Cat lovers know that the right litter can be the key to living with a happy cat
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Remember when there was just one kind of cat litter? Before 1947, the rare cat who lived indoors might have a box filled with sand, ashes, sawdust or soil, which it then tracked through the house, no doubt to the dismay of fastidious housekeepers. In 1947, businessman Edward Lowe handed a bag of granulated clay to a woman who was complaining that her cat tracked ashes through the house. The clay worked, the woman came back for more and the cat litter industry was born.
Now cat lovers might feel as if they’re in a golden age of cat litter. Beyond granulated clay, which remains popular, there is sandlike clumping litter, silica gel crystals, and litter made from recycled newspaper, recycled pine scraps, corn, wheat, walnut shells and grass. For both humans and cats, there’s a litter type for every concern: low tracking, low dust, attractive scent, no scent, low odor, low price and environmental friendliness. Some litters even indicate that a cat may have a urinary tract infection or other condition.
The anonymous woman who sparked the development of granulated clay litter was concerned about tracking, and that remains an issue for many cat owners. While many litters are marketed as being low-tracking, sometimes a larger litter box can also help to solve the problem. Rosemary George of Falls Church, Virginia, says, “I have four cats, so I use cheap clay litter from the grocery store. There are two really large litter pans out on the enclosed sunporch. I scoop them once a day and change them entirely once a week. Once I got huge litter pans, there stopped being so much litter on the floor.”
Cats like what they like, though, and their preferences can win out over an owner’s desire to not have litter tracked through the house. Tery McConville of Mount Vernon, Washington, uses a clumping pine litter. “It gets everywhere,” she says, “but it’s what Princess likes, and it smells nice.”
Humans and cats with asthma benefit from dust-free or low-dust litter. Dust irritates the respiratory tract and can contribute to coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing when cats kick it up as they dig in the litter box. Litters made from wheat, recycled paper, wood and silica gel crystals, as well as some clumping litters, tend to be low in dust. Unscented litters are also good choices when a person or pet in the home has asthma. Anna Wright uses a wheat-based litter, saying, “It’s expensive, but my health and happiness are worth it. It doesn’t give me headaches or trigger coughs for me like so many other products do. I think the cats like it for the same reasons.”
Older cats may have special needs when it comes to litter. When her cat Shadow was in renal failure, Gail Parker of Philadelphia found that replacing litter with newspaper helped prevent him from urinating outside the litter box. She believes the paper was softer on his paws and found that her other cats preferred it, too. Parker puts sections of newspaper in the cats’ boxes and removes them as soon as they are used.
No litter can replace a veterinary visit, but some litters are made to indicate the need to visit the vet. Coated with a safe, nontoxic pH detector, porous silica gel granules change color when acid, alkaline or bilirubin levels change, suggesting possible infection or illness.
But whatever you look for in cat litter, what your cat prefers is what counts. Offer an assortment of litters to see which one he likes best, and go with that. Provide an extra-large box, and fill it with three to five inches of litter for your cat’s digging pleasure. Scoop it once or twice a day, clean the box and change the litter every week or two, and you’ll have a happy cat.
Spot on eye
Q: I noticed a black dot near the pupil of my dog’s eye, which grew quickly. I took him to the veterinarian, and it was diagnosed as a malignant melanoma. He’s scheduled for laser surgery to destroy the tumor. What can you tell me about this condition?
A: Your dog is lucky to have such an observant owner! We usually think of melanoma as a skin cancer, but it’s a tumor that originates in pigment-producing cells, so the iris of the eye -- the colored circle surrounding the pupil -- is one of the areas at risk. Signs include darkening of the color of the iris, a change in shape of the pupil or a raised area on the iris.
These types of melanomas are usually benign and rarely metastasize, or spread, to other areas of the body. They can, however, continue to grow, leading to such problems as retinal detachment, formation of cataracts and glaucoma, so it’s important to treat them.
Your veterinarian may recognize an ocular melanoma at first glance, but the specialized equipment of a veterinary ophthalmologist is necessary to determine how far advanced it is.
When ocular melanomas are malignant but caught early, as in your dog’s case, they are typically highly treatable with non-invasive laser treatment. Your dog is unlikely to lose any vision. For larger such melanomas, laser treatment can shrink the tumor or slow its growth, but dogs may also need surgical removal of the tumor or even removal of the eye itself.
Cat owners, your pets are at risk, too -- and more so than dogs. Feline ocular melanomas are more likely to spread to other areas of the body. Any time you notice a change in color or appearance of your pet’s eyes, bring it to your veterinarian’s attention. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Protect pets from
-- Pets in areas with wildfires are at risk from smoke inhalation. Breathing unhealthy air can cause disorientation, fainting, lethargy and confusion, according to veterinarians at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Pets at heightened risk include breeds with flat faces such as bulldogs, pugs and Persians; senior pets; young animals; and pets with respiratory conditions such as asthma. Avoid letting pets exercise for long periods in smoky conditions, run air conditioning to filter indoor air, and ensure that pets have plenty of fresh water. Take your pet to the vet if you see signs of distress such as difficulty breathing, unusual coughing or sneezing, swollen eyes or mouth, and open-mouth breathing. If conditions are unusually bad in your area, consider taking pets to stay with a friend or relative or at a boarding kennel in an area with better air quality.
-- September is an important month for pets. Here’s what you can celebrate: Happy Healthy Cat Month and Responsible Dog Ownership Month; National Pet Memorial Day and National Hug Your Hound Day, both on Sept. 9; Puppy Mill Awareness Day on Sept. 15; National Dog Week and Deaf Pet Awareness Week, both starting on Sept. 23; and World Rabies Day on Sept. 28.
-- Love a curly coat? Plenty of pets can suit your fancy. On the dog side, consider the American water spaniel; bichon frise; Boykin spaniel; curly-coated retriever; Irish water spaniel; Kerry blue terrier; lagotto Romagnolo; toy, mini or standard poodle; Portuguese water dog; pumi; and Spanish water dog. Curly-coated cats exist, too: Cornish rex; Devon rex; Selkirk rex; and LaPerm. The good thing about curly-coated pets is that they don’t shed much; the bad news is that they often need daily home grooming and, for dogs, regular professional grooming to keep their coats beautiful and tangle-free. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.