What is cat litter?
Cat litter is the material that is used in litter boxes or trays to absorb urine and moisture from feces. By doing so it helps to reduce any odors. Earlier, cat litter boxes used to be filled by sand, but today a lot more absorbent materials are available on the market. Cat litter generally consists of super absorbent clay minerals, able to absorb their weight in water.
There are several different types of cat litter available on the market today. The most popular types are:
- Traditional clay based cat litter: This is the most common kind used and available at present. The clay minerals used are very absorbent and helps prevent cat urine odors. This clay provides odor control, but additional products can be added to control super cat urine odors. The disadvantage of clay based litter is that it needs to be replaced frequently.
- Scooping / clumping cat litter: This litter consist of bentonite clay. The benefit of clumping litter is that it does not need to be changed as often as traditional clay based litter. Bentonite clay clumps together when it is moist, therefore the cat owner can easily replace only the soiled litter. The whole contents of the cat litter box also needs to be replaced on occasion but not nearly as frequently as the traditional type.
- Crystal based / Silica gel cat litter: This type offers improved cat urine odor control. Crystal based cat litter has the highest moisture absorbency and when stirred regularly, it only needs to be replaced once a month. The disadvantages of crystal based type is that it is often difficult to see when it needs changing and a puddle of urine will appear at the bottom of the litter box. The crystals form lumps which can be messy when it accidentally rolls underneath furniture. Some cats even refuse to use the crystal based type because of the lumpy texture and some cat owners fear that it might be unhealthy for their cat to lick its paws after using its litter box.
- Plant derived / Bio-degradable cat litter: Advantages of bio-degradable type are that is easy to flush and is environment friendly. Bio-degradablelitter cannot be harmful to your cat's health and is low in dust thus ideal for asthmatic cats. This type can be made of wheat, peanut shells, wood shavings, corn cobs and other natural products. The disadvantage of the bio-degradable type is the cost.
Cat litter boxes and trays
Cat litter boxes or trays are containers that are placed in a cat owner's home. Cat litter boxes are made of a non-absorbent material like plastic and filled with absorbent litter. The most common kind of litter boxes are plastic litter trays. Other enclosed cat litter boxes varieties are also available. Plastic liners can be used to line trays. This makes it easier to empty. Cat litter trays with built in mechanisms that helps you empty the litter can also be purchased.
How to choose the right type
In the USA, clumping litter is rapidly replacing traditional clay based litter as the most popular. That is because they are less messy and needs to be changed less frequently.
If the messiness and cat urine odor your biggest concern, opt for crystal based type. Crystal based litter is less messy, absorbs and masks cat urine odors the best and needs replacement only about every 30 days. The disadvantages are that crystal based litter is more expensive and could hold potential health risks. Also, if your cat is very fussy, it might not like the clumping texture.
Environmentally-friendly, bio-degradable cat litter should be your choice if you are concerned with the environment. It is also completely edible, and therefore won't be risky if your cat licks its paws after using its litter box.
If you are busy training your cat to use the toilet (learn more about toilet training a cat), bio-degradable litter is your most convenient option because you can safely flush it down the toilet. Bio-degradable litter is also more expensive.
If you are still unsure about what kind of litter to choose, monitor your cat's response to the different types, and use the type your cat appears to most comfortable with. After all, in the end it is your cat's comfort that is more important than the little bit of extra effort it takes you to change its litter once in a while.
The amount of cat litter to use inside the litter box depends on the type you use. With conventional clay litter, use a layer of 5 – 7cm deep. With scooping / clumping litter, use a depth of 7 - 9cm. With the crystal litter, use only about 3cm depth.
To prevent a mess if the cat accidentally kicks litter out of the box, always place some newspapers underneath and around the box.
Changing your cat's litter
Cats detest using smelly trays. It is very important to change your cat's litter as soon as you detect any cat urine odor. You also need to wash and disinfect the litter box on a regular basis. This should be washed with a mild cleaning detergent and warm water.
The method of changing litter depends on the type of litter you are using:
If you are using traditional clay litter, the complete litter should be changed daily. Wash the cat litter box every time you change the litter.
If using scooping / clumping type, remove soiled clumps daily and fill it up with the same amount of litter as removed. Change the complete litter when needed and wash the cat litter tray every time you change all the litter.
With crystal type, remove soiled dehydrated crystal clumps daily. Stir the crystals daily so that increased evaporation can take place makes it last longer. Wash the cat litter box every time you do a complete litter change.
Dispose of the litter by wrapping it in two bags and throwing it in the dustbin. Only bio-degradable litter can be flushed down the toilet. Never flush other types of cat litter as this can clog your drains and is harmful to the environment.
You should always wash your hands after handling litter, because of a parasite sometimes found in cat urine or feces. This parasite can cause toxoplasmosis, and pregnant women or persons with weak immune systems can be vulnerable to toxoplasmosis.
Dusty litter can be harmful to cats with asthma problems. Consider switching to the crystal type if your cat has asthma problems.
If you are fed up with changing your cat's litter and dealing with super cat urine odors, why not consider toilet training your cat?