Concerns and Advice on Cat Litter Health

"Cat litter health concerns are an important consideration when choosing the best brand of litter for any cat. The most popular type of kitty litter is clumping litter. It does a great job of controlling odor, and it is easy to scoop. Some owners are concerned with the human inhalation of silica quartz, a known carcinogen and an ingredient used in most brands of clumping litter. For this reason owners are advised to wear a mask when handling. There are also some concerns with cats that ingest clumping litter out of fear that it can cause an intestinal blockage, however most vet's believe that this is a very small risk. There are also specialty litters that are recommended after surgery or an injury, or that address specific ailments such as dust free litter for respiratory problems. There is also litter additives which are used to encourage the use of the litter box."

There are several  cat litter health considerations that should be considered when choosing a litter brand:

Cat Litter Health: Frequency of Changing Litter

You should scoop your cat’s litter box every day to maintain good cat litter health. Some people recommend changing the litter every week, but with clumping cat litter, that may not be necessary. As long as you keep the litter deep enough and scoop it every day, it should stay fresh longer than one week. Just change it when it no longer appears fresh or when the box itself seems soiled.

When scooping the litter box, be careful not to break apart the clumps. You want to be able to remove all of the urine from the box. Otherwise, bacteria can grow in the litter box, and odor may also become a problem.

Keep the litter deep enough so that waste does not stick to the bottom of the box - about 3 to 4 inches deep. If waste sticks to the bottom of the box, you'll break the clumps apart scraping it off. You’ll also have trouble getting it all off, and end up needing to empty the box more often in order to clean it.

Litter Types and Cat Litter Health

Breathing in litter dust can be unhealthy for humans and cats alike. You may find that some brands are less dusty than others, however, so if you notice a difference, go with the less dusty choices. 

Litter Selection and Surgery

One time when you should not use clumping litter is when your cat has had surgery on her feet, such as when she has been declawed. The small particles can get into the surgical incisions and cause infections. Instead, you should litter made of pellets, such as that made of pine such as Feline Pine or recycled newspaper such as Yesterday's News.  When using this type of litter, you should change the box daily.

Litter for Cat Respiratory Issues

Note that Pine may have a scent that bothers your cat.  Pine is also recommended for cats with asthma or respiratory issues since it is dust free.

For some cat health problems, a veterinarian will recommend a specific type and brand of litter:

Clay Cat Litter

If you prefer clay litter we suggest trying Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Ultra which has low levels of dust. Look for labels that say 99% dust free.

Research has shown that cats that have inhaled clay dust get respiratory disease 6x more than healthy cats. The material in clay that causes the problem is called crystalline silica, an element that is present in all clay.

Plant Cat Litter (Wheat, Corn)

A good alternative to clay litter for cat litter health is litter made from plants such as the wheat based Swheat Scoop Natural Wheat Litter or the corn based World's Best Cat Litter Original Formula. Corn is preferable since it is made from recycled corn husks and is highly absorbent.

Silica Gel

New to market are litters made from Silica gel such as Clear Choice. It is manufactured using silica dioxide sand, oxygen and water. The gel is highly absorbent. Be sure to try types that are unscented, nontoxic, bacteria resistant and flushable.

Cat Litter and Human Health

Pregnant women should take the issue of cat litter health seriously. Most Doctors advice pregnant women not to handle cat litter due to the cat litter health risk of Toxoplasmosis that may have been carried by your cat. This is caused by a parasite that if contracted by the mother could cause significant harm to the fetus including neurological problems, physical problems,retardation, epilepsy, brain atrophy, and blindness. This is a real risk that should be avoided if possible. Treatment of pregnant women is with antibiotics.

Cats that are infected with toxoplasmosis usually do not show any symptoms. If you see symptoms they include lethargic behavior, breathing problems, fever and weight loss (anorexia). Other symptoms include convulsions, restlessness, teeth grinding, personality changes, change in sounds your cat makes, coordination problems, trembling and circling and red and/or cloudy eyes.

Refusal to Use the Litter Box

If your cat stops using the litter box, you should take her to the vet to make sure there are no medical problems causing her behavior, but you should also make sure her litter box is being properly maintained. Cats will avoid a dirty box. You can also try a cat litter with an additive that draws cats to the box such as Cat Attract.

Also if changing brands of litter do so gradually, by mixing the current and new brand together at first. Gradually change the mix until you are only using the new litter.

References Cat Litter Health

The Litter Box From Your Cat’s Point of View
Lisa A. Pierson, DVM

Center for Food Security & Public Health Iowa State University


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