10 Do’s & Don’ts of Cat Litter

Cat litter is a controversial topic.

In 2012, 2.4 million tons of clay were mined in the US just for cat litter so that up to 96 million American kitties can drench it in pee and poop to dump a total of 4.5 million tons of waste back into the environment and landfills every year. Flushing the flushable kind causes plumbing problems and is being blamed for the death of marine life. Potentially brain-damaging Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted through the feces of infected cats which can harm wildlife and our food supply through contaminated meat and water. Plus, the dust that gets kicked up when cats cover their business or when we clean the litter, be it clay or silica-based, can cause illness for both cats and humans when inhaled.

None uf us means to impact the environment in such monumental ways, especially when so many of us are just trying to make life easier for homeless cats due to their overpopulation.

So what can we responsible pet guardians do to lessen our footprint on the environment while taking the best care of our cats? I’ve got ten do’s and don’ts below in dealing with cat litter that will help you, your cats, and the environment be happier and healthier.

1. Don’t shake the scoop. I made a fun video about this tip here:

I have always used a clay-based clumping litter. I tried to switch to a different environmentally-friendly one with two previous cats I cared for but was unsuccessful in getting them to switch. That doesn’t mean I won’t try a biodegradable litter or other alternative, especially after researching for this article. Thankfully, Kodi doesn’t kick up much dust at all when he’s using it, and Shorty, well, as you can see in the video above, Shorty doesn’t even touch the litter after she goes.

But an easy way to reduce the amount of clay-based litter you use, to keep dust particles at bay, and to keep odours under control is to simply not shake the litter scoop while removing waste from the litter. When we shake the scoop, we think we’re just releasing the non-clumped litter back into the box, thereby saving litter, but some of the clumped litter inevitably gets loose as well which is no longer effective at clumping or absorbing odours. This means that to keep it from smelling bad, you’ll have to change the whole litter box much more frequently which is a pain, and indeed the dustiest part of the litter process. So, to extend the life of the litter and to keep it smelling fresh don’t shake the scoop at all and throw out the bit of excess that remains on the scoop. This way you won’t need to change and wash the litterbox nearly as often which makes your life easier, saves on litter, and reduces the environmental impact.

2. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands well after cleaning the cat litter. A disease called Toxoplasmosis, primarily a foodborne illness like Salmonella, is a zoonotic disease whose parasite can only reproduce in infected cats who then shed the parasite through their feces. Healthy people have little reason to worry, but women who are pregnant and those with weakened immune systems should either try to get someone else to clean the litter box, or wear gloves while doing so, though this mainly applies to cats who are let outdoors where they can feed on infected rodents and birds, and pass the parasite to other animals or to our drinking water. For a thorough investigation into Toxoplasmosis, see this article.

Now, before you all run out and get a hazmat suit and a 10-foot pole just to clean up after kitty, the CDC estimates that over 60 million people in the US may currently be infected with the Toxoplasma parasite, yet most show no symptoms at all because a healthy immune system can prevent you from getting sick. Exposure is very common in areas where undercooked meat is often eaten, like in France where monthly prenatal screening for the Toxoplasma parasite was introduced in 1992. Plus, infected cats will only shed the parasite in their feces for a few weeks, not their entire lifetime, so unless you are directly handling the feces of an outdoor cat who recently ate an infected host, it is extremely unlikely that your cat is any threat. You are much more likely to contract it through ingesting infected meat or contaminated water. If you have questions about you or your cat, read this article and see your health care provider and/or veterinarian.

I confess I’ve never worn gloves while cleaning the cat litter, and simply wash my hands well afterwards. And my friend who is a single mom always changed the litter herself while pregnant and stuck with a good hand-washing as well. I’m not suggesting you not take precautions, but as with anything that could affect your health, understand the risks involved, talk to your doctor and veterinarian, do lots of research yourself, and decide what’s best for you.

3. Dispose of the litter daily. In addition to keeping your house from smelling like a bad episode of Hoarders, daily removal of waste helps to keep your cats’ sensitive sniffers happy and prevents them from tracking dirty litter all over the house. And according to the CDC, “[t]he Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat’s feces,” so if your cat is allowed outdoors or has a chance of becoming infected, an easy safeguard against Toxoplasmosis is daily cleaning. Keep the litter box filled with about 2 inches of clean litter; more and the cats may not use it, less and it won’t be effective in absorbing the waste, so be sure to replace litter as needed. Always bag the litter and throw it in the garbage can. You may want to use biodegradable or compostable bags if you know your litter is heading to landfill, but refer to your city’s disposal guidelines. Depending on how many cats you have and their size, you may want to fully wash the box in hot soap and mild detergent every few weeks and replace with brand new litter.

But you don’t have to take the garbage out every day to avoid that “litter smell” in the house! You can get a disposal unit specially designed to hold in cat litter odours. I reviewed the Litter Champ here:

4. Have at least one litter box per cat. Some experts suggest that you should have one box per cat plus one, especially if you are having issues with very territorial cats. Keep the boxes in different parts of your house as cats are very sensitive to smells and may only go where their own scent is familiar. (Shorty and Kodi only have one box each right beside each other and don’t have a problem sharing, so do what’s best for your cats.)

5. Avoid scented litters. These might make things smell a bit better to you but can be overpowering for your cat’s strong sense of smell and even act as a deterrent to the litter box. They also often contain chemicals harmful to the environment. If you need to control odours, try sprinkling a layer of baking soda on top of the litter, lightly mixing it into the surface, every time you clean the litter box.

6. Don’t enclose the litter box. Speaking of odours, if you can smell it, multiply that by fourteen, and that’s how strong it is to a cat. It might be nice for you to enclose all that bad odour inside a plastic case, but terrible for kitty. Keep it open, easily accessible, and big enough for the size of your cat. Shorty can’t even figure out how to get out of the ones with a plastic window:

7. Try non-clumping litter. These litters are often less expensive than clumping and can last longer. You would still need to remove feces daily, but I have a friend with a small cat who only cleans her non-clumped litter once a month by simply lifting the box liner out, replacing it, and refilling with litter. Not that I recommend only once-a-month cleaning (or liners as claws can get stuck in them rendering them useless and possibly deter your cats), but she swears by it because she “can’t deal with cleaning clumping litter every day.” These litters are available in clay and plant-based alternatives.

8. Never flush the litter. Even if it says you can flush it, don’t. A study in California found that “42 percent of live otters and 62 percent of dead otters were infected with Toxoplasma gondii … that can cause fatal brain inflammation in California sea otters.” Even if you don’t live on the coast, this parasite can’t be treated or filtered out in water treatment systems so it makes its way into our groundwater, lakes, rivers and oceans where it can be harmful to all wildlife. So don’t flush it and don’t leave it outside where it can get into sewer drains.

9. Composting. Thankfully, there are green bin programs like in Toronto that are able to compost cat litter and other waste products. Toronto does this through a process called anaerobic composting, a closed system, as opposed to aerobic composting, or by using air. Check with your city’s disposal guidelines to see if they compost cat litter, and whether they prefer biodegradable or plastic bags, depending on their recycling and handling procedures.

As for composting on your own, some people will say that you can, with important rules like not using clay or crystal-based litters, keeping the compost far away from your vegetable garden, and waiting 18 months before using it as a plant food. And some say that it’s not worth the risk. It may be best to leave this to your city’s disposal, but urge them to adapt composting pet waste practices if they don’t already.

As for throwing it all in the landfills, there is a chance that litter with silica crystals can help remediate polluted soil and reduce acidity, so cat litter might actually end up helping landfills by reducing toxicity (though I have found no solid research to back this claim, just opinions of other writers. If you come across scientific studies into this, please let me know).

10. Experiment with different litters. There are a wide range of biodegradable litter alternatives you can consider that don’t rely on strip mining earth’s minerals. A product called Feline Pine purports to be long-lasting and all-natural, using sawdust byproduct from lumber mills. World’s Best Cat Litter is corn-based with no synthetic additives, though their website is, er, littered with the phrase, “concentrated power of corn” which makes me think of that Simpson’s episode where Homer’s power bars are made with the “awesome power of apples.” Swheat Scoop harnesses the wonder of wheat. I haven’t tried any of these and have no affiliation with them; they just appear to be popular brands that I’ve come across online. And a new company, Pretty Litter, just sent me a sample of their litter to try that is said to detect potential health issues by changing colour in reaction to abnormal levels of acidity and blood in your cat’s waste. I haven’t tried it yet either.

If you’re like me and are still using clay-based litter, do some investigating and see what’s available in your local stores. Many of our cats love the clay-based litter but that doesn’t mean they can’t love another, and that we can’t take some extra time to make educated, responsible decisions that are in the best interest of our pets, the environment, and ourselves. If you are trying a new litter, add just a little bit at a time to your existing litter so your cat has time to get used to it. They may not like it at all, so be prepared to experiment.

Please comment below with your stories, suggestions, or questions.

39 thoughts on “10 Do’s & Don’ts of Cat Litter

  1. What about paper-based litters? I am concerned about useof bleaching agents with them, but how are they for the environment and for cats?

  2. Currently I use a combination of the Breeze system, Dr Esley’s cat attract and RR and a walnut based litter. I also have used Worlds Best and wood pellets. I have many boxes throughout the house and even in the garden. I thought it was funny that when given the choice the street cats used the box.

    The Breeze box has sides high enough for privacy but not so enclosed they cannot see who might be stalking them.

  3. I’ve tried some alternatives throughout the years. My cats are fairly tolerant of the variants but they rarely clump well, and may are very dusty (swheat scoop’s dust might be okay to breathe in, but it still gets everywhere) I usually return to clay-based clumping litter for the 8 boxes I have for my 3 cats (3 different locations, variety of covered versus open, deep versus shallow, etc. — the boy needs to dig holes in at least 3 boxes before he decides he has created one good enough to deposit his masterpiece in)

  4. Having worked at a pet food store, I can tell you that all our customers that bought World’s Best Cat Litter said that it really was the best litter out there and worth every penny. It’s a bit pricey for my budget, but I’ve just switched to a PC clumping corn based litter that seems to work well and the cats are accepting it.
    I used Swheat Scoop years ago and liked it until my cat decided one day that she didn’t like it anymore (these darn cats!!!).
    Another good one; one that I used for a very long time, is Envirolitter. It comes in a clumping formula as well as pine pellets (non-clumping) that break down into sawdust. It is low dust and even with 6 cats in the house, you don’t get that, “hey somebody just left a present in the litter box a couple of hours ago” smell. If your box isn’t deep enough, it does get messy though. A few months ago, the stores around us stopped carrying the Envirolitter, so I switched to a similar product from Fresh 4 Life. While it was still a decent product, I found it didn’t last as long so, despite my feelings of guilt over the environmental impact, I switched to a lavender scoopable. Then the store stopped carrying it (sigh) and I discovered (finally) the corn, which, as I mentioned, seems to be working well.
    Our small house doesn’t allow space for 6 or 7 boxes, so we made do with 2 (for up to 8 cats in the house), Sadly, one of our cats died last month, so we only have 6 in the house right now; we also have one that is a neighborhood cat. She spends her winters in our house and as soon as it’s nice out, she’s demanding to be outside (I hate that) and she disappears until the snow arrives. I have just recently gone to 3 boxes and everyone (except my husband) seems content with that.
    Thanks for your article!

  5. I have 2 cats and no basement for the litter. Litter dust on dark hardwood floors was a nightmare. Switched to ground walnut shells and love it. Dust free, nice natural smell and the girls didn’t even notice a difference. Clumping without dust. Light weight. Pricey but I think totally worth it.

  6. For my fur babies I use Tidy Cats Pure Nature clumping litter made with cedar, pine and corn. It works well for them and they like it plus it has a very pleasant scent. I have 2 litter boxes and that works fine for them. The only thing I don’t like much about the litter is the dust and after a couple of days the litter no longer has the nice scent. I clean their boxes twice a day once in the morning and latter in the evening after I come home from work. I always make sure to wash my hands right after I clean their boxes.

  7. We use world’s best with no fragrance. My girls are now 12 yrs old. They do nit like change & will poop on the floor if they do not like it.
    I cannot have that. I will buy what they are used to. Yes, they regularly go to the vet. My (black) Pearl is hyperthyroid & pretty Rose is IBD. They are indoor only. Also, they prefer a hooded cat litterpan. I clean 2-3 x/day. What they walk in the litter pan with comes out into my home. Rose is very meticulous. Pearl is not.

  8. Great suggestions on proper litter use. Disposing of feces on a daily basis is important for good house keeping and protecting both yours and your cat’s health. Thank you for mentioning Pretty Litter, the early-detection, health monitoring kitty litter than changes color when it detects an issue with your cat’s health.

  9. I think the litter my cats prefer most is the fine, white powdery kind. I’m not sure if it because the litter is very fine and has little dust so its easier on their paws and so on. I have 15 litter trays around the house and it seems like all of them hate the inclosed ones and prefer the open boxed ones with no sides. I don’t have many litter options where I’m from, but it seems like out of all the brands out there that I tried this one is the most liked. It clumps easily and stays fresh for longer than any of the other litters I tried. My one cat has a problem using the litter boxes though, she gets inside them, but sort of doesn’t aim correctly and poops right outside it. I’ve tried bigger litter boxes, inclosed ones she refuses to go in and even positioning her myself. Any advice for this? Luckily 5 of my cats are literally toilet trained, can’t get them to flush though.

    1. Hi Jo, how about placing the litter tray in a larger shallow plastic tray, if you can source one? Love it that 5 of yours use the toilet; there are sensor-flushes for toilets, no doubt pricey, and I guess it could startle a cat and cause all sorts of mayhem if the sensor tripped before the cat had finished! It’s an idea, though …

    2. I have a cat that has an aiming issue as well so I switched to a litter box with a high back… it was actually a part of an enclosed box set I just don’t put the top on and this has helped tremendously. For the few occasions she still manages to miss I keep puppy pads under the litter box that I can just switch out when needed.

      1. My cat is like yours. She doesn’t squat when she pees. I have found the enclosed, high backed boxes work best. I take the door off so she doesn’t feel trapped.

  10. I just love, in the first video, how interested both Shorty and Kodi are in the litter-pan cleaning process. Our little Buddy would always have to use a fresh box immediately, regardless of whether he really needed to go.

    1. My maine coon does the same thing. I finish cleaning the litter pans and not a minute later he is in there doing his thing…I think he does it just to mess with me. LOL

  11. I love watching Shorty try to figure out the catflap door on the box. She is so much like my longhaired Zulu girl it makes my heart ache sometimes. One thing that happened as Zulu got older, it seemed she would miss the edge of the box and pee or poop just outside the box. I figured at age 15 she perhaps had some arthritis and as she lived to be 22 it happened more frequently. I think I was lucky she managed to get all four feet into the box before deposit. I did use the rubbermaid style mats that went under the dishracks people use when they hand wash dishes. I used it on the end she used to enter the box. It made clean up easier for me.

  12. Here in the UK, we tried several different kinds before settling for wood-based (compressed pine sawdust pellets) litter. Solid waste is removed from the tray and flushed away before disposing of the rest, bagged in the empty plastic sacks the litter arrives in. The trays are cleaned every time with Petsafe disinfectant from the petshop. Ordinary household disinfectant is generally highly toxic for felines so we don’t have any in the house at all – we use Petsafe instead: it is more expensive but you don’t put a price on your cat’s safety, do you?

  13. My Sadie had one litter box that I kept in the bathroom cabinet under the sink, door open. She has asthma, so I use Dr Elsey’s Respiratory Relief. I have been working on not shaking the scooper when I scoop every night!
    Sadie is 3.5 yrs young, but has myriad health issues. Still she has always been a happy amenable cat.
    Three weeks ago she pooped on my bed!! I was shocked. I have no idea why she did this. I’m pretty good about scooping every night and changing the litter over entirely every 3-5 days. I haven’t been less careful about litter maintenance, so her litter didn’t seem any dirtier or not dirty than it ever was, but maybe it just felt dirtier to her. It was the night I was scheduled to change her litter out, after all.
    Then, last week, she did it again. Right on my bed. It’s a message, but I have no idea about what!
    Based on the, um, quality of her deposits, I wondered if maybe she is a little constipated because we changed her diet to half kidney prescription plan and she now takes a supplement delivered by gelatin capsule 2x per day. So, maybe she’s feeling discomfort and this is her way of telling me.
    I have tried two solutions.
    1) I added pumpkin to her diet. 2) I added a second larger litter in the living room. (I discussed both options with her vet.)
    It’s been 2 days of two litters. Please cross your fingers that I solved whatever the problem was!
    By the by… She uses both boxes. I am so curious how she chooses which one she wants to use!
    If you or anyone else has ever encountered this cat behavior, I’m open to advice. Thank you!!

  14. My cats use a litter called bio-catolet, it is a reduced co2 comparable paper-based cat litter. It’s good, but you need to replace it regularly or it starts to smell.

  15. My kitty does well with the clumping litter, however when she gets out of the litter box, her paws bring out a lot of litter onto my wood floor. I clean the floor several times a week. My current set up: I have a piece of carpet then on top of that I have two pieces of “non slip drainage mat”, hoping that when Panther walks out of the litter box, the litter pieces will deposit on the mat. Any suggestions to keep the litter in the box and off my floor?

    1. Yes, I have the same problem, Paula. I have a small carpet/mat that the boxes are placed on (you can see in the video) and it catches pretty much all the escaped litter and I vacuum it once or twice a week. Thankfully, both Shorty and Kodi are fine with the high-backed boxes with tall lids on them which helps.

  16. I recommend trying World’s Best Cat Litter. That stuff clumps HARD. You can shake the scooper and it won’t break up.

  17. When my Minuchette wants to go for the “big business”, she is making an announcement. She just wants to see me there, waiting with my glove and pallet, ready to scoop what she just produced. If I don’t remove the waste after 2 “little business”, she makes a fuss and she is holding it till the litter is properly restored.
    Robert, I have to contradict you about the scented litter. After 2-3 trials of different litters, Minou agreed with the lavender scented one. It’s one of the best I can find here (in Romania we do not have so many choices). Perhaps before I rescued her, she was already used to it. With the other types, she was mewing, sneezing, shaking her paws but still going just because she had to. Not to mention that she was spreading the litter all over the (not)hunted hall (smiles). For the how to clean the litter box, you are right. At the beginning, so much waste because of all wrong cleaning, as you describe in the article. I learned step by step how to and now all is fine.

  18. Very interesting read. We moved to Nepal a few months ago and had to find innovative ways of making and taking care of our Yoda’s litter. It is a never ending process in order to find the perfect litter that is good for your cat but for the environment as well. Thanks for sharing all the info, we’ll be back 🙂

  19. Great article! There are so many options but you can’t go wrong with a good quality clumping litter so you can just scoop out the clumps and waste when needed.

  20. We tried Sweat Scoop but it traps odors, even after scooping the box the room was uninhabitable. Went back to Dr. Elseys, mixed with cheaper clay litter. Not the best solution, but still trying.

  21. We love Swheat Scoop. Was using clay litter years ago (which I HATED do to the huge amount of dust and gross pasty clumping), and tried a few different ones, but this is the one that worked the best and therefore stuck. My three cats like it, it’s super easy to scoop, and when scooped regularly there has been no odour. I also love that it’s biodegradable and natural. I volunteer with an animal rescue, and I always feel bad giving our fosters the cheap clay litter that usually ends up being donated to us, because it’s so horrible to scoop and clumps like lead, sticking to the litter box. Our rescue doesn’t bother to use scented litter of any sort or any enclosed litter boxes, as most cats (understandably) tend to avoid the litter box when these are used and can have lingering litter box issues afterwards (would YOU want to try to go to the bathroom in a tiny box you could barely turn around in that reeked of bad cologne?)

  22. My cat does the same thing as the video. He’s not trying to escape though, since mine is open, he’s actually wiping his paws off usually on the inside of the box and sometimes he tries to reach out of the hole to the wall to wipe. I think that’s what that cat was doing but then again I don’t know this cat. I do know that is what my cat does and it looks just like that.

  23. We use Yesterday’s News – small rolled up “kernels” made from recycled newspaper. Our vet recommended this product when one of our cat family members had a lesion in his front paw when we first adopted him. We have used it ever since.

  24. I love these tips, it’s not only a reminder but also helps to reinforce things that we must adhere to if we want the best for our cats. There are so many widely available options out there but only the best is good enough!

  25. Best litter pan I’ve ever used (and the only ones I will use for now on) are ones my husband makes from storage bins that are at least 18″ high. We remove the lid and cut an entryway into the “short” side (so there’s more room to scrape litter over waste without scraping it out the entryway. This is PERFECT for my mostly male cats who like to stand when they pee (must be too used to our human habits) and therefore miss the traditional boxes altogether leaving the wall behind a mess.
    My conundrum now is trying to make my cat “paw prints” more environmentally friendly and yet I’ve always used clumping clay-based litter. I clean the main box they use (right now I have 2 15+ year old males) once or twice a day and the “spare” box in the basement once or twice a week.
    I’m concerned about the litter and plastic bag contributions to our landfills, but I’m not sure I have the finances to maintain the compostable litters which is what I am researching as we have two great compost piles for our organic kitchen waste leaves and yard clean up and our many flower and shrub beds love the nutrients as do we – saves a ton of money on gardening and just feels good to reuse everything we can.
    Wish the compostable litters were less expensive.
    Thanks for the information.

  26. Is it OK to flush solid waste which I have scooped out of clumping litter? It obviously has some of the litter particles sticking to it.

    1. It’s generally recommended to not flush any amount of clumping litter because it can stick inside pipes and collect which could eventually cause problems. It’s also not recommended to flush solid cat waste if the cat is an outdoor cat because, as you’ll see above, “A study in California found that “42 percent of live otters and 62 percent of dead otters were infected with Toxoplasma gondii … that can cause fatal brain inflammation in California sea otters.” Even if you don’t live on the coast, this parasite can’t be treated or filtered out in water treatment systems so it makes its way into our groundwater, lakes, rivers and oceans where it can be harmful to all wildlife. So don’t flush it and don’t leave it outside where it can get into sewer drains.”

  27. It seems that in small UK towns we haven’t much choice, but I use the better sanitised clay litter, one tray changed every night, old litter tied into a cheap plastic carrier bag, plus I use my dogs poo bags to remove poo immediately from the cat litter tray as Kitty is so disdainful of it (but then so is the dog and I. Lol). I use washing up liquid, then dettol in water and and old washing up sponge that I well clean after then keep separate. I encourage my dog to use the garden, clean up quickly and use a solution of jeyes fluid over his pee areas. I wish I could try the walnut but just can’t buy it locally. However, I can’t imagine leaving the same litter in for more than a day but then I do only have about two thirds of an inch depth in the tray. Any more and he spreads it everywhere.

  28. Btw, my dog goes on walks for excercise. I just prefer him to mess in the garden so I can deal with it properley if he has a loose stool. My cat just prefers to use the tray and it means he doesn’t scratch up the flowers and lawn.

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