By Nancy Marano

Every cat owner searches for the perfect litter, but there are so many litter choices available that the decision isnít easy. A personís first thought should be the catís health concerns and preferences. Picking the right litter can mean the difference between a cat who uses its litter box and one who avoids it. Inappropriate elimination is high on the list of feline behavioral problems and is a major reason people get rid of a c at. Often this problem can be avoided simply by changing the type of litter used.

Odor control, convenience, price and minimal tracking rank highest in brand selection. Environmental impact issues also play a role in some peopleís decisions.

The first cat litter revolution occurred in 1947, when Edward Lowe introduced clay Kitty Litter. Before that people used sawdust or sand, which was difficult to handle and didnít control odor. Because of these drawbacks cats were banished outdoors for bathroom chores. Many experts believe the dramatic rise in the catís popularity as a companion animal can be traced to absorbent clay litter. Traditional clay litter is still the sales leader. It is the most economical and is marketed under many different brand names.

The second revolution was the introduction of clumping litter. Clumping, or scoopable litter works by dissolving the moisture in urine and feces and then forming a clump around the matter. Only the clumps are removed so the litter box doesnít need changing as often. It is more expensive than traditional litter, but less litter is used and odor is minimized.

Many alternative products are also on the market. These are made from wood chips, stem-treated newspaper pellets, wheat, corn cobs, recycled paper, plant fibers, pine and citrus. One difficulty with these is availability. Some manufacturers are small and donít have wide distribution networks so the product may be found in only one part of the country. If you are interested in trying one of these, you should check with local pet and health food stores to see what brands they carry or look in pet supply catalogs.

Cats donít always take kindly to litter changes. If you want to switch to a new litter, do it gradually by mixing the new litter with the old. When you find a litter your cat likes, and you can live with, stick to it. It increases your chance of having a happy, well-adjusted cat.

To Clump, or Not to Clump?

Clumping litter is blamed for many horrors. The most serious is that it can cause intestinal blockage in kittens resulting in death. Other health problems are upper respiratory infection, allergies and urinary distress. Clumps may stick around a catís genital area and back thighs, especially in long-haired cats, which causes problems with defecation and grooming, if left unattended.

Less deadly complaints associated with scoopable litter are that it tracks easily, clumps in corners, causes dust and is too expensive, especially in multicat households. If the litter box is on a tile floor, the tracked litter may get wet and turn gooey making it difficult to remove from the tile.

A survey of Albuquerque veterinarians didnít reveal any medical problems that could be traced directly to clumping litter. Dr. Jeff Livingstone, DVM, Del Norte Animal Clinic, found no medical problems but has encountered behavioral problems. He has treated several cats who simply didnít like the feel of clumping litter and refused to use the litter box.

ďWhen clumping litter came on the market, it was touted as the most wonderful litter improvement ever. Many claims were made for it, and when people learned it wasnít quite as perfect as claimed, the litter got blamed for everything,í Dr. Linda Schukei, DVM, Uptown Cat Hospital, said.

Since questions remain regarding clumping litterís safety, many veterinarians recommend it not be used with kittens. Young kittens taste test everything they come in contact with, which might well include litter. Donít take chances on your kittenís health. Use traditional clay or digestible, non-clumping alternative litter.

Nancy Marano is a freelance writer living in Albuquerque.

Note: This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1999 issue.

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