Does the type of litter I use really matter?

Dangers and Risks

Veterinarians have been reporting an increase in feline illness related to litter. Certain litters are causing serious health problems including asthma, bronchitis, intestinal blockage, respiratory illness, and lung cancer.

Most litters are loaded with chemicals to reduce odor and help with absorption. These chemicals are released into the air when your cat digs in the litter box and get into the cat’s lungs. This can damage their respiratory and immune system, putting their health in jeopardy. Most commercial cat litter contains silica dust, which is dangerous for both humans and animals to inhale. With every visit to the litter box, your cat may be polluting its lungs. Acute damage can occur in a short period of time, and chronic damage can build up slowly over many years.

Clumping clay litter, which forms a hard ball when it gets wet, is also harmful. Why? An ingredient called sodium bentonite helps it to clump. When this clay gets wet, it expands and forms a hard mass, making it easier to scoop. When your cat digs in the litter box, they are stirring up this clay dust and breathing it in. They also lick their paws to clean themselves after exiting the litter box. When the clay litter gets inside the cat’s body (through inhalation or ingestion) it expands. Not only could this cause dehydration by absorbing the body’s moisture, it could also form a hard mass in the intestines, which could be fatal. If it gets into their lungs, it could lead to asthma, bronchitis, and lung cancer.

Some clumping litters actually post a warning right on the bag; “Do Not Let Cat Ingest Litter”, but no one can stop their cat from grooming itself with its tongue after using the litter box. Nor can anyone stop their cat from breathing while visiting the litter box. The health risks also extend to the humans that clean the litterboxes. When we scoop, sift, and dump our cats’ litter boxes, we are stirring up and inhaling the silica/clay dust and other toxins.

What you can do

Switch to a biodegradable, dust and clay free litter. The most popular “all natural” litters are made from either recycled paper, corn, wheat, or pine. If you’re worried about odor, sprinkle a small amount of baking soda in with the litter. It works better than litter deodorizers (which just cover up odors instead of absorbing them). You can also find a litter box with a top that has a carbon filter for odor control. 



I now exclusively use pelleted pine litter. It is the healthiest all natural litter, and the only type without any chemical additives. It is made from 100% sustainable, natural wood. It has a subtle pine scent that helps to mask odors without perfumes or artificial fragrances. I use either of the above two brands interchangeably.

Feline Pine/ Simply Pine are not clumping litters. If you insist on using a clumping litter, the best I have found is the clumping version of Feline Pine. It will smell similar to the pelleted litter they are used to, making the transition easier. However, it still has chemicals added to make it clump (namely mineral oil- which is a by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline). It also has artificial sent added. I don’t want my kittens inhaling or licking either of those ingredients off their paws after every visit to the litter box, so I do not use any clumping litter.

Some other types of “natural” litter contain corn or wheat. Using food-based litter becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and pests. Non-organic corn and wheat are coated with pesticides like glyphosate, which has many adverse health effects and is a proven carcinogen. Both corn and wheat are now increasingly GMO (genetically modified).

Many people ask me about automatic litter boxes. I no longer use auto boxes after transitioning to pelleted pine litter (the pellets will not work in it).  The auto box I previously used and loved is called the “Litter Robot” ( Unlike automatic litterboxes with rake mechanisms that jam and fail, the Litter Robot has a covered globe that rotates and sifts the litter after your cat exits. The waste is stored in a separate drawer that stays closed until you are ready to empty it.

Another solution is to toilet train your cat, and eliminate litter altogether! Yes, cats CAN learn how to use the human toilet. It is much easier and more hygienic than having a litter box. Toilet training kits such as the “Litter Kwitter” ( are readily available on the internet and at pet stores. We have toilet trained several of our siamese, and I love having toilet trained cats.