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Best Clumping Cat Litter

By: Carl Laron on February 14, 2018

Clumping clay litters are most popular

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 very happy with clumping clay cat litter and it remains the most popular choice. 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.

Before we get any further, it's important to note that we recognize that 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 scientific 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 Ultra (Est. $18 for 40 lbs.) (also known as Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Ultra) 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. It's the top pick at Wirecutter, where Shannon Palus says "it forms sturdy clumps, has decent odor control and low dust, and is one of the least expensive options available." It draws 4.5 stars overall at CatLitterHelp.com, which puts it among the top scorers there. "Nothing but positives to say about this product," the editors say. "It has some of the best clumping you will experience and the scent control is good enough for most applications, even in multi-cat litter boxes which it is designed to tackle." They also award kudos -- and a 5 star rating -- for value; "This is a fantastic price given the caliber of product you get here."

Some experts who voice a preference for other litters still give Dr. Elsey's Ultra good feedback. 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 says that Dr. Elsey's litter is a good alternative. "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 13,800 have left reviews for Dr. Elsey's at Amazon, and the litter carries a rating of 4.2 stars. Fewer cat owners leave reviews at other sites, but those that do seem just as pleased, if not more so; it earns 4.4 stars at Chewy based on around 2,470 reviews, and 4.4 stars at PetSmart based on just over 140 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 littersÉand 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 Cat Attract (Est. $25 for 40 lbs.) (also known as Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Attract) 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, Cat Attract uses an herbal scent that naturally draws cats to their litter box.

Expert feedback is pretty good. Dr. Pierson recommends it for cats with non-health-related inappropriate elimination. "Many people have had great luck with the Cat Attract products," she says. It's also a top litter at CatLitterHelp.com, again earning 4.5 stars.

There are plenty of success stories posted by users at sites like Amazon and Chewy that describe good success in 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, most say. It earns a 4.4 star rating at Amazon based on nearly 2,000 reviews, and 4.6 stars at Chewy based on more than 600 reviews.

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 been reviewed by CatLitterHelp.com, and while it scores a half-star behind the Dr. Elsey's products, that's still pretty decent. Though billed as an unscented litter, the editors there say that they did detect a slight perfumed smell to the product. However, the editors add that it delivers what is promised, saying "This litter does a fine job of locking in the cat smells as well, and can keep it locked in for quite some time."

User reviews at sites like Amazon (where it earns 4.5 stars following nearly 1,000 reviews) are largely positive. Dr. 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.

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