Litter Choices Go Beyond the Norm

To switch to a new brand of litter, make the transition gradually.

By J. Veronika Kiklevich, DVM

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CatQ. I have been reading that the silica dust in clay litters can be dangerous and can even cause silicosis and lung cancer, as it collects in the lungs. What is your opinion on this?

I have five cats and one is developing a respiratory problem and I think it is from the clay litter dust. I live in a small 500 square foot apartment and the dust seems to get everywhere. I tried a name brand corn litter, which I began mixing in gradually, but my cats appeared hesitant about using the litterbox, so I discontinued that experiment. I have been told that a name brand litter made of newspapers has low-dust; any comments on this type of litter?

I've also been told that the pine pellet litters have low-dust, but again there is the issue of the transition to the hard pellets. I also read that the abietic acid in pine can damage the respiratory tract causing respiratory disease and asthma.

What are your recommendations? Please help!

A. Although these questions have come up from time to time in the veterinary world, no factual answers have been established.

A few years ago there was a small study done at the Animal Medical Center (AMC) in New York regarding this issue. The conclusions of the study was not clear-cut, but I think it's safe to say that in cats with pre-existing airway disease, silica may act as an airway irritant. There was no evidence that silica (itself) caused disease.

If your cats seem to be sensitive to the litter that you are currently using, I would try to slowly switch to the pellet form of litter. This may take up to 4 to 6 months (for your cats to get used to it), as you gradually decrease the clay portion and increase the pellet portion of the litter. Also, some clumping litters are both dust-free and soft, and might be a good alternative.

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Litter Choices Go Beyond the Norm

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Reader Comments

Udit    Lafayette, IN

7/20/2013 7:25:25 PM

I have been using two non-clay types that Arm & Hammer make: Essentials and Natural Double Duty. They are both great. They don't clump when the cats pee and then it dries. However, if you clean it daily in the morning and/or evening, it scoops out pretty good.

Erin    Brookline, NH

4/30/2013 5:37:07 AM

Great article! I'm wondering though if anyone has tried Breathe Free Litter Box Mate litter pads?
They are litter pads that go on the bottom of the litter box with any kind of litter poured on top. The pad absorbs the odor from the litter so their is no litter box smell. Apparently these litter pads work great - and they're cheap! Worth checking out...

dayna    easton, PA

2/12/2013 10:38:56 PM

good article

Dana    Aurora, CO

12/1/2012 12:08:29 AM

We lost a kitten this past summer - directly related to his ingestion and inhalation of TidyCat Clay Clumping cat litter. It hardened inside his digestive tract and gelified inside of his lungs. He was 5 weeks old. If it can clog the plumbing in your house (and it will just flush it down the toilet - then it cannot be good for your cats plumbing either. The vet btw had initially misdiagnosed him with URI It was very sad to learn the litter we used killed that little angel.

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