What Is The Best Cat Litter?

I have no idea how most cat owners end up choosing a cat litter. If my experiences are anything to go by, it’s trial and error. I doubt they try more than a few before settling on a favourite.

This is a vet review of the common and popular types of cat litter in stores. I’ll help you understand:

  • the choices of cat litter
  • the problems with each type
  • and the evidence for which ones cats prefer

Popular Cat Litter Choices

The following table shows the top 21 cat litters sold on an Australian website*. I’ve ranked them on number of reviews and star rating to give you an idea of popularity.

The brands will change in other countries and stores, but the type of products available should be the same. See also the readers’ comments at the end about Tofu litter.

Brand of LitterRating/5Type of Cat LitterCompostClumping
Breeders Choice4.8 (308)Recycled paperYesNo
Rufus & Coco4.3 (151)Corn, binding agentYes?Yes
OzPet4.7 (105)Wood pelletsYesNo
Catsan Ultra4.7 (82)Bentonite clayNoYes
Cat Mate4.9 (52)Wood pelletsYesNo
CatLux4.6 (47)Wood & bentoniteNoYes
Scrunch & Sticks4.9 (44)Recycled paperYesNo
Applaws4.6 (38)Walnut shell fibreYesYes
Feline First4.6 (38)Bentonite clayNoYes
Natty Cat4.5 (36)Lucerne pelletsYesYes
Catsan4.6 (32)Silica gel crystalsNoNo
Trouble & Trix4.4 (28)Silica crystalsNoNo
The Catsentials4.6 (24)Silica gel crystalsNoNo
Max’s4.5 (21)Rice hull pelletYesNo
Trouble & Trix4.8 (20)Soy extractYesYes
Trouble & Trix4.6 (19)Bentonite, zeoliteYesNo
PooWee4.9 (18)Bentonite clayNoYes
Misty’s3.8 (17)Bentonite clayNoYes
Trouble & Trix4.9 (14)Clay, lavender scentNoYes
Trouble & Trix4.6 (13)Silica antibacterialNoNo
Purina Tidy Cats4.4 (13)ClayNoYes

Clumping refers to litters that bind together when they get wet. This means you can often remove just the soiled parts neatly and leave the rest. If so, the whole tray should still be emptied and cleaned monthly.

Compostable is my personal judgement only, and cannot be guaranteed safe (especially for food crops) without written proof from the company. You should also be aware of toxoplasmosis. However, it’s a general rule that the litters of plant origin will break down well and can go back on the garden once composted. In fact, the nitrogen from cat urine appears to help balance lawn clippings if layered.

Many companies also claim their products are flushable. I have concerns about putting this much solid material into our public sanitation systems. Most claim their products are biodegradable, which seems fairly meaningless. I certainly would not be putting clay or silica on my garden.

So let’s make sense of this. Despite the confusion, there are only really four types of cat litter. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each.

Clay Litters

Clay usually refers to bentonite or zeolite.

Pros:

  • Clumping is a feature almost entirely of clay based litters

Cons:

  • Dust is a potential hazard (see below)
  • Odour seems more obvious
  • Tracking is more common with clay

Tracking is when litter gets caught between the toes and the cats tread it around the house.

Silica Litters

Silica is the main ingredients of the crystal litters designed to absorb urine.

Pros:

  • Low odour
  • Low tracking

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Dust concerns
  • Very different in appearance so cats may need time to adjust

Plant-based Litters

Cat litter can be made from many natural fibres.

Pros:

  • Mostly compostable
  • Low tracking (except rice hulls)
  • Lower dust hazard
  • Low odour (but often have an smell of their own)

Cons:

  • Clumping is rare without other additives
  • Probably least preferred by cats (see below)
  • Can attract insects if not cleaned

Diatomaceous Earth

These are the older type whitish granules you now mostly only see in unbranded cat litters. They are problematic for smell, tracking, absorbency, dust and only really stand out on price.

The Dust Hazard Issue

I personally think that we have yet to fully grasp the seriousness of dust in cat litters. Most clays and silicas create a cloud of dust when disturbed which is easily inhaled. This might be a problem in two scenarios:

  1. Cats digging in the litter inhale dust which may cause or exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
  2. Owners inhale dust when changing litter. You only have to look at the known hazards of silica dust in the workplace to appreciate this.

It is for the dust issue alone that I only use plant-based litters in my home and workplace. While not dust-free, there is noticeably less, and the type of dust is probably less harmful.

Cat Litter Preferences

So which litters do cats prefer? Here’s what the studies found:

  • A preference for clay or silica over wood-based pellets1
  • No difference between clay, clumping or sand3
  • A preference for unscented litter3
  • No difference between scented and unscented litter2 & 4
  • No preference for clumping vs unclumping2
  • A preference for clumping litter5 & 6

As you can see, there’s disagreement and no clear answer. But this isn’t bad news. My personal view is that litter type and scent are probably not very important.

So Which Litter???

I would choose cat litter based on two factors:

  1. The features mentioned above like odour, tracking, clumping, compostability, dust and of course, cost
  2. The litter that your cat prefers!

Of course, if you want to change you can, just be careful. Cats get very set in their ways. When starting a new litter, it’s always a good idea to do it slowly by mixing the two together for a while.

Other Factors Influencing Litter Use

Beyond the choice of litter, studies have also shown the following are important:

  • Depth of litter: cats prefer deeper litter
  • Frequency of cleaning: daily is best (at least the soiled parts)
  • Size of tray: an 86cm by 39cm box is better than 56cm by 38cm

Despite suspicions, studies have so far failed to show that position of the tray or number of trays is important. That doesn’t mean we don’t try these too when problems occur.

That’s it. I hope you’ve appreciated this review of cat litters and the complete lack of toilet puns. It wasn’t easy. Feel free to add your personal experiences below.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

References

  1. Villeneuve-Beugnet, V., & Beugnet, F. (2018). Field assessment of cats’ litter box substrate preferences. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 65-70.
  2. Sung, S.L. Crowell-Davis. (2006). Elimination behavior patterns of domestic cats (Felis catus) with and without elimination behavior problems. Am J Vet Res, 67, 1500-1504.
  3. Horwitz, D. F. (1997). Behavioral and environmental factors associated with elimination behavior problems in cats: a retrospective study. Appl Anim Behav Sci, 52, 129-137.
  4. Neilson, J. C. (2011). Litter preference in cats: scented vs. unscented. Schedule of Events, 2011 ACVB/AVSAB Scientific Program, 6-9.
  5. Smith, K., Dreschel, N.A. (2008). A comparison of cat preferences for litterbox substrates. AVSAB Newsletter, 30, 6-7. 
  6. Neilson. (2001) Pearl vs. Clumping: Litter Preference in a Population of Shelter Cats. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Boston, 14.

* The information on reviews and litter type was taken from the petcircle.com.au on 1 Feb, 2020.

Andrew

6 Replies to “What Is The Best Cat Litter?”

  1. Cat’s Best (also known as Öko Plus) Cat Litter, which is made of wood fibres, is also a good cat litter. It is best used when you are not able to replace the litter every other day, as it is expensive, but it is very effective at locking waste up.

  2. I’ve used nearly all.kitty litters and the one I’ve found more pleasant.on the nose n easier to keep.clean is CATLUX by far. One litter full.per week n emptied soiled pieces daily no smell.no smell.

    1. I do rate Catlux as well (although it does throw up a lot of dust – from the bentonite I presume).

      It is cheap enough that you can fully replace every other day (more expensive than Breeder’s Choice but better for clumping and smell absorption), which is important because cats do like a clean litter box (partially contaminated litter for weeks, even if bulk matter removed, can’t be nice for them).

      Not perfect, but a good balance.

  3. My ragdoll cat has been using Purina Tidy cats free and clean for 2 months. I have found this product to be really good for odour control and clumping. I fill a smaller litter tray with Purina litter and place this inside an extra large tray(similiar in size to a plastic baby bath). I place the tray in our bath tub, as we don’t use it. I am able to scoop clumps out easily into paper bags. It costs $20 , but it lasts a long time . I refill the tray as needed. When it is on special for $16, I stock up. The empty containers are great as watering cans for the garden or can be recycled.

  4. Super helpful as always Dr. Spanner! I suppose I’m not surprised to see newer tofu based clumping litters don’t make the list, as they’ve been around for a relatively short period of time and appear costly, so probably don’t get a lot of buy in. However they have proved to be the best on the market for our four cat household (wood and paper pellets didn’t cut it for our cats or for us).

    Specifically, we switched to The Natural Paw Company Tofu Clumping litter almost 12 months ago, and have not looked back. It’s only available at Woolworths at this stage, at $12 for 2kg. We only ever buy it on 1/2 price specials, which come around reasonably regularly and then we stock up with a full car boot load.

    We use 8kg to one cat litter box (we bought a 100L tub from Bunnings and made some modifications- cats love it) and you would be AMAZED how long it lasts. Easily 6-8 weeks, with twice daily scooping (for 4 cats). We top up with another box every now and then to keep a nice deep layer. It works out cheaper than Breeders Choice in the long term. By the way Breeders Choice claims to be flushable but the $500 we paid to get our pipes drilled in our last home contradicts this claim!!!!

    Aside from great odour control and long term economy, the other great thing about NPC tofu litter is how well it clumps. It’s been a dream to switch to this litter from Breeders Choice- cats took to it instantly as well.

    Con’s for the NPC Tofu Litter- it TRACKS BADLY. They say it doesn’t but in practice, it does. We got around the problem by buying a shallow container the same width as our litter tub, and same height as the entrance, and put a sturdy wire platform in the centre and covered with fine mesh large enough to trap the litter coming off the cats paws. Makes tracking 99% better.

    The other con, and one folks should be aware of to avoid a panicky situation, is the product is made on the same lines as Peach Tea and Green Tea and sometimes colour saturated pellets make it into your box. When a cat wees on them, voila- it looks like blood stained clumps. Something to be mindful of.

    Also worth considering is the new Tofu clumping litter only available at Coles. The pellets are a bit larger- we find it clumps even better than the NPC tofu litter, and does even better at odour control, price is also better (full price vs full price) at $16 for 4kg (haven’t seen it on special yet). The cons with this one is the DUST. SO MUCH DUST. We actually go through a complicated process to remove the dust from the product if we use this brand. If not for the dust, we’d prefer it to NPC.

    Anyway, food for thought for other cat owners! We would never go back to anything other than tofu clumping litter now.

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