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Cat Litter Buying Guide

By: Carl Laron on February 14, 2018

What the best cat litter has

  • Low dust. Dust is typically a hit or miss for each brand, and can vary even from box to box (or bag to bag), but it is a factor with most types of cat litter, including finer-grained crystal varieties.
  • Low tracking. The best litters stay in the box, not on your cat's paws where they can be redeposited outside of the box.
  • No scent. Your nose might not agree, but studies show that when given a choice, cats will largely pick an unscented litter. Sometimes, the aversion is so great as to lead to litter box avoidance. If you feel some type of odor-control is a must, a litter with carbon or activated charcoal ingredients is the best option.
  • High comfort. The feel of the litter under your cat's paws can play a large role in how eager it will be to use the litter pan. Experts say that cats prefer the feel of clumping clay litters. Some cats will accept, or be trained to accept, other litters -- but others might look for different places to do their business.

Know before you go

Don't switch brands unless it's for a good reason. Cats are creatures of habit, and if they've been happily using a brand of cat litter they may not want to make the switch, even if you may find it messy or hard to clean.

Clumping litters are preferred by cats…and many experts. Clumping cat litters, whether clay-based or biodegradable, react with urine to form hard lumps that can be scooped out. Cats like the feel of most clumping litters, especially clay varieties, and experts say that clumping litters make it easiest to keep your litter box as sanitary as it can be.

Don't judge by price alone. Some clumping clay litters are relatively cheap, but they can be tracked across the house by your cat's paws. Resist the impulse to buy the cheapest litter available, at least until you've hit on the right combination of cat and human acceptance.

Put your cat's comfort first. Feline paws are very sensitive, so a cat may or may not react well to the feel of certain litters, especially pellets or crystals. If you sense your cat is using the litter box under protest (lots of meowing and fussing around), switch to a type that's easier on its feet.

Are there young kittens in your household? Fine-grained cat litter might be what most cats prefer, but it isn't the best choice for kittens younger than 3 months old. This is because they can ingest the small particles, potentially causing illness.

Keep it clean. Expert after expert say the same thing: The best way to deal with odors is to follow a strict regimen of litter box maintenance. Clumping litters need to be scooped out twice daily, at a minimum. Though some litters (such as crystals) allow for longer intervals, in most cases plan on dumping out and cleaning a litter pan weekly. Wash the litter box with plain water, or use a fragrance-free soap.

Your cat is the final judge of which litter is best. Despite the best expert and user advice we can share, the final arbiter of which litter is best will be your feline friend. If you choose a litter that your cat can't stand, the end result could very well be a cat that won't use its litter pan. If your cat is happy with the litter it is using, be very cautious in changing things up. Cats are creatures of habit, and if they've been happily using a brand of cat litter, they may not want to make the switch -- no matter what your reason for making a change. With a new cat, experts suggest leaving out pans of different brands/types of litters so you can learn what it prefers.

Don't go cold turkey. If you do want or need to make a change in litter, make the change in steps. Mix the new litter in with the old, starting slowly and gradually transitioning you cat. Trust us; you'll both be happier.

It might not be the litter. While a cat might not be totally pleased with its litter, if it suddenly starts eliminating elsewhere, that could be a warning sign of a medical condition. A visit to the vet might be an important first step before experimenting with a different litter.

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