Are you looking for something more from cat litter? A number of options are available beyond the basics
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When Wendy Lyons Sunshine’s cat had delicate urethral surgery, his recovery was difficult because it was important to protect the incision area from irritants, including cat litter. To help maintain his comfort, Sunshine switched to a paper-based cat litter made from newsprint pellets. The litter was not only dust-free but also fragrance-free.
“I liked the dustlessness so much that I kept using it even after he recovered and even though it was more expensive,” she says.
Cat litter has come a long way, baby. From the original clay granules, followed by sandlike clumping litter, options for filling cat litter boxes have expanded to include litter made from substances such as wood, corn, wheat, beet pulp and soybeans. Alternative litters are touted as biodegradable, dust-free, better at reducing odor, or more sustainable.
Katherine Williams uses a clumping litter made from sustainably sourced wood fiber. She likes that it creates less dust and is soft on her cats’ paws.
Low-dust litters can be helpful for humans with asthma or other breathing difficulties. LeeAnn Shattuck switched to a corn-based litter, saying, “My post-COVID-19 lungs can’t handle dust. The corn is not at all dusty, but it does track all over the house. I don’t love it, but at least I’m not wheezing.”
Cats with respiratory diseases such as asthma may also do better with low-dust litters, says veterinarian Julie Liu.
“I have a cat with dust allergies, and the clay was making him as miserable as it was me,” says Renee Vorbach, whose cat now uses a grass-based litter.
Some people prefer alternative litters because they are good for the planet. “When we got a cat, I read about strip mining for litter and wanted a more sustainable choice,” says Stephani Sutherland. She chose a wheat-based litter.
A cat’s litter preference is formed in early kittenhood, and sometimes it’s best to stick with what they know and like. “Our kitten came to us having been litter-trained with wood pellets, so we just kept with them,” says Caroline Urch, who lives with a Birman. “It is compostable and has a fresh smell.”
Cats with tender paws may benefit from litter that doesn’t hold moisture. “Clay-based litter caused my polydactyl to get infections in his thumbs,” says Christine Lemieux. She switched to a litter made from silica beads that absorb odor and cause moisture to evaporate quickly.
Can special cat litter indicate that a cat has a health problem by changing color? Lili Chin began using one after her cat Shimmy was diagnosed with urinary crystals and high pH levels in her urine. Her two cats share a litter box, though, so she’s not sure how accurate the results will be.
Dr. Liu prefers to have owners scoop daily -- which is also what cats prefer -- and monitor for blood in the urine, inappropriate urination and changes in the size of urine clumps. Then, if patients are having symptoms, she recommends an exam and urinary workup.
Alternative litters can have downsides. Melissa O’Neal thinks paper-based ones can be messy. She uses an unscented clumping walnut-based litter. Bonus: It doesn’t show up as easily on her dark hardwood floors.
And, of course, a cat’s preference should take precedence. “In general, most cats prefer traditional clay clumping litters and may avoid alternative litters such as ones made of plastic, recycled newspapers or pine, so those are the ones I typically recommend,” Liu says. “If you’re thinking about switching to an alternative litter, you can try a litter test for your cat by putting two litter boxes side by side, one with clay clumping litter and the other with the new litter. Your cat will let you know which they prefer.”
Whatever type of litter you use, dispose of it appropriately to protect your local water quality. Just because litter is biodegradable or flushable doesn’t mean you should flush it down your toilet or dispose of it in gutters or storm drains.
Studies look at
pet health, behavior
-- Pet lovers take animals to the veterinarian more frequently than they see their own physicians, according to a survey by NutriSense. Owners ranging in age from 25 to 54 take pets for 3.5 to 4.5 visits annually. The numbers drop slightly as owners get older, perhaps reflecting a potential drop in income. Pet health care is so important to respondents that 30% said they would be willing to commit a crime to obtain funds for lifesaving veterinary care. Cat owners surveyed would pay $3,000 or more to save their pet’s life, with dog owners a close second at $2,700 or more.
-- Last year’s lockdowns led to more affectionate cats, bored animals and a finding that pets missed normal activities and interactions. A study led by researchers at the Universities of York and Lincoln in the UK and published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 65% of participants saw behavior changes in pets. Nearly 36% of cat owners said their feline companions were more affectionate. Therapy dogs and cats missed their work of visiting people, owners reported. And some pets started following their people around more often. The presence of pets had a positive effect on owner mental health and, not surprisingly, pets’ own welfare was strongly influenced by the behavior of their people.
-- Two studies presented earlier this month at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Vienna, Austria, found that cats are more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus than dogs and that humans are the likely route for passing the disease to pets. People with the virus should protect pets from infection by not interacting with them or by wearing a mask around them. No evidence shows that pets transmit the disease to humans. -- 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, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets 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.
How pets send
Q: What are pheromones, and how do they affect dogs and cats?
A: Pheromones are chemical signals that allow members within a species to communicate emotions to one another. They are delivered through glands located in various areas of the body, such as the head and cheeks, paw pads and skin. Urine and feces can also carry pheromones.
Dogs and cats process these chemical communications with their vomeronasal organ, sort of a second “nose” that is located on the roof of a dog or cat’s mouth. It sends pheromone signals directly to the brain’s emotional center, where they create an emotional response in the animals who receive them.
Those emotional messages can range from calm, happiness and relaxation to alarm or danger. They also send information about mating, territorial and social status. Alarm signals can remain active for hours, even if the animal who delivered them is long gone. That makes it especially important for places such as veterinary clinics or grooming shops to eliminate the presence of anxiety-inducing pheromones with appropriate cleansers that eliminate not only the odors from urine or feces but also the pheromones emitted when a frightened or anxious animal eliminates or urine-marks in the space.
Synthetic pheromones that signal calm contentment -- such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats -- are available in the form of sprays, diffusers, wipes and collars. They can be used not only at veterinary clinics or businesses frequented by many animals, but also in the home. Because dogs receive dog signals and cats receive cat signals, using both at the same time doesn’t send mixed messages. Published clinical evidence of their effectiveness is mixed, but they aren’t harmful, and it can’t hurt to give them a try. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.