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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7 Comments

  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)

  2. Hello, my name is Lorna. I have been researching for about 3 years now because my friend and I have been loosing our cats. We have spent thousands of dollars on vet bills etc. We both lost 3 cats and the vets didn’t really have a real answer. I know now what from. It is the clay litter. I found one that won’t hurt cats or kittens. It is new and you have to order it. It is called Smart Cat. It is made of only grass. Expensive, but it has to be cheaper then all of the vet bills. If you read about clay litter, it is deadly. I think this is the only one that I can trust. I am detoxing my other cats because of the clay. I wish I had found this earlier, but it is new. The clay will kill kittens quicker than the cats. I really have gone through a nightmare for 3 years. I think this will solve many health problems for my cats. I love them dearly and wish I could find a way to tell everyone about the Smart Cat litter.

    • Hello Lorna,
      I’m so grateful to have stumbled upon your comment after so many hours of reading and delving into the research surrounding clay and silica litters!! I am searching for an alternative to the sodium bentonite/clay, and kept returning to Smart Cat – but was price deterred! I was leaning towards the Dr. Elsey’s line, but keep feeling discomfort with the lack of transparency in ingredients (at least online; I’ve not yet seen a bag/box in person to look for it spelled out on the packaging, but I suspect it will be hidden behind the “proprietary blend” or “natural essences” ruse). I’m suspicious of ‘natural’ clumping litters claiming they contain “natural clay” along with (in this case) prairie grass seeds (Dr. Elsey’s Touch of Outdoors); do you have any opinions of the Dr. Elsey’s line? I dislike that the ingredients are not transparently listed, unlike on Smart Cat’s bags…I will move forward with Smart Cat, and I appreciate your many years of heartbreak and hard work trying to find a safe litter for your beloved kitties. I share in your grief for all the special kitty-kids that you are missing!!

  3. Hello Lorna, I’m so grateful to have stumbled upon your comment after so many hours of reading and delving into the research surrounding clay and silica litters!! I am searching for an alternative to the sodium bentonite/clay, and kept returning to Smart Cat – but was price deterred! I was leaning towards the Dr. Elsey’s line, but keep feeling discomfort with the lack of transparency in ingredients (at least online; I’ve not yet seen a bag/box in person to look for it spelled out on the packaging, but I suspect it will be hidden behind the “proprietary blend” or “natural essences” ruse). I’m suspicious of ‘natural’ clumping litters claiming they contain “natural clay” along with (in this case) prairie grass seeds (Dr. Elsey’s Touch of Outdoors); do you have any opinions of the Dr. Elsey’s line? I dislike that the ingredients are not transparently listed, unlike on Smart Cat’s bags…I will move forward with Smart Cat, and I appreciate your many years of heartbreak and hard work trying to find a safe litter for your beloved kitties. I share in your grief for all the special kitty-kids that you are missing!!

    • Please don’t flag this comment as spam – I have pointed out exactly what Dr. Elsy’s is doing in my post on Dangers of Sodium Bentonite Cat Litter under the sub-head ‘The number one reason clumping clay litter is considered safe’. I would appreciate your comments on my observation. The url is: http://kapush.org/cat-litter/sodium-bentonite-cat-litter-dangers/

      I just hope the author of this post understands that I am trying to start a discussion without any intention of spamming or hijacking the visitors.

      By the way, Catsens uses Calcium Bentonite clay which they pass off as ‘Canadian Feed Grade Clay’ – that’s how the owner had replied via email upon my asking specifically if they used Sodium Bentonite. I guess he is aware of the stigma associated with the ‘Bentonite’ word and wanted to avoid it altogether.

      Calcium Bentonite, even when not food grade, is actually therapeutic and definitely doesn’t clump. In fact, before the clumping litter was created by Thomas Nelson in 1984 using quartz mixed with baked Sodium Bentonite, most cat litters were made from Calcium Bentonite and / or Fuller’s earth (which is a generic term, really , and may well refer to Calcium Bentonite granules among other, soluble forms of clay).

      • Sorry, the line should read ‘… the clumping litter was created by Thomas Nelson in 1984 using quartz mixed with DRIED Sodium Bentonite…’ – baked sodium bentonite does not have anywhere near the severe clumping property that the dried (often sun dried) variety has.

  4. “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…” – isn’t this curious? The so called controversy began with an article by Marina McInnis way back in 1995 – an updated version can be found here: http://www.thelighthouseonline.com/articles/clump.html

    She had also posted a debate between medical professionals regarding a suspected case of bentonite poisoning which can be found here: http://www.thelighthouseonline.com/articles/hornfeldt.html

    I wrote an article in late 2011 on the dangers of sodium bentonite clumping cat litter the updated version of which may be found here: http://kapush.org/cat-litter/sodium-bentonite-cat-litter-dangers/

    In 20 years there hasn’t been any ‘scientific study’ on what may happen if sodium bentonite cat litter is ingested by cats or kittens, and anecdotal evidence has been marginalized as … well, anecdotal evidence. Meanwhile, half the market is flooded with sodium bentonite litter endangering the environment (there is scientific evidence for that, thankfully) and cats, with bold faced lies and half-truths on manufacturer websites.

    If I had the means, I would definitely file a law suit against these companies. Unfortunately, most of what I earn is spent on maintaining my own stray animal shelter.

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