It takes two to choose cat litter: the human and the cat. You have a rough idea of what you want. Great. But do you know what your cat wants? Do you even know how to begin to ask? To him, which litter smells the least offensive? Which is the safest? Which is the most comfortable against her little paws?
Here, we’ve compiled some questions (and answers) to go through with your cat the next time the litter box runs empty. We’ve also categorized common types of cat litter and summarized their characteristics. And we wrote up a list of litter we’d recommend. So all you need to do is consider the unique situation and tastes of you and your cat.
How to Choose Cat Litter – Buying Guide
When you’re picking out something that’s so subjective–that depends so much on personal taste–experience is the greatest teacher. So, this time around, we asked Jenny, who has shared her home with cats almost her whole life, about how she looks for cat litter.
Jenny Dean is the blogger behind Floppycats.com, a website that unites Ragdoll cat lovers worldwide. She has two 9-year old Ragdoll cats, Charlie and Trigg, that she adores. Jenny has been blogging and reviewing products for over 10 years, including many different kinds of litter—including clay, corn, walnut, paper, and more.
She also covers topics such as cat care, cat behavior, and cat rescue. You can connect with the Ragdoll community on Instagram and spend hours browsing adorable cat photos.
・The Floppycats Cat Blog: https://www.floppycats.com/
Cats Have Sensitive Noses: Get Odor-Absorbing, Unscented Litter
Give unscented litter a try. We know that cat litter that smells like lavender fields sounds like a great idea–but hear us out. First off, scented litter has too strong of a smell for most cats. And if your cat doesn’t like her litter box, she’s not going to pee in it.
Second, most perfume is synthesized from chemicals, and these chemicals get on your cat’s coat as he’s doing his business. And the next time he licks himself clean, they enter his system. We don’t know just how harmful these chemicals are for your cat, but it’s not something you want to take chances with.
A good unscented litter is more than enough to control smell. If it has antimicrobial agents, all the better–since now you’re rooting out and eliminating the cause of the odor.
Usually scented litters fail because a cat stops using the litter box because it smells so potent and offensive to the cat. A cat’s nose smells 14 times stronger than a human's, and most scented litters are chemically produced, meaning that they use chemicals and perfumes that make a cat not want to use the litter box. I mean, think about a cat, fending on its own outside, is going to find a dirt pile to do its business in. They aren’t looking for something that smells like an artificial air freshener to do their business in.
Also, the reason why cat urine or cat poop smells is because of what the cat is eating. If it’s a dry food only diet, if it’s a wet food diet, if it’s a raw food diet—the smells of the poop and pee are going to differ based on those things. Also the cat’s age and if they have any ailments is going to alter the smell of the urine. So that’s something to consider when selecting litter.
Get Clumping Litter so You Can Clean Easily and Frequently
You want litter that clumps. If the sand does not clump where a cat pees or poops, you won’t be able to get rid of it right away. The waste will slowly sink to the bottom, and now you have to dump out the litter box, rinse it, and start again.
And the longer you wait to clear out the litter box, the more time you give the bacteria and other undesirables to fester and grow. Clumping litter is easy, and it’s hygienic.
The only thing is, clumping litter will harden on any wet surface. That means if you keep the litter box in a bathroom with a shower–anywhere with a wet surface–when your cat kicks litter out of the box, it’ll stick to your floors and you’ll have to scrape it off.
Specifically, I prefer clumping clay litter. That’s what I like, and every cat I’ve had has used it and we’ve never had a problem. So that’s at least five cats that I know of.
What Is Your Litter Made of?
There are four main types of cat litter: clay, paper, natural, and silica gel. Here are the characteristics of each.
Clay: Dusty, but at Least It Clumps Easily
Clay litter is the most common on the market. That’s why it’s also the cheapest. It absorbs odor well–that is, until it becomes saturated with urine. That’s why it’s so important to get clumping litter so you can remove waste and lay down new litter regularly.
The catch? It’s dusty. If your cat has lung problems, it may aggravate them. And when she scrabbles around the litter box, she will kick dirt everywhere.
The better the brand, usually, the less dust is in the clay-based litter. And I think finer granules do better as well. If you have a cat that’s eating the granules, though, you don’t want to go with that. You should be buying them paper litter or maybe wheat litter or something that their digestive tract can take.
Paper: Perhaps the Gentlest Litter–and It’s Biodegradable
Paper is natural and biodegradable. It’s highly absorbent, so it soaks up urine before it contaminates the rest of the litter box. It’s gentle, and you know there won’t be a problem even if your cat eats a little.
It’s also light, which seems like such a minor thing–but it will keep you from straining your back when you lug the bag to, from, and around the house.
I like paper litter for those kind of uses because it’s obviously safe. It’s non-toxic, and hopefully, it doesn’t have any artificial scent sprayed on it.
Plant: Generally Safe, but Has Widely Differing Varieties
This encompasses a few different kinds of litter. Wood, plants, wheat, even corn–basically, anything that sprouts out of the ground and is not produced in a lab.
Some plant-based litter clump well, some not so much. Some plant-based litter eliminates smell, some don’t. It all depends on what brand you’re using and what went into making the litter. But, in general, wood and corn are absorbent and good at stifling odor.
We’ve also tried walnut litter. Walnut litter, I didn’t like because it left a brown dust all over my cats. And I wasn’t sure if licking that off over time would be okay for them. The less dusty the litter, the better, because the cats are going to lick off that dust—they lick off everything on their bodies.
Silica: Dust-Free, but It Absorbs and Retains Urine for a Long Time
You know those little packages of desiccant that sometimes come with food? Silica litter is made out of something similar. It’s this porous material, and it can absorb a huge amount of urine. So technically, you don’t have to clean the litter box as often–but do you really want to leave cat pee sitting around for a month?
Silica is dust free (it’s a gel)–so it’s tempting if your cat has asthma or allergies. But it’s potentially harmful if digested in large amounts. It’s for you to decide if the pros outweigh the cons.
Look for Promotions and Sales to Save Money–But Don’t Skimp on Quality
From here on out, you’re going to be constantly laying down new litter, constantly dumping out old litter, and constantly restocking litter. So it makes sense to be worried about cost. You want a litter you can afford and continue to afford into the future.
However, make sure that you only get brands you trust and your cat likes. If you’re on a shoestring budget, rather than gambling on something cheap and of doubtful quality, search for deals. There are plenty of promotions and sales–all you have to do is look.
If you are a smart shopper, you can get the brand that you want at a lower cost. Just watch the price of litter. I use Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Litter. It’s regularly $17 for a 40 lb. bag, but sometimes it will go on sale for $10.49. Or you can find it online for cheap as well. There’s also lots of coupons online you can print off and bring in store to help you save.
Top 10 Best Cat Litters to Buy Online
Bottom line: there’s no telling how much you’ll love a brand of litter until you’ve used it. But we have to give you somewhere to start. Here’s some litter that has been pre-approved by many cats and humans alike.
10. Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal Litter, Multi-Cat (38 lb.)
Easy to Clean and Eliminates Fecal Odor
This one has a lot of human-friendly benefits. It’s not dusty. It barely tracks. It seals into tight little balls, so odor is trapped in, and it doesn’t stick to the side or bottom of the litter box. Basically, it cleans easily. And the texture is fine–which is good for your cats.
But Arm & Hammer is first and foremost a cleaning supplies brand. It will sanitize the litter box, but it also has a scent to it like soap. Some like it; some think it smells like chemicals. And even if you like the smell, there’s still the chance that your cat won’t.
9. Ever Clean Extra Strength Cat Litter, Unscented (25 lb.)
Clumps into Concrete and Keeps the Litter Box Nice in Between Full Cleanings
The texture’s fine, but a little dusty. But the litter clumps into solid balls, and the balls do not fall apart when you scoop. And there’s no smell. No perfumes. And no cat pee. We know that most people hate dumping out and refilling entire litter boxes–and Ever Clean is great at making sure the box stays as nice as possible between full cleanings.
Most cats are fine with using this litter. It does track though.(You might find dusty pawprints around the house.) And one more thing–it’s quite dense. There’s resistance when you sift around with your scooper, and the physical exertion might be a deal-breaker for some.
8. SmartCat All Natural Clumping Litter (20 lb.)
Dust-Free Grass Litter That Clumps into Concrete
This litter is grass-based. And it claims to clump better than clay. Sounds crazy, right? But it does. It forms these giant balls that don’t break apart. Of course, that means if it gets stuck to the wall of the litter box, it’s hard to pry loose. But it also means you don’t need to empty out the litter box so often to keep it clean.
The litter is light, and the texture is sandy. It’s easy for humans to carry around, and cats don’t mind stepping in it. But it also sticks to kitty paws. It’s probably one of the worst brands of litter when it comes to tracking, actually. At least there’s barely any dust.
7. Purina Yesterday News Unscented Paper Cat Litter (30 lb.)
For Sensitive Cats: Recycled Paper, Dust-Free and Safe to Ingest
If you are worried about safety, if you have a cat that eats everything, or if you or your cat has allergies, then you may need this litter. It’s recycled paper (safe to ingest), but it absorbs urine and odor just fine. Each pellet is large and has some heft to it, so it’s easy enough to clean and your cat won’t track it anywhere. And it’s scent-free and dust-free.
Yesterday’s News doesn’t clump, though. That means you scoop out what you can, but you should be dumping out and cleaning the entire litter box regularly. It’s a chore, but you can’t really compromise on hygiene. And–on the bright side–because it doesn’t clump, you don’t need to scrape it off the sides of the litter box or wet floors.
6. Boxiecat Premium Clumping Clay Cat Litter (28 lb.)
Clumps on Top so You Don’t Need to Scrape Concrete off the Sides of the Litter Box
It absorbs odor. It clumps quickly–when the urine is still near the top, actually, so you don’t need to sift the litter and look for balls of pee. There’s very little dust. And yet the texture is fine and sandy, and most cats transition over without a problem.
It tracks a bit–what cat litter doesn’t? But not too far from the litter box. There’s nothing in here but clay, and, though the litter is a little heavy, you only need to dump out and refill the entire litter box once a month. Otherwise, just scoop and replenish once or twice a day.
5. sWheat Scoop Multi-Cat All-Natural Clumping Cat Litter (36 lb.)
Clumping Natural Litter that Smells Like Bread
The ingredients list reads “naturally processed wheat and other grains, good vibes.” Unless your cat has a gluten allergy, it’s pretty safe for them to lick and nibble the litter off themselves. There’s very little dust, and it smells just like bread.
It’s decent at clumping. Balls fall apart once in a while, but it’s not that annoying to scoop. Actually, because it doesn’t turn into concrete, you don’t need to scrape it off the bottom of the litter box. It’s light, but it also tracks some. Just make sure–and this is important–that your cats are not sensitive to wheat. (It is an allergy in cats!)
4. Weruva It’s A Tea Potty! Hinoki Wood & Green Tea Natural Cat Litter (11.7 lb.)
No Clay and No Grains–Try Weruva if You or Your Cat Has Allergies
No grains and very little dust. (Not “no” dust, but very little.) The wood is untreated and, though Weruva doesn’t add any scents, the bag smells fresh–pretty much like what you’d expect a wood and green tea mix to smell like. And as long as you keep enough litter in the litter box, pee will clump before it sinks to the bottom of the pan. It’s easy to clean and neutralizes odor.
But because Weruva is made up of big pellets, it’s annoying to sift through. You might need to buy a scooper with bigger slots that will let the clean litter fall out. Also, humans love the smell of hinoki, but cats might find it strong.
3. ökocat Super Soft Natural Wood Clumping Litter (16.7 lb.)
Almost Like Sawdust–Gentle Wood Litter for Sensitive Paws
This is one for the cats. As Jenny mentioned, clay’s got the closest texture to the dirt patches cats naturally pee in, but it can get really dusty. ökocat is a wood-based litter, but the texture is fine, similar to sawdust. Cats seem to actually like rooting around in it–to the point that they often remember their manners and cover up their poo.
It’s light, of course, and absorbent. And this particular line is soft, which you’ll need for sensitive little paws. The only thing is, it tracks further than ökocat’s normal line and doesn’t clump as well (the balls are a bit crumbly). So clean-ups for humans are going to get a little messier, but a purring, healthy cat makes everything worth it.
2. Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Ultra Premium Clumping Cat Litter (18 lb.)
Clumps Quickly and Is Virtually Dust-Free
Here’s the brand Jenny mentioned. Dr. Elsey’s is all-natural and unscented. And even though it’s clay, it’s virtually dust-free and there is minimal tracking–just a few spot cleanups once in a while. It clumps quickly–before urine can make its way to the bottom to the litterbox, so clean-up is easy.
But do not use this litter in rooms with wet surfaces, or if your cat gets his paws wet once in a while. It will form a concrete armor that takes days to chisel off. And, just for your information, Dr. Elsey’s also has a line (Cat Attract) that they blend with a herb that cats like–and so they naturally gravitate to the litter box. It’s great for potty-training.
1. World’s Best Cat Litter Multiple Cat Clumping Formula (28 lb.)
Safe Corn Kernels that Can Absorb Huge Amounts of Waste and Odor
As with all good products, the factors that make one brand of cat litter better than another are subjective. Many say World’s Best has zero odor. There is no artificial perfume–but any plant-based product (corn kernels, in this case) will give off some smell when wet, and you might not like the smell. In any case, World’s Best has been used by cat rescue groups taking care of dozens of felines, and it did a good job absorbing odor, even then.
No dust, of course. It’s got a nice texture, like sand, that cats like to step on. But the clumps are tight and don’t break apart when you try to scoop them up.
We’re going to say this again. Cat litter is chosen by both the human and the cat. And the “best” cat litter is going to be the one that you two like the most and keeps your shared home clean and your cat healthy.
And here’s another quick tip. When you switch to a new litter, be sure to introduce it slowly, mixing in the new litter in increments. Otherwise, your cat may protest by peeing on the rug–even if you were introducing a perfectly good cat litter.
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