Natural cat litter: the quest for the perfect one

Joel poses with our LitterOne sample

I recently got to try out a new natural litter-and-box system that may be particularly interesting to cat lovers with mobility limitations or a deep desire to get plastic out of the environment.

More on that in a moment, but first: based on my own experience and what I’m hearing from you, our biggest cat litter concerns are:

  • will my cat use the litter? (essential!)
  • does it reduce odor and keep things sanitary (without using chemicals or essential oils)?
  • is it ecological?
  • does it pose any significant health risks?
  • (bonus) does it minimize the amount that appears outside the box?

Clay, which is mined, is also not considered the most ecological choice. And, many people are suspicious of clay litters, with rumors that some cats may end up with clay messing up their digestive system. I cannot cite research on this, I just know that it’s a worry for some people.

Natural favorites

In our house, biodegradable pine pellet litter is our favorite. I find it neutralizes odor better than any other litter I’ve tried. Trader Joe’s sells an inexpensive pine litter that we frequently buy.

Though Feline Pine makes a clumping pine litter, I actually prefer the nonclumping litter because there is no need to scoop out clumps when the odor is neutralized.

Having said that, I know we are lucky our cats have always taken well to the pellets. If your cat doesn’t like them, even after you’ve introduced it gradually in the mixed-in manner, you’ll need other options.

I haven’t tried it yet, but cat expert JaneA Kelley and her crew at Paws and Effect have become fans of  Blue Naturally Fresh, a clumping formula made of walnut shells. They wrote: “It clumps like concrete, the odor control is great, and the scatter is pretty minimal.” They also mentioned that the original formula clumps better than the multi-cat formula.

In addition, many folks in the Natural Cat community swear by World’s Best Cat Litter, which is made of corn. Bear in mind though, if your cat has a strong digestive sensitivity to grains, corn may not work out.

Interesting option: a plastic-free, convenient system 

The nice people at LitterOne sent me a sample of their new product to try out.

It’s a recycled, biodegradable, 100% plastic-free, clay-free litter and box system that is sent through the mail.

Here’s what’s neat about:

  • It uses pine pellets (more ecological, very low odor)
  • It minimizes litter tracking by having a built-in sifting tray under the litter, which collects the sawdust created when a cat urinates on pine pellets
  • You’ll never have to use a plastic bag (or even scooper!) for cat litter again. (There’s something about hearing about a country-size mass of plastic floating in our ocean and killing marine life, that makes me hate plastic.)
  • I think this may be a great idea for elderly and disabled folks who really don’t want to give up living with feline friends. It’s ideal for people who, due to physical limitations, find constant litter box maintenance difficult. You only have to scoop the solid mass, because the urine-saw-dust just filters downward. And the entire product, from box to litter, is made from recycled, biodegradable matter so you throw it out almost guilt-free when you are done with it. The new one will have already arrived in the mail.

The drawback is that it’s not, of course, ecologically footprint-free to throw out and start over every month. And yet, it is made from recycled, renewable material, not plastic and plastic bags. You decide what is most important to you.

Speaking of which, I know people are passionate about the topic of cat litter choice, so feel free to weigh in in the Comments below.

36 Responses to Natural cat litter: the quest for the perfect one

  1. Sean8877 June 20, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    We have been using the pine horse bedding from the feed store for $5 for a huge bag. The cats love it and it works great. The clay litter definitely caused problems for one of our cats and she was vomiting daily with the clay stuff. Stay away from the clay litter at all costs.

  2. Jewelsalaboxie December 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! I have been looking for a natural cat litter. I would like for my cat to use a natural litter, but I’m a bit scared of changing it out on her.

  3. Debbie De La Cruz July 11, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    My four year old cat may be going into renal failure and the only change in his environment has been a switch to corn litter-World’s Best. After doing some research it appears that a mold growing on the damp litter can cause neurological problems or renal failure. He’s spending a couple of nights at his vet’s with an indwelling catheter and I hope for the best. I feel so bad since this is my fault.

    • Martina July 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

      Hi Debbie,
      I understand your pain. I am a vet tech and many years ago I had my four cats vaccinated( not knowing what I know now) one of my four rescue cats was a Persian cross named Patches. Patches was surrendered to our vet school and after we graduated we had to find homes for everyone or we euthanized them. No one wanted Patches and I couldn’t after all she had been through, let her be euthanized, so I kept her. Unfortunately the vaccination put her into renal failure and she was only 7 years old. It took me years to get over that but I know now that I was doing what I thought was best for her, I had no idea that what I was doing might kill her…and you too had no idea and really don’t know for sure that it was the litter, but in any case, you were doing what you thought was best and I really hope that your little boy gets past all of this. Please don’t beat yourself up for trying to do the best for your buddy!
      Best wishes from me and angel Patches

      • Bernadette July 11, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

        I feel for both of you with sudden losses. I lost a kitty to acute renal failure, totally out of the blue, and I’d never seen renal failure at all. I used to keep flower bulbs and start them in pots around the house in January for spring blooms, and this was long before I knew any bulb-forming plant aside from lilies were toxic to cats. I don’t know if this was what happened, she was 15 but she had no health issues, but it still haunts me. These things never have just one cause, and they are rarely something we could prevent, we can’t know everything. Let’s hope for the best for your kitty, Debbie!

  4. Shane May 4, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    This is a great idea that I might just have to try. We’ve also had issues with different litters for our 3 cats, and the brand we settled on isn’t exactly cheap, so this option is intriguing!

  5. Janine April 10, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Oh, and the other thing about natural litters like corn is I’m concerned about mycotoxins/aflatoxins. Do they use moldy corn to make the litters? Who knows? Cats lick their paws afterwards so would be ingesting it. Clay seems pretty benign unless someone is eating a lot of it. If a cat become anemic sometimes one of the symptoms is eating litter, so then I would not want to use bentonite clay.

  6. Janine April 10, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    I tried Swheat Scoop made out of wheat but my cat had an allergic reaction to it, his temples turned red and eyes swelled a bit. World’s Best corn litter was good and he’s not allergic but it’s expensive and I’m not sure if it has pesticides on it or not. Then tried Dr Elsey’s clay litter. It is the best! I didn’t want to try it because all of the clay litters I’ve used are dusty even if they say 99% dust-free but this one is really low dust, almost dustless. It’s a bit more money than the cheap ones but it’s so worth it. Besides, if Lisa Pierson, DVM sees cats year after year in her practice using bentonite clay and uses it herself, how bad can it be?

  7. Roo March 31, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    For anyone using World’s Best Multiple Clumping, you can try chicken feed in it’s place. I have 4 cats and using that litter was really expensive. I don’t like the Pine Pellets for my babies because the dust and tracking started to become a nuisance. I found I could get a 50lb bag of chicken feed for 22 bucks. I sprinkle a little baking soda every now and then for smell, clean the boxes 2x a day, but I also change the litter pretty frequently.

    Also, I have read you can compost cat waste/natural litter but use it for NON-EDIBLES! I haven’t tried yet, but I am going to.

  8. Megan March 20, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    I use Dr. Elsey’s litter too, the unscented(blue bag) and I have had no issues with it at all. Not a lot of tracking, I’ve only noticed a couple of times when I found some spots. I love this litter, but I keep reading about the issues with clay and I’m still on the lookout and researching new methods to try. I think we should always be on the lookout for better things. I followed Dr. Pierson’s recommendation on Dr. Elsey’s litter, and compared to grocery store litters, it’s MUCH better. If you still want to use clay, don’t buy those and get this one. I find it fully stocked at Petsmart. My cat is very picky though, so I’m wondering if she’ll be willing to try the other ones mentioned here, we’ll see!

  9. sandra March 5, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    I use Dr.Elsey’s faithfully! The whole cats eating clay litter was never proven, nothing more then a rumor in my eyes! I don’t want my cats eating oR peeing on grains especially the corn litter that can become toxic! If you ask me it’s nothing more then a gimmick set forth by companies preying on consumers!

  10. Andrea February 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    I wish everyone serenity and litter-free dreams. Remember cats just get up everyday and just live a cat-centric life I learned to live and love from my fur people.A lot of cats live to happy old age regardless of clay-corn or wheat..so just for tonight be cat-like and serene.

  11. Whitney February 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    This is a great idea, but I could see it as a pain if you have more than one cat. My two go ALL the time, so I don’t think that the litter box here would last a full month. But, the idea of being able to recycle the box and put the litter in the compost pile, is quite enticing.

  12. Akiko January 25, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    I have done my share of trying different litters. I read this blog by a fellow cat lover who journaled her own litter experiments that was funny and helpful. Can’t remember the site right off.

    As with everyhing what works for you is the best choice for you. My criteria for the litter for instance are no hassle, safety, and eco-ness.

    Currently I am happy with Blue Buffalo’s walnut litter. I was a long time fan of World’s Best and I still think it’s great. It absorbs and clumps well, easy to clean, has superb odor control, and lasts long. I switched because Blue works just as good, plus I like the idea of walnut shells being put to use, it appeases my conscience (not necessarily right) about taking away from food supply. I read some reviews about the brown litter staining white rugs, so that’s something to consider.

  13. Andrea January 24, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    I worry about my animals and I want them to have long happy lives but obsessiveness
    produces a negative energy that defies common sense. I will repeat that I can only love and do the best for my companion animals.The discussions about toxins and chemicals may comfort some. Id rather focus on love and positive energy. Enough is enough I wish everone only good but I am littered out. wishing you all the best aa

  14. Pam January 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    I use the clay clumping litter. My cat has been an indoor/outdoor cat for just about all of his 13 years, but recently has been restricted to inside due to a knee injury. He rarely used his litter box before this, but of course now uses it exclusively. He has developed frequent sneezing. He has been to the vet recently, and she said his lungs sound normal, and there is no drainage from his nose, so we don’t think he has an actual infection. I am thinking it might be the litter dust, although the packaging says “99% dust free.” I’m kinda worried about the situation, and I’m glad to read about some other litter suggestions.

  15. Vi January 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    I prefer to use non-scented litter, but am also concerned with little clay clumping balls that get stuck to my cat’s long hair and worried she could digest them. She won’t use litter that she thinks is odd-shaped like paper pellets. She is an older kitty and even litter not the right color (too light or too dark) annoys her enough that she won’t use it. She rejected the lightweight pine and crystals too. I was going to try World’s Best but I was put off by not being able to see what it looks like before purchasing it.

  16. Vi January 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    I prefer to use non-scented litter, but am also concerned with little clay clumping balls that get stuck to my cat’s long hair and worried she could digest them. She won’t use litter that she thinks is odd-shaped like paper pellets. She is an older kitty and even litter not the right color (too light or too dark) annoys her enough that she won’t use it. She rejected the lightweight pine and crystals too. I was going to try World’s Best but I was put off by not being able to see what it looks like before purchasing it.

  17. Martina January 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I use Natural Cat cat litter. It is grain based, biodegradable and made in BC, Canada.
    http://www.feedstoretoyourdoor.com/cat-litter-and-supplies/
    I just wish that there was a better way to dispose of it. It seems to defeat the purpose when I scoop it into a plastic bag to take to the dump.

  18. CL January 23, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    We use green tea litter. It’s all natural, clumps & is flushable. There is very little, if any dust. The feel seems fine for our 6 month old kitten (6.5 lbs), who has been using it since she was 3 months (4 lbs). We fill a large litter pan with 1/2 the bag for 1 month, scoop daily & throw out the balance after the month is up and start again fresh. You can use the old/remaining litter in your garden/ mixed in the soil as compost.

    Does track a little… not as bad as clay but even the pine pellets tracked. The pellets were too hard on her paws. The green tea is smaller and keeps any order away. It does have a lite sent but goes away in a day or 2… the sent is fine.

    We get it at our local pet supply but it can be ordered on Amazon… it very light weight & if you order a couple of bags at once, no shipping charge.
    http://www.amazon.com/Next-Gen-Pet-Leaves-Litter/dp/B002AMZ1EG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358958812&sr=8-1&keywords=green+tea+litter

    Product info: Next Gen All Natural Green Tea Leaves Clumping Cat Litter is Made from Recycled Wood and Green Tea Powder. Wood and Green Tea Naturally Supress The Growth Of Bacteria and Odors In The Litter Box. Next Gen Cat Litters Clump, Flush, Compost, And They Area Extremely Lightweight. One 6 Pound Bag Will Last One Cat for up to 6 Weeks. Fill Your Cat’s Litter Box with 2 to 4 Inches of Green Tea Leaves Cat Litter and Scoop the Waste Material Daily. Replace With Additional Litter As Required and Enjoy The Fresh Clean Scent of Wood and Green Tea. Package Size: 6 Pounds or Approximately 10 Liters.

    We really love this litter, and we use to use the pine pellets for our 17 yr old, no longer with us. Had we found the green tea litter, we would have switched to it.

    Hope this helps others… in the great litter search

    • Diane January 24, 2013 at 7:13 am #

      Wow, this sounds like nice stuff! I’ll check it out… Thanks!

    • Elaine Alfaro February 9, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

      CL, I totally agree with you. The Green Tea Leaves litter is really pretty amazing. Clumps well, controls odors, and it’s so nice to be able to carry such a lightweight bag up my 18 steps to my house. Plus, I think the green tea scent is really nice and doesn’t bother my cat, Izzy at all. I don’t flush litter as I live in CA and it’s detrimental to sea otters. However, after scooping I toss the remains in the backyard to compost. People who think it’s too expensive and prefer clay should know that you don’t have to empty the litter box as often as you do with clay. Scoop daily (or 2 times preferably), but I find that you use less than with conventional clay litter. Clay litter is really bad for the environment, so I’ve been experimenting with different kinds, and this is one of my favorites. The only thing that bothers me with the Green Tea Leaves is that because it’s so lightweight, it does track quite a bit. So, right now I’m trying the Blue Buffalo one made of walnut shells. I like this one a lot too, but it’s a heavier bag to carry, and the dark color of it is really noticeable against the white litter box and beige flooring. Kind of a silly reason not to like it… I could just buy a darker colored box. 🙂 Maybe I’ll try mixing the 2 litters to see how that works out.

  19. Andrea January 23, 2013 at 1:06 am #

    Lisa Pierson continues to use the clay-bentonite product and is quite aware of the possible side effects…but if cats don’t -wont’t use the pine or corn products thats the option. I have tried the walnut.It gets very expensive and after awhile it lost it’s charm. The scents of corn and pine have put all three of my cats off. Thus the line of least resistance. Many cats have lived long healthy lives with the clumping litter. It is the same with food that costs a fortune to ship and then doesn’t get eaten. The idea that the perfect toxin free life is possible is fantasy. I am uncomfortable with idea for myself. I wish everyone perfection. I just put my energy into doing the best I can for the beautiful creatures with whom I am blessed to share my life. Andrea for Willow, Soloman and Simcha.
    P.S. Simple Abundance Canned food is impossible to try first as are many others not available in Michigan..I am 72 years old and unemployed. Does the idea of adding $1 a can to food one cant try makes financial sense ? I use foods not on your list because it is reasonable and possible.I am grateful for the suggestions but the food except for frozen raw (not embraced by my cats)not doable. . Only Natures Logic in one store.
    Thanks for what you do . I’m sure many people are well guided by your suggestions aa

  20. Dianne January 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    I have read that pine shavings give off aromatic hydrocarbons (phenols) and acids that are toxic. I would love to buy inexpensive horse bedding, but this concerns me and I have read not to use it. Also, I would like to flush the litter, since I use natural litter, but have read that the cat waste can transmit toxoplasmosis to marine life.

    • Diane January 24, 2013 at 7:11 am #

      Perhaps they do. For me there is a tradeoff that must be considered. Toxins are never completely avoidable in our environment. Yes, we can minimize them, but there will always be something somewhere to poison me. I (nor my cat) can live in a bubble. For me the important things are that it is inexpensive and doesn’t end up in a landfill. I think the phenols are minimal (I use an open litter box in a large room) and the fact that the pellets seem to neutralize another toxin – ammonia from his urine – is great.

      I will probably be scolded and told how incredibly irresponsible and dangerous this is, but we flush the solid waste from the litter into our septic system, and when the pellets have all gone to sawdust from moisture, we dump them in our compost pile and refill the box with fresh pellets. I could probably also burn the sawdust once it had dried out thoroughly, but that would release toxins, too, would it not?

      Anyway, this seems to be the best compromise to me, but you have to find the one that seems best to you. 🙂

      We did change our kitty over to pine slowly and even had two boxes for a little while. He would poop in the clumping litter and pee in the pellets.

      • Katie February 17, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

        Two boxes is a good idea. I have a hyperthyroid cat who pees A LOT now, and the clumping cat litter is just disgusting very quickly. Not sure if he’s taking to the pine, but the cleanup is so much better.

        BUT on that note, you are NOT supposed to put feces and urine in composting bins! Someone in my neighborhood put dog poop in ours, and it killed the worms and made an unholy stink.

  21. Bernadette January 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Diane, I was just about to mention the horse bedding–also sold as wood stove pellets in the same quantity/price. It’s a renewable resource and already recycled since it’s made from the sawdust from sawmills and chipped and shredded lumber scraps. No one need worry about arsenic or any wood treatments in it because wood is only treated after it’s cut down to its final size, otherwise they’d have to treat it again after cutting.

    Most of my cats are fine with it, and Mimi doesn’t care for it but still uses it with sidelong glances in my direction. Barely any tracking at all, especially in the bathroom, and not subject to absorbing moisture in my damp basement like other grain and shell litters.

    You wouldn’t really want to compost the cardboard box if it had any urine or feces on it, and you wouldn’t compost the litter, either.

  22. Debbie January 22, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    I’ve been eliminating as many toxins from my life as possible and have even carried this obsession over to my cat Chloee’s litter. I didn’t like the idea of using corn litter with all of the information out there related to genetically modified corn so I have actually been using instant oatmeal for litter. It’s fantastic! It forms into clumps and is even flushable! It even seems to be odor resistant and Chloee has never had a problem using it. There is no dust either. The only problem is that it does make it slightly more difficult to want to eat oatmeal for breakfast now.
    Instant oatmeal is cheap and easy to find. I think it is a great solution!

    • Judith Myers November 9, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

      Wow, thanks can’t wait to try 🙂

    • margaret lamb May 14, 2017 at 2:45 pm #

      I have a question. someone told me i have to change it everyday if i use oatmeal. is that true.

  23. Diane January 22, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    I absolutely love the pine pellets as cat litter. I purchase mine in a 40 lb bag from the local farm supply store. They are labeled as horse bedding, and a bag is $5.99 on sale. Inexpensive and effective, especially for odor control.

    • Jane April 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      You can buy a 40 pound bag of Equine Pine for about 6 dollars at a tractor supply store!

  24. thecatguy January 21, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    Interesting idea, this LitterOne box. Can it be composted? That would be cool to be able to throw it in the yard waste bin when it’s all done.

    • KittyLover1 January 29, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      I am a current user of the Litter One product and YES! It most certainly can be composted! It works great for me! Highly recommended!

      • Katie February 17, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

        No!! You can’t throw feces in a composter!

        • Mari November 12, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

          I’m pretty sure we use feces from many animals to create the fertilizing soil most foods/plants need to be fed, in order to give us the nutrients we need. It’s part of a natural recycling…an unfathomably genius design.

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