Is clumping litter safe for cats?

kittens are curious and may ingest litter

Part of having a cat in your life means dealing with the litter box. Nowadays, many cat owners appreciate the convenience of clumping cat litter, which makes it easy to scoop both solid and liquid waste from your cat’s litter box. The obvious advantage is that the litter box smells fresh for longer, reducing the frequency of completely changing out and replacing the litter. However, if you have young kittens, you might be unaware of a possible danger that clumping litter poses.

The safety of clumping litter is a controversial topic. While there is nothing in the scientific literature documenting the health hazards to cats of clumping litter, there are many anecdotal reports from pet owners relating problems their own cats have had that the pet guardian relates to the use of clumping litter. Clumping litters usually contain sodium bentonite, which is a natural clay. Even though sodium bentonite is considered to be an inert, non-toxic substance, many clumping litters form very hard, cement-like clumps which are not safe to be flushed as they may clog the plumbing in your home. Another characteristic of sodium bentonite is that it expands many times when it comes into contact with water.

Young kittens are naturally curious and are more likely to try to taste-test litter than are adult cats. Kittens are also messier than adult cats and more likely to get litter stuck to their fur and paws, which they subsequently ingest upon grooming. It’s not hard to see how ingestion of clumping litter could cause intestinal distress or blockages in small kittens. The ASPCA notes that “…while there has been no proof to claims of problems in scientific literature, caretakers may wish to delay introducing kittens to clumping litter until 3 to 4 months of age.”

The Breeze litter box system uses pelleted litter

In the absence of scientific documentation regarding the safety of clumping cat litter, pet parents must decide for themselves whether or not to use clumping litters. It may be prudent reserve the use of clumping cat litters to adult cats and older kittens that are less likely to ingest the litter. You can also consider use of a system such as the Tidy Cat Breeze cat litter system, which uses non-clumping, non-tracking, dust-free large clay pellets which don’t cling to your cat’s paws or fur.

What are your thoughts on clumping cat litter?

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1 Comment

  1. I have been fostering kittens since 2002 and I have heard this many many times, but as you say in the article it hasn’t ever been an issue. I’ve never had it happen, never talked to anyone who had it happen, never heard of anyone who has heard of it happening. It is all speculation. Although I do watch every kitten eat litter before they start eating food.

    However, I did read a story from a vet who was actually rather shocked that it happened to a beagel who ate cat poop directly out of the litter box. But he said he didn’t think it was possible. The blog post said it wasn’t something that happens.

    That being said, unless I have orphaned kittens who are being bottle fed, I use scoopable litter. I only use clay on those is because they are so messy they end up with cement shoes because they walk through the food as well their urine and it causes them to have a number of baths.

    I currently have a litter of kittens that have two boxes, one with scoopable and one with clay, and they avoid the clay. Occasionally they pee in it, but they strongly prefer the texture of scoopable.

    I am concerned about the scents and the chemicals added to cat litter to mask odors. Cats are very sensitive to smells, and their bodies have a hard time getting rid of toxins. The only reasons for those is to appease owners who don’t scoop as often as they should. ( just like dry food is harmful for cats but is made for the convenience of owners)

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