A new view of cat litter
Special to the Tribune
Long ago, the cat became America’s Number One household pet. Surveys show that cat households tend to include multiple cats. Add to that the growing trend to maintain cats safely indoors and it’s not surprising that a robust industry with an endless variety of cat enrichment, food, treats, and hygiene products has evolved. The Number One focus for the Number One pet is litter and how to choose it and use it.
First, remember the basics: one litter box for each cat located in safe, low traffic areas, and kept as clean as you keep your own private bathroom. The litter box and the litter are the cat’s private toilet. Elimination outside the box is the primary complaint when a cat is turned in to a shelter. Aside from a medical problem, odor, cleanliness, and accessibility resolve litter box avoidance.
While cat litter can be made from wood, paper, grain, corncobs, citrus, grass, wheat, or anything that can absorb moisture, 95 percent of all cat litter sold is made from clay. Clay fillers are natural and the entire production process is performed by the manufacturers who mine, dry, and size their own clay. The downside of clay used in such quantity is that as a natural mined material, there are negative environmental issues for many. Clumping clay can be tracked on the cat’s feet and then ingested when the cat grooms. However, research shows repeatedly that cats prefer clay, probably due to the feel of the soft grains.
There are a growing number of alternatives to clay litter. No alternative litter is “purrfect” and some cats will never use anything but clay or the garden, but there is increasing interest in developing cat and people friendly alternatives. If trying them, mix no more than one third of the new litter with the old brand in a slow introduction to the cat. When introducing an outdoor cat to a litter box, success has been reported by using potting soil, mixing in cat litter over time. The potting soil requires more frequent change outs to eliminate odor. The transition takes about two weeks.
A cat’s sense of smell is his or her most keen sense. If worried about odor, avoid plugging in an aroma device or using scented litter, either of which can overwhelm and repel a sensitive cat. A layer of baking soda can be sprinkled on the bottom of the litter box if desired. However, simple cleanliness solves odor issues for the cat and for the household. Clumping makes cleaning easier and does not require the complete emptying of the litter box as often as with plain clay or the alternatives of shredded newspaper and other less absorbent materials.
No matter the filler type, responsible litter disposal is a concern. Clay litters do not biodegrade and most are put in the trash and deposited in landfills. Though called “flushable,” so-designated litters should not be put into the toilet. Not only can they plug up the plumbing, but also they can spread toxoplasmosis to wildlife through sewer treatment systems which do not filter out the toxoplasma parasite. Tossed casually onto open land, toxoplasma may infiltrate groundwater. A pregnant woman or any person with compromised immune system should use rubber gloves when emptying the litter box and wash hands in soap and water after the chore.
The whole litter use and disposal issue can be avoided if a cat is toilet trained. There are training kits available and if a cat has the right temperament and the owner is patient and careful, it can be done.
– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.