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Ask the Doctor April 2016 Issue

Ask The Doctor - Choosing the Best Cat Litter

Litter that cats like best

Q I had been using a store brand clumping litter for a number of years for my two indoor cats: One is a 16-year-old male, and the other is a two-year-old female. Recently, I needed to switch to a newspaper pellet-type litter for a couple of weeks, and I noticed that the smell is not as bad as the clay clumping litter — and it doesn’t track! However, the cats don’t seem too crazy about it, so I won’t continue to use it any longer than necessary.

This experience made me wonder what other good/high quality litters are out there, or would be recommended by an expert. While browsing online, it seems that most of the brands heavily self promote themselves, so their claims are not necessarily believable. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Laura M. Breckenridge

A Dear Laura: It’s important to understand that cats have desert ancestors who were accustomed to eliminating in sand. I’m not saying that you should fill your litterbox with sand, but it would do. (Note: outdoor cats will come from miles around to urinate in a heap of builders’ sand or in a child’s sandbox — hence the lid.)


Like their desert ancestors, our domestic cats prefer a litter that is as close to sand as possible the finer the particle, the more comfortable.

Modern litters that perform as well as sand are those with a sand-like texture that are comfortable for the cat to stand on. The finer the particle, the more comfortable the litter is to tread on and dig in, and the better it is for the cat.

Think of us barefoot walking on a pebbly beach as opposed to one with fine white sand. This fine particle requirement pretty much confines you to selecting a scoopable “clumping” litter, as opposed to a coarse particle non-scoopable clay litter that you have to throw out in its entirety each week. Another good thing about fine particle scoopable litter is that it clumps really well. An entire urine ball can be scooped out without it falling apart and leaving fragments to decompose and contribute to litter box odor. It stays cleaner and smells cleaner for longer!

The downside of the fine particle litter is that it is dusty and it does track — but that’s a problem for the owner, not the cat. The litter you choose should preferably be unscented. Scented litter may be more appealing to us, but most cats detest it. That’s another “owner thing” as opposed to thinking on behalf of the cat. And the litters I would choose need not be expensive. They just have to match the requirements as described earlier.

When I buy cat litter, I go to the supermarket and check out the large plastic jugs of litter. I’m not a fan of litter made of newspaper products that contain the odor well — again, good for people, not so good for the cat. And I don’t really like other “special” litters made from cornhusks or pine bark — and neither do fastidious cats. Keep it simple and think about litter from your cat’s point of view. That’s best for all concerned.
Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Animal Behavior Clinic Directory
Cummings School of Veterinary
Medicine at Tufts University

Comments (2)

I am new to being a cat 'mother'. My question: my cat squats to urinate in the litter box - all well and good, but she stands and props her paws on the high part of the litter box to do her "other" business. That is fine with me as it seems very clean, but I wondered if this is the "norm" for all cats or if she is just different in her potty habits.

Posted by: LAYNEE | March 21, 2016 8:25 AM    Report this comment

i agree with the clumping litter part, plastic jugs are best, for storing in areas of a home that are prone to flooding, would have wasted a lot of litter everytime the basement floods.and i notice that kitty prefers the softer clumping litter.

Posted by: goldielocks | March 20, 2016 12:40 AM    Report this comment

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