Which cat litter?
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Which cat litter?

Cats
General

There is a very wide selection of cat litter available on the market these days, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, and it is important to consider which type will best suit your arrangements and the needs of your cat. Commercial cat litter has only been available in Britain since the late 1940s - before then, most cats used to go in the garden (or the neighbour's garden!) and very few people had litter trays indoors. Those that had them often used an old wooden seed tray, or similar (usually referred to as a 'dirt box'), filled with sand or earth from the garden, that had little absorbency and plenty of scope for unpleasant smells!

There are three main types of cat litter available, with a good range of brands and variations for each one. New varieties appear from time to time, all claiming to be a new revolutionary method, but many do not survive long in a very competitive market. It usually works out cheaper overall to purchase the largest sizes available, and you will often get the best deals by buying at a cat show where the traders are selling so much stock on the day that there are usually special show offers. But it's definitely worth shopping around for cat litter, both at large pet stores and online, as prices can vary enormously.

Clumping litter e.g. grey Fuller's Earth type - this usually includes sodium bentonite, a type of clay that expands and forms hard clumps when wet.

Advantages:

  • absorbs fluids well
  • easy to scoop out solids and soiled litter - if this is done regularly, the untouched litter in the tray will last a bit longer and unpleasant odours will be reduced
  • pieces that stray over the side of the litter tray are easy to see and sweep up, and don't tend to tread into the carpet
  • relatively inexpensive

Disadvantages:

  • very heavy and large 'economic' bags are hard to carry
  • there can be clouds of clay dust when you are changing the litter, which could be a problem if you or your cat are asthmatic or have any respiratory problems
  • tends to stick to paws, which then treads round the house, and may not be good for small kittens if they swallow any granule

Non-Clumping litter - usually small pellets made from compressed sawdust or recycled newspaper

Advantages:

  • environmentally friendly from renewable sources
  • large bags are relatively light to carry
  • solid waste is easy to remove

Disadvantages:

  • wet sawdust tends to disintegrate quickly and is easily trodden into carpets and around the furniture
  • although many manufacturers claim their products are biodegradable and suitable as garden compost, the high level of acidity in cat urine is not good for plants - this will not be a problem in commercial composting sites where the higher temperatures will deal with the problem
  • some manufacturers claim that the soiled litter and waste matter can be flushed down the toilet, but this will inevitably lead to blocked drains!
  • more expensive than Fuller's earth types, and often needs more depth of litter in the tray
  • can be quite 'smelly' - essential to clear any waste as soon as it appears

Silica gel litter - the newest variety, sometimes known as 'crystal litter' - a porous sodium silicate in the form of clear granular particles

Advantages:

  • very high fluid absorbency (though solids still need to be removed)
  • good odour elimination
  • the crystals turn yellow when they are saturated, indicating the need for a completely fresh supply of litter in the tray
  • doesn't tend to tread into the furnishings like some other litter
  • lightweight - a little goes a long way so no need to carry large heavy bags

Disadvantages:

  • very expensive
  • some cats don't like it as it can feel sharp on their feet

Whichever cat litter you choose, it is essential to clean your litter trays and refresh the litter regularly (particularly with Fuller's earth and woodchip/newspaper pellets) to keep the area clean and your house smelling fresh. Cats do not like dirty litter trays, and will often use an alternative area, such as the floor, if the tray is not up to standard in their eyes! Although you can buy litter 'sprays' to banish any surrounding odours, all this is doing is masking the smell rather than getting rid of the problem.

There are a variety of litter tray designs on the market, and you may need to see which one your cat has a preference for! Some cats like trays with hoods or lids, which are effective in minimising the spread of odours, especially if you are out all day - nobody likes being hit with the smell of a litter tray that needs changing as soon as they come in through the front door! Other cats won't use enclosed trays at all, and you may need to experiment a bit when you first get your cat. Small kittens need a low tray that they can get in and out of easily, and can only progress to the larger more elaborate designs as they grow larger.

Litter trays often used to be positioned in the kitchen, but it's better to put them in the utility room or maybe the conservatory if you have one, as there will be inevitable strong smells from time to time, but the key to reducing long lasting smells is to check the trays regular and clean them thoroughly at least twice a day. It is usually advisable to have a large litter tray (approx. 35 cm x 50 cm) for every 2-3 cats.

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