cleaning will be easier.
- Odor absorbing – look for litters with baking soda or activated charcoal incorporated into the litter or add either ingredient yourself. This will not “cover” the scent of ammonia but it will help to absorb it.
- Low dust – dust is a nuisance to clean, but it is also dangerous to your and your cat’s respiratory health. If your cat or anyone in your house has asthma, this should be at the top of your list.
- Low tracking – keeping cat litter in the litter box is the ultimate goal of any cat owner. You’ll find that this is a constant struggle. However, anti-track litter will help along with the assistance of an anti-tracking litter mat places right outside the opening to the litter box.
If you have been using one litter for a while but are finding that it’s not meeting your expectations, you’ll want to take precautions before switching the litter in your cat’s box as to not disrupt their routine and deter them from using their litterbox. This is especially important you are changing litter texture/form.
Start by adding small amounts of the new litter to the old litter. Space this out of a week or longer period. Keep an eye on your cat’s behavior and reaction to the new litter. If they start or avoid their litter box, experiment with multiple litter boxes containing different types of litter to see which they prefer.
If your cat is not using their litter box, call your vet. This behavior can be your cat’s way of telling you that they’re in pain or having some kind of health issue.
Keeping odor away
One of the biggest reservations of prospective cat owners is the thought of a stinky litter box invading their home. Luckily, there are many inexpensive and non-labor intensive ways to keep the litter smell at bay.
Keep the box clean all the time
The bulletproof method to reduce litter box smells is to remove the source of the odor. The general rule of thumb is to clean the box at least once per day. The easiest type of litter to clean is clumping litter and low dust litter.
Cats hate having to dig around other old clumps to bury their new ones. This could lead to them avoiding the litter box or foregoing the box altogether. Keeping the litter box clear of waste will keep your cat’s paws clean too.
Automatic scooping litter boxes are certainly the way of the future, however, cats can be hesitant of new technology. The unfamiliar noise may scare them, or the idea that their litter box is mysteriously clean without any human intervention may bewilder them. Before you toss your old litter box in the trash, make sure your cat is cool with your robotic friend cleaning up her messes.
Do a deep clean often
The good news: daily scooping will make your deep cleans much easier. The bad news: you’ll still need to do a deep clean once per month. A deep clean involves removing all the litter from the box and scrubbing the inside of the box with soap and water. Avoid using any chemicals or harsh cleaners since these scents could cause your cat to be deterred from her litter box. Wear gloves (and maybe a face mask) to keep yourself safe from any pathogens from your cat’s waste that could infect you.
Get a new box yearly
Litter boxes will go through plenty of wear and tear. If you’ve ever watched your cat use their litter box, you might notice that they scratch the sides of the box. These scratches in the plastic are where bacteria and odor can build up.
Get another box, or a bigger box
The formula for how many litter boxes you should have in your home is; number of cats + 1 = number of boxes. For multi-cat households, you’ll want to make sure you have enough litter boxes for everyone since cats do not like to use the same box as their housemates. Size is also very important.
Your litter box should be at least as long as your cat from their nose to the tip of their extended tail, and one side should be low enough for your cat to easily walk over. If your box is too small you risk your cat not being able to use the box, or having trouble getting their waste in the litter and not on the walls. They will also have a hard time burying their waste, which means more odor.
Let the litter box breathe
Understandably, it is common to see litter boxes hidden into a small, confined, out of the way space. Sticking your litter box in a guest room closet is really a band-aid to the real issue. You’ll end up with a stinky closet that will never get the chance to de-stink itself.
This issue is deeper than just your nose too. A constant odor will cause you and your cat to avoid the space and most likely lead to a disaster. To avoid this, find a well-ventilated place for your litter box.
This same idea can be applied to covered litter boxes as well. While they are very good at encapsulating odors, this creates a contracted stink zone inside of them. Which, to your cat, is the equivalent of having to use a porta-potty all the time. Although, some cats do prefer the privacy of a covered box.
Clean up accidents quickly and thoroughly
Enzymatic cleaners are a miracle! They break down the waste particles into smaller pieces that bacteria can easily consume. This is basically fancy science talk for, they work really really good. They are most effective while the accident is still wet.
Thoroughly and quickly cleaning an accident will help to eliminate odors immediately, keep the smell from developing over time, and make sure that your cat does not continue going outside of their box.
Use odor eliminating additives
Some cats need a little extra help to keep the stink at bay. Sprinkling a small amount of baking soda or activated charcoal on the bottom of the box before adding new litter will help to absorb the smell. Even placing an open box of baking soda will help.
The big no-no of litter box odor prevention is using perfumes or other sprays. It only masks the smell instead of getting rid of it and, make your cat upset since their nose and lungs are sensitive. Worst-case scenario, they will be deterred from using their litter box.
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