DEAR DR. FOX: I have adopted a young cat, and I wonder what is the best cat litter for her. I see so many kinds at the pet store, and I was given a bag of clay litter when I adopted her. It is very dusty and tracks everywhere. Please advise. -- R.K., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR R.K.: Sodium bentonite, silica and other small particle materials in clay litter may lead to respiratory disease. Unlike some other kinds of litter, clay litters do not recycle well, can clog drains and involve mining, which can be ecologically harmful.
Some kinds of litter may be contaminated with cancer-causing aflatoxin from moldy corn. A representative with World's Best cat litter (made from corn byproduct) informs me that they do test for aflatoxin, but not for glyphosate. This herbicide, widely applied by corn producers, has been designated a probable carcinogen and may play a role in chronic bowel disease. Litters made from wheat byproduct may also be contaminated with mold and agrichemicals.
Manufactured cat litter derived from recycled wood and paper products come from the timber industry, which has been a major contaminator of the environment for decades. However, there are eco-friendly paper options. According to Healthy Pet CEO Ted Mischaikov, "Pulp mills have a variety of pollutants, but our fiber is sourced separate from those distilling/chemical processes and contains only water and minute amounts of white fiber. Specific to our paper pellet cat litter, I also want to stress that there is no post-consumer waste, ink or other contaminants. I am glad and proud that we can help reduce the landfill and/or burning of paper fiber from pulp mills via repurposing into healthy and safe pet products."
While some cat litters, like those from Healthy Pet, can be safely and effectively processed into garden compost, they are generally best disposed of in biodegradable bags placed in with household garbage. Disposal by flushing down the toilet may clog drains and spread disease such as toxoplasmosis, which has been linked to often-fatal infections in California's sea otters and other marine mammals.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 13-year-old cat who I took in after her owner died. She is the nicest little indoor cat, except for the fact that she smells like an outhouse! I believe it is more than expelling gas, as it appears to be a constant odor.
She loves to sit on my lap, but sometimes the odor becomes overwhelming. She grooms herself regularly, so I doubt that is the reason. I've had cats all my life, yet never experienced this before. Do you know what could cause this? -- R.R., Sterling, Virginia
DEAR R.R.: Good for you for taking in this older cat after her human companion died. As an old-school veterinarian, I was trained to use all my senses, especially my nose, to help diagnose certain conditions in animals. A healthy animal should smell great and certainly have no sickly, nauseating odor.
The first possible cause to have checked is your cat's oral cavity -- gum and tooth disease is very common in cats. They can have rotting mouths and bacteria and saliva with pus in it that gets all over their fur as they groom themselves, accounting for their nauseating odor. Think how these poor animals feel!
Waste no time and have your cat seen to by a veterinarian. Other related causes of cats becoming smelly include chronic kidney disease and various manufactured cat foods that are not biologically appropriate for cats yet are widely sold, even by some veterinarians. For details, visit feline-nutrition.org and DrFoxVet.net.
Candy Sweetener Poisoning Canines
The artificial sweetener xylitol is found in gum, candies, some peanut butters, gummy vitamins and many other products meant for human consumption, but experts warn that not enough pet owners understand the risk it poses to animals. Veterinarian Ahna Brutlag of the Pet Poison Helpline says her organization has fielded 2,800 calls about possible xylitol toxicity this year, compared with 300 in 2009. Some advocates are calling for warnings on products, while others are urging better outreach to pet owners.
Correction: I recently responded to a reader who had been bitten by her dog and was diagnosed with the same infection that causes cat scratch fever. I wrongly named it bordetella. The organism responsible is actually the bacterium bartonella, which can be harbored by fleas, and possibly transmitted to humans, especially children, by flea bites as well as from bites and scratches from cats. Bordetella causes primarily respiratory diseases and is rarely transmitted from animals to humans.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)