Whether you shop online or at your local pet store, the choices you have as a cat owner can feel overwhelming. Today, there are aisles upon aisles filled with cat toys, cat food, cat treats, and, of course, cat litter.
There are a lot of fantastic litter options available, with each type offering key benefits like odor elimination and low maintenance.
So with so many options, how do you know which one is right? We hope the following quick guide to all of the different types of cat litter will help you in your search for the right cat litter at the right price.
Table of Contents
- A. Types of Cat Litter
- B. Types of Litter Boxes
Related: Types of Dog Toilets
Most people with cats who spend any time indoors will use a litter box, but there are more choices than just this.
A. Types of Cat Litter
1. Clumping Clay Cat Litter
Clumping clay litter is typically cat litter made most generally from a clay that is known as bentonite. Bentonite and similar clumping clay are extremely absorbent and it is this quality that allows makes litter form a hard and solid clump when it absorbs cat waste. This makes clumping clay easy to scoop and the material also has the added benefit of reducing odors.
However, while clumping clay cat litter is extremely effective at absorbing waste so for easy scooping, it does have some downsides. First off, clumping clay should not be used for young kittens and owners of young cats should wait until their cats have matured before switching to this type of litter. That’s because there is a risk of them ingesting too much when cleaning their paws and in doing so, have the clay harden and clump in their stomachs where there isn’t enough room for it to pass normally. This type of cat litter can also be expensive and, because it is so effective at clumping, can get heavy, fast — thereby making it requiring more frequent changes.
2. Non-clumping Clay-based Litter
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If you like the idea of clay-based litter but don’t want the risks or costs associated with clumping clay-styled litter, then consider non-clumping clay-based cat litter. Like clumping clay, the non-clumping litter will still help reduce odors thanks to its inclusion of charcoal, baking soda, and other special odor-reducing additives.
Interestingly, non-clumping clay was the first major innovation in cat litter. It started back in the mid-1900s when an ex-sailor named Ed Lowe heard about his neighbor’s frustration with existing cat litter. During that era, most cats were both indoor and outdoor cats, with an emphasis on being outdoors for waste elimination. The few homes that kept cats solely indoors did so with boxes of sand or ashes to eliminate in. The problem was that some people, like Ed Lowe’s neighbor, hated out sand and ashes tracked across the floor. Ed Lowe suggested the use of non-clumping clay litter similar to that used to absorb industrial oil spills and — eureka! — the path to non-clumping clay litter was born!
The two biggest benefits of non-clumping clay-based cat litter are that it is both cheap and safe for cats of all ages. You’ll find this type of cat litter just about anywhere cat supplies are sold and because it won’t clump and harden, there is no risk of young kittens ingesting too much of it.
However, because non-clumping clay won’t harden and lump together, things can get messy and fast if you don’t regularly change out litter. Not only can this litter get physically messy, but it can also get smelly when not changed in time. Often, even with regular non-clumping clay-based litter changes, you will want to completely clean out the cat litter box at least once a month and ideally once a week.
3. Silica Crystal-based Cat Litter
You might have a passing familiarity with silica as being the little packet that most comes with shoes with the aim of regulating humidity and preventing odors. A similar type of silica crystals is also used as a cat litter base and for similar reasons.
Silica crystal cat litter is often comprised of primarily sodium silicate sand and is done so by a special factory process that combines water, oxygen, and other compounds to create translucent white granules known as silica crystal. These crystals are so effective at absorbing liquid that they can absorb liquid as much as 40 times its own weight!
In addition to being very effective at liquid absorption, silica crystal-based cat litter uniquely comes in special colors that are capable of changing colors as they absorb liquid. This makes it easy for pet owners to see when it’s time to change the litter. Furthermore, like those nifty silica packets in shoes, silica cat litter is outstanding for odor absorption and can really cut down on litter-related cat smells.
However, there are some drawbacks to this type of cat litter. Silica crystal cat litter tends to be more moderately priced, not as expensive as some of the newer biodegradable options but definitely more expensive than most all clumping and non-clumping cat litter options. That said, this type of cat litter does last longer than most other options and so most cat owners say they pay less overall. A few cats may not like the rougher shape of crystals and so it’s also a good idea to introduce this litter first to younger cats or to slowly introduce it to older cats by using two litter boxes (one with their old litter and one with the newer silica crystals) until they are fully acclimated to this type.
4. Corn Based Cat Litter
Corn cat litter can be made in several different ways. Sometimes it will be mixed with both or either natural and unnatural ingredients while other times it will be comprised of 100% compressed corn. The most popular type of corn cat litter is from World’s Best which boasts itself as being 100% natural and because of this, it is completely biodegradable and can be conveniently flushed down your toilet when needed.
Flushability is a pretty big benefit of this and other biodegradable cat litter as it’s significantly better for the environment as once flushed, the cat litter and waste will be processed and cleanly disposed of which is unlike what happens to non-biodegradable cat litter that ends up piling up in a landfill for decades and sometimes centuries.
Other benefits of corn-based cat litter include it is safe for kittens and offering superior clumping capabilities similar to clumping clay litter options.
There are some disadvantages to this type of cat litter, however. As with many natural and biodegradable cat litter options, corn-based cat litter is more expensive. It’s more expensive both in upfront cost and because it often needs to be changed more often, in long-term costs. This type of litter needs to be changed often because otherwise, it has a tendency to get smelly pretty quickly. Another common complaint is that many corn cat litter brands create a lot of dust that can detrimental to occupants, both pet and human, who suffer from allergies or asthma.
5. Pine Based Cat Litter
Pine based cat litter is comprised of pine sawdust that is collected as a waste byproduct from lumber mills. Once collected, the pine shavings typically go through an intensive heat-treatment process in order to remove all oils, toxins, and other allergens from the wood fibers. After this heat treatment process, the pine is then compressed into pellets, shaped into granules, or cut into crushed shavings.
The pellet form tends to have the least amount of clumping capabilities while both the granules and cobble (which is what the industry calls cat litter comprised of roughly crushed pine) offer good clumping characteristics. In fact, pine pellet cat litter is uniquely designed to break apart the more it’s used or eliminated on. So when your cat goes to the bathroom, the pellets they do their business on will break apart into sawdust. This makes it easy for pet owners to scoop through the litter box in order to find the solid waste and shakedown the sawdust so that the larger pellets lie on top. When all of the pellets have turned to sawdust, then you know it’s time to change the litter box.
In regards to odor control, there does not seem to be a general consensus among cat owners. Some find that this litter nicely controls all odors while others will say that poop odors are as nicely masked due to its non-clumping nature. Furthermore, some find the natural woodsy pine scent desirable while others say it’s too strong. Thus, whether you like this type of natural cat litter will depend largely on personal preferences. It can be found more cheaply than most any other type of natural cat litter and has the big advantage of emitting virtually no dust when poured.
6. Walnut Cat Litter
Cat litter made from crushed walnut shells is the most recent phenomenon to debut in the industry. It’s only been out for a few years and yet already many cat owners have said that they will never switch to another type of cat litter again. Like pine cat litter, walnut-based litter options are comprised of a natural material that would otherwise go to waste except instead of wood from a lumber mill, the companies use the shells of walnuts from processing plants.
When shopping for walnut shell cat litters, one of the first things you’re likely to notice is that there are several different varieties available. Buyers can choose from finer textured, coarse-textured, and pellet form. The coarser textured walnut cat litter is the most popular among cat owners although there are some cats who may not like the feel of it on their paws.
So why has walnut cat litter become so popular? Well, first off, the price is pretty amazing for a biodegradable, natural product — and it is biodegradable. Walnut-based litter is completely safe to flush, making it a good choice for the environment. One bag of quality walnut-based cat litter can absorb as much as three times the amount of waste as a commercial clay-based litter bag. So that means buyers will be paying less overall and enjoy easier clean-up with the product’s flushability.
There are only two minor disadvantages of walnut-based cat litter. First, some varieties of this type of a cat litter produce a significant amount of dust when being poured into a litter box, which can cause cats and humans to sneeze and can cause a bit of an initial mess. Additionally, while this variety is great at controlling odor in the long-run, some pet owners complain of it being slow to soak up waste and eliminate immediate odors.
7. Wheat-based Cat Litter
Made from ground wheat — generally what is known as ‘secondary wheat’ which is wheat that isn’t good enough to be used as food consumption — this is another biodegradable type of cat litter. As with other types of cat litter on this list, wheat-based cat litter clumps well and provides odor control. It’s also a good middle-of-the-row cost choice.
That said, there are a lot of issues with today’s wheat-based cat litter brands and with wheat itself that makes it generally a poor choice for most cats and cat owners. First off, it’s not uncommon for cats to have issues with wheat both when ingesting it and when inhaling it when crushed into dust. Cat owners should stop using wheat-based cat litter if they notice their cat sneezing a lot or otherwise acting abnormally. Because wheat-based cat litter does create a decent amount of dust, there are also issues related to tracking and the dust getting over the home. Some brands advertise their wheat-based cat litter as being flushable, but that isn’t always the case and when it is, brands typically recommend soaking in water first before flushing. Finally, most wheat-based cat litter doesn’t do great with odor control and many cat owners report having to replace their cat litter every week or two to keep odors under control.
8. Grass Seed Cat Litter
This is another new addition to the cat litter industry and a really great one. The most notable brand is Smart Cat. This brand of grass seed cat litter is made in from United States-sourced grass fibers. Unlike clay litter and similar types of material, grass seed cat litter is incredibly lightweight, which is a good choice for those cat owners tired of lugging around hefty bags. Grass litter still offers the same great scooping capabilities as those other types of cat litter and, if you love the outdoors, then you’ll love the faint scent of grass this type of cat litter emits. Finally, grass seed is very soft, almost similar to sand, which makes it a very popular pick for the cats with sensitive pas and taste.
The one big disadvantage this type of cat litter does have is in the price department. Being that it is still new to the market, only offered by a couple of specialty brands, and the expense of creating a quality product without chemicals, dyes, and added fragrances, it should come as no surprise that this is perhaps the most expensive type of cat litter on our list. But if you want a great smelling, dust-free, lightweight, and great clumping product, then you really don’t need to look any further.
9. Paper Cat Litter
Paper cat litter is perhaps the most well-known type of natural cat litter available on the market. This type of cat litter is made from recycled paper and is, on the whole, good for the environment. Most of the same brands that make paper-based cat litter also make litter for rabbits and guinea pigs.
Paper cat litter is generally found in pellet format and you’ll often find this type of cat litter used in veterinary offices and cat boarding facilities. That’s because the paper used here is a good texture without being too finely grained and thus its better for use on injured cats and those who have been declawed. The larger pellets also mean that there is zero dust either when filling in the litter box or during the general use of it by your cat. This aspect of having no dust makes it an ideal choice for those cats who have eye, respiratory, or urinary tract infections. It’s also quite possibly the cheapest natural cat litter on the market.
But while paper-based cat litter is a great choice for those who have cats with sensitivities or who are just healing from something like a surgery, there are some drawbacks that cat owners should consider before purchasing this type of cat litter in bulk. First off, while this is a natural and technically biodegradable type of cat litter, it cannot be flushed like other types of biodegradable cat litter. Instead, if you don’t want to throw the finished litter out in the trash, you can opt to compost it for yard and garden uses. Furthermore, this type of cat litter isn’t the greatest at odor concealment and so cat owners may find themselves changing paper litter more commonly than other types of litter.
B. Types of Litter Boxes
1. Standard Litter Boxes
Litter boxes are endlessly reusable containers typically made of plastic that you fill with litter. The pet owner then cleans the litter or alternative material, and occasionally gives the entire box a deep cleaning.
2. Open Top Litter Boxes
The simplest type of litter box will have an open top. It will essentially be a tray with four short walls and no top. Sometimes, an open-top litter box will have two pieces, one which is just a simple tray that looks similar to the base of any container. The top piece, in this case, has edges that overhang the inner portion of the litter box one or two inches, as a way to prevent litter from spilling out.
3. Enclosed Litter Boxes
Enclosed litter boxes are nearly fully enclosed, except they feature an entrance similar to a cat door for the feline to get in and out, typically placed on the side. This entrance may or may not have a cat flap. Enclosed boxes require you to remove the top to clean them, but they reduce messes and odors. The reduction of mess and odors is enhanced if there is a flap.
4. Top Entry Litter Boxes
Top entry litter looks like fully-enclosed storage containers, but with a cat-sized hole cut out of the top. This design can keep out dogs and reduce both messes and odor. Like other enclosed designs, it requires removing the lid to clean.
5. Litter Boxes in the Style of Furniture
Some cat litter boxes are designed to look like a bedside table or other piece of furniture. In reality, they are enclosed litter boxes surrounded by furniture design. These work well in small spaces as you can still use the top of the litter box as a table. They also provide discretion.
6. Self-Cleaning Litter Boxes
Those who want to make life easier can also find self-cleaning litter boxes.
Automatic self-cleaning litter boxes will have sensors or automatically clean at set times throughout the day. They will collect the soiled litter in a separate compartment for easier cleanup.
Manual self-cleaning litter boxes let the user maneuver them in some way, such as pulling a lever or rolling the box, to deposit the dirty litter in a compartment. Then, the pet owner can just dump the contents of this compartment instead of opening the box and scooping the soiled litter.