While biodegradable cat litters have become increasingly popular, available and affordable over the last few years, the fact remains that the vast majority of cats (and cat owners) are content with clumping clay cat litter. One reason is that clumping clay litters are still much less expensive than biodegradable kitty litters, which can add up to big savings over the course of a year. Also, studies show that cats naturally prefer the feel and texture of clay litters over other types.
That said, there has been some furor raised by suspicious pet owners over clumping clay litters. This is because they use a chemical called sodium bentonite as the clumping agent, which is suspected to have adverse health effects on cats. But these claims -- according to myriad feline-health professionals -- are largely anecdotal and there is, to date, no solid evidence that clumping clay litters are dangerous to cats. Still, if that's a concern, we cover a number of non-clay alternatives in our discussion of biodegradable cat litter.
If a clumping clay cat litter is right for you and your cat, Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Ultra (Est. $15 for 40 lbs.) is a medium-grained clay litter that earns lots of praise from experts and owners. It's safe for kittens, and owners say it lasts longer than many competing cat litters. It's geared toward use with multiple cats. Reviews indicate that while the 99 percent dust free claim might be an exaggeration, dust levels are relatively low, and comparable to those of other well-rated cat litters. Dr. Elsey's is fragrance-free, which experts say is what cats prefer, though some cat owners' noses might disagree.
Reviews are among the most consistently favorable we saw for any clay-based litter. As noted in our section on biodegradable cat litter, CatInfo.org,'s Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, has switched to SmartCat All Natural Clumping Litter (Est. $30 for 20 lbs.), but she still gives Dr. Elsey's litter high praise. "If SmartCat does not work out for you or your cat, all of the members of our rescue group have been very satisfied with Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Ultra clumping litter for the past ~20 years," she says. Cat owners, it seems, are pretty satisfied, too. Nearly 11,000 have left reviews for Dr. Elsey's at Amazon.com, and the litter carries a rating of 4.3 stars -- just about as good as you'll see for any clay litter. Fewer cat owners leave reviews at other sites, but those that do seem just as pleased, if not more so; it earns 4.6 stars at Chewy.com based on just over 1,425 reviews, and 4.5 stars at PetSmart.com based on just over 120 reviews.
Pierson does a point-by-point comparison of SmartCat and Dr. Elsey's and finds that the two compare very favorably. SmartCat wins out overall thanks to its lighter weight and better environmental friendliness, but it's close and no slam dunk. Dr. Elsey's certainly has the upper hand when it comes to economy as the product is competitively priced compared to most name brand litters…and half the cost of SmartCat. On other factors she considers, the two litters score more or less equally.
For one reason or another (including inadvertently using a litter that your feline detests), cat owners sometimes run into the issue of their pet refusing to use its litter box. Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Attract (Est. $30 for 40 lbs.) won't resolve every such situation, but reviewers say that it works often enough that is worth a try. While experts say that the perfumes and fragrances that are more commonly found in scented cat litters are designed to appeal more to human noses than a cat's sensibilities, Precious Cat Attract uses an herbal scent that naturally draws cats to their litter box.
At Amazon.com, there are plenty of success stories posted by users on breaking a "problem" cat of its bad habits. Reviewers also like that its larger grains can't be ingested by kittens, which makes Cat Attract a valuable tool in litter box training. Its general litter properties are pretty good, too. At Catster.com, Caroline Golon says that Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Attract "clumps well and the tracking isn't too bad, either."
There are, of course, tons of other clay-based clumping litters. These don't get much in the way of expert feedback, and user reviews don't provide a lot of separation between brands. One recommendation that's shared by expert after expert is to bypass the scented varieties and stick with an unscented litter. The fragrance might be appealing to a cat owner, but testing shows it to usually be a turn off to the cat. Even worse, it can mask an unsanitary situation. Dr. Pierson is quite blunt on this: "CLEAN THE DARN BOX! Do not look to litter as a way of controlling odor," she says. Dr. Karen Becker at Healthy Pets adds that many cats are adverse to scents and even odor control additives, so the best way to avoid litter box problems is to pick a litter that doesn't contain these. "This will give your kitty as natural an environment as possible in which to do his business," she says.
If the idea of a cat litter with no odor-fighting ingredients is, unpleasant, Ever Clean Extra Strength Cat Litter, Unscented (Est. $20 for 25 lbs.) might be worth considering. Rather than masking odors, it includes carbon particles to trap and neutralize smells. It's not been professionally reviewed, but user reviews at sites like Amazon.com (where it earns 4.4 stars following roughly 470 reviews) are largely positive. Dr. Karen Becker at Healthy Pets notes that if an odor-neutralizing ingredient is a must, litters that use carbon products are generally preferred by cats over those that use baking soda, the other popular odor-fighting ingredient found in commercial cat litters.