What’s the Scoop About Clay Cat Litter?

On average, a cat using a litter box filled with traditional, clumping litter will later lick off 1/8 teaspoon of bentonite clay, silica gel and fragrance crystals. And while it appears that no publicized studies have been undertaken to conclusively measure the harm of this chemical exposure, some cat guardians are drawing their own conclusions.

Marina Michaels breeds Japanese Bobtail cats and publishes a blog on About.com She alleges that clumping litter was responsible for the death of several litters of kittens who perished despite having a litany of veterinary tests that came back negative.

“Clumping litter is designed to form a hard, insoluble mass when it gets wet,” Marina explains. “It also produces a fine dust when stirred (as when a cat scratches around to bury a recent deposit). And these clumping litters absorb many times their weight in fluids. When cats or kittens use the litter box, they lick themselves clean; anything their tongues encounter gets ingested. Kittens especially tend to ingest a lot of litter when they are first learning to use the box. Kittens have very small intestines and a hard insoluble mass could very well produce a complete and fatal blockage within a couple of weeks.”

She Couldn’t Believe What She Found Next

Marina then took things one step further.

“I also took several of the hard, clay-like lumps of stool produced by two of the kittens and smeared them open,” she continues. “Not only did the stools have the consistency, smell, and texture of clay, but they even retained the color of the litter (gray with blue flecks) inside.”

Many cat guardians have made the switch to non-clay litter after wondering about the risk to their own health of inhaling the cloud of dust that becomes airborne every time they refill the litterbox. And there is also the question of whether or not clay based litters contribute to other conditions such as asthma and even cancer.

One of my own cats was a litter licker.  Every time she entered the box, she’d emerge with litter particles coating her nose like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. I loved this silky, black coated girl from the first night I found her hunched over beside a dumpster on a cold autumn night. It took two full months for me to earn her trust with food and to eventually bring her inside but we had a good ten years together before intestinal cancer overtook her. My veterinarian said that there has been an unexplained rise in abdominal cancers in cats over the last 20 years. And as I watched my cat waste away I couldn’t help but wonder if my consumer choices were responsible.

After testing more than a dozen non-clay litters including those made from wheat, newspaper and all the rest, I settled on pelletized pine as the official litter of our household. (It does also come in a granular variety for cats who resist the consistency of pellets.)  I find that it does the best job in reducing odors and absorbing wetness. While I may use a bit more of it pound for pound, I do so with confidence that the cats are safe and so is the environment as the pellets are made from completely biodegradable pine scraps. (Trees are not cut down exclusively to create cat litter)

Some budget conscious consumers use pine pellets manufactured for use in wood stoves as they can be bought in large quantities for a fraction of the price and, in most cases, are identical to pine cat litter.

Whatever the blend that best suits your cats needs, keep in mind that the best litter box is a well watched litter box. Any sudden change in urinary habits can indicate an urinary tract infection, diabetes, or worse yet, the deadly blockage that commonly occurs in male cats and can become fatal with just 36 hours. If for any reason you notice that your cat is not urinating or crying and straining in the litterbox, head immediately to a 24 hour veterinary hospital.

Brought to you by the Harmony Fund international animal rescue network.


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Jennifer M.
Jennifer M2 years ago

Thank you

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

i actually use the clumping litter and have for 10 years, and I have never had a problem. perhaps its best in some cases? if the cats don't eat it or get sick? anyways I will def look into other options. thanks

Jan Hurst-nicholson

Many thanks for this. My precious little cat died earlier this year from cancer and I'm wondering if the litter was the cause. I'll have to look out for the pine chip or similar version as I don't want my remaining cat (who comes INSIDE to use the tray rather than go in the garden) to get sick as well.

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Monica DOUGLASS5 years ago

Since we only have 1 cat, we use newspaper that we have read from the previous day.

Jessica Evans
Jessica Evans5 years ago

Good info, thanks. I know the perfumed litter is bad though

Georgeta Trandafir

Thanks for the article

Carol C.
Carol Cox5 years ago

i used clumping litter for years with no ill effects... however, living abroad makes it difficult to find litter, as animals are not worshipped as they are in the US.... LOL... so i had to switch to newspaper... easily available and shreddable... my cats like it and i change it everyday... i tried the pine chips available for hamster cages and it worked, but can only be found occasionaly, so we are all stuck with newspaper.... anything to keep the cats happy

Valerie W.
Valerie W5 years ago

When the "clumping cat litter" first became popular, & was still new, we decided to try it for our two cats. After our one cat became sick & our vet said said she probably ingested the clumping litter while she groomed herself, we never bought it again! We only use the original Tidy Cat clay litter & it has NEVER stuck to any of our cats the way the clumping kind did, not at all actually. We've never had any other problems with any of our cats since. I suggest using the old-fashioned litter that is pretty much dust free now, or using paper, either shredded or torn up.

Ahlam Zaid
Ahlam Zaid5 years ago

Merci :)