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Cat Litter-ary Choices: History of Cat Litter

by | Feb 19, 2019 | Cat Behavior & Care | 8 comments

The innovation of cat litter meant our kitties could move inside, permanently. Today, there are many cat litter options, but that wasn’t always the case. Cat litter choices can make or break a kitty-human relationship. Litter box problems plague many cat lovers. What goes in your cat box? I’m not talking about Sheba’s “creative efforts” or the dog diving for those special kitty treats, but the substrate she likes to dig.

Cat Litter History: In the Beginning…

Did you know that indoor cat toilets are a relatively recent innovation? Most cats spent time outside and did their business in the dirt. The inside felines might be accommodated with a box of sand or perhaps ashes. Can you imagine the sooty footprints?

Teach kittens early to do the right thing…in the box! Find out more about kitten litter box training here.

The First Cat Litter

Back in the winter of 1947 in Cassopolis, Michigan, a cat owner’s sand pile froze, and she got tired of using ashes for her pet. She visited the local hardware that sold industrial absorbents including sawdust and Fulller’s earth (a type of clay). Edward Lowe suggested using clay instead of sand for the cat–and it turned into a multi-billion dollar industry after his introduction of the original Kitty Litter, and later Tidy Cats and Scamp. Purina bought the brands much later and expanded the market even further.

From humble beginnings at 65-cents per 5-pound bag, today cat owners find a smorgasbord of litter choices. But what you like and what Sheba prefers may not agree. We’re all about odor control and convenience. Cats just want something soft to dig in, that doesn’t offend their noses. Strong perfumes and dust can turn them off. And we all know what happens when Sheba shuns the box–we have to change the carpet!

2-cat litter comparison-1-30-08

There are 14 different kinds of litter–and I took that photo about 20 years ago, when writing a litter comparison article. Just imagine how many MORE kinds now!

Kinds of Cat Litter

You can still find plain clay litter. Cats love the clumping clay litters because of their fine texture. Humans love ‘em for their ease of scooping waste. But clay litters get dusty–they’re dirt, after all. The finer stuff tracks more, too, especially if it catches in very furry cat feet. The most common additive to make it clump, called sodium bentonite, can pose a risk to mouthy kittens that taste everything or to dogs intent on raiding the box.

To answer the demands of eco-friendly owners, you can find edible and biodegradable litters made from corn, wheat, paper, cedar chips, and even citrus. I’m a bit perplexed, frankly, by the citrus litters since most cats hate the smell and I recommend citrus as a feline deterrent. *shrug* Some of the corn and wheat products cats accept pretty well. Next week I’ve got a post about a new kind that Seren’s testing…so far, so good.

Cat Litter Reviews & More

I’ve reviewed a number of cat litter products that promote odor control to innovative lightweight versions. Now if they could just invent a cat litter that cats loved but repelled dogs to keep the canines from eating poop! (If you’ve got that problem, check out this solution that works for my house!). If the cat misses the mark, you’ll want to read these tips on eliminating carpet smell and stains.

Bottom line–the best litter in the world ain’t worth spit if your kitten or cat won’t use it. Litter with a strong odor, too much dust, or other issues may turn your litter into a forbidden zone. Cats love routine, so if your cat’s happy with the facilities and tends to be persnickity, don’t mess with success. Unless you want new carpets.

What kinds of litter does your cat prefer? Would you rather use something else–environmentally conscious paper, perhaps? How do you reconcile the cat’s needs with your own $$ or other concerns? Do tell!

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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!



  1. Kiril Kundurazieff

    Nikita & Elvira have used ( I don’t use it, I just buy it, hee, hee!) the Petco Brand clumping litter for years.

    They like it for what ever reason, and I like it not just for the ease of clean-up, but because after buying the initial 30 lb. (I have 2) I can get refills at a cheaper price as needed. 😀

    • Amy Shojai

      Hey, that does sound like a great option–refills R us!

  2. emma

    Mom was a loyal Tidy Cat fan since she got her first cat at age 7 but about 3 years ago she made a change. If you have an Aldi store in your area you have to try their litter!!! It is amazing, no dust, no odor, cats seem to like it and it is super inexpensive! Mom was worried that the container was so small that it came in but no, it lasts! We have 2 cats and one container holds us for a month or so. It is really incredible and the price is the best part…more money left over for dog treats 🙂

    • Amy Shojai

      I’ve been a Tidy Cats fan forever, too, and used it for years. We don’t have an Aldi store…do you have a website? I’ll do a search to see if I can find it, that sounds like a terrific option. The new litter that I tested with Seren is also a Tidy Cats product but…well, you’ll see. *s*

  3. Patricia Hubbard

    Well I used to try several types of litters years ago but have used Fresh Step clay litter for many years and it’s worked good for the munchkins. Many years ago I used to go to a auto parts place and buy 50 lb. sacks of what we called chat and I used it for litter. It was used in garages to absorb oil, etc. It was cheap but didn’t have any good smelling deodorizers in it. I don’t really care for the clumping litters. I’ve heard lots about the World’s Best Litter. Is it clay or clumping, does it hold up for multi-cats and is it expensive? Amy – looking forward to hearing your post about what Seren has been testing.

  4. Vicki Cook

    I used a clumping clay litter for years, but then the dust bothered me and after the kittens were born, I was worried they might swallow it. Now I use World’s Best Original. They all seem to like it, although Travis will occasionally go beside the box rather than in it. There’s one in every crowd!

    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Vicki, The dust would bother me if I had more than one cat. But the new stuff I’m using (will review in an upcoming post) has even more dust and makes me cough worse when I scoop. Hmnnn.

      Ya know, there’s a lot of controversy/concern of the possibility of cats (especially kittens) eating clumping litter and getting blocked. Yes, it can happen and yes, kittens do taste lots of things. But I found it interesting that when researching my book New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs & Cats, many of the holistic vets actually recommended giving a small amount of sodium bentonite for upset tummies in pets…

      That’s the clumping agent, the type of clay, that makes it clump. It also absorbs toxins. Just goes to show that a little of some things can be great while a lot of the same thing can be problematic!

      And of course, the wheat/corn/other types of litters can be digested, so they say. But you don’t want wheat/corn in the FOOD, heaven forbid! (being facetious, LOL!)



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