THE SCOOP ON LITTER
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|| Behavior Problems:
Which Litter is Best For Your Cat?
Since Edward Lowe first placed granulated clay in a bag and called it
Kitty Litter, the multimillion-dollar cat litter industry has produced
an astounding array of litter substrates.
While most of the litters on
the market are clay-based, there is a growing interest in
"alternative" litters. These litters are made of a variety of
unlitter-like compounds, such as: paper, corncob, orange peel, wheat,
wood, grass, silica, and peanut shell. All cat litter manufacturers
claim that their products are highly absorbent and great at controlling
so how is it possible to choose one among so many?
First of all, look at the choices from your cat's point of view. Too many cat owners select products for their cats based on human, rather than feline, preferences. This approach
often backfires as the cat may find that the new purchase offends his natural instincts and refuses to use it. We know that cats have an inborn drive to seek out an easily-raked
substrate in which to eliminate. Our domestic cat's ancestors used sand. Studies show
that 9 out of 10 cats prefer the sand-like texture of the clumping litters. This shouldn't be
too surprising considering that the paw pads of an indoor cat are sensitive and tender.
(Would you rather walk barefoot on a gravel driveway or on a sandy beach?) Declawed
cats especially require the comfort afforded by a clumping litter as more of their weight
rests on their pads than on their shortened toes. (The declaw surgery involves severing,
not just nails, but whole phalanges--up to the first joint--including bone, ligaments, and tendons.)
We also know that cats want their indoor bathrooms to meet the same
outdoor toileting areas, even though their little paws may have never touched the good
earth. Observations of outdoor cats show that each time they eliminate, they look for a
clean area (unlike dogs which like to use the same locations). Dirty litterboxes are a main reason for cats to eliminate outside the litterbox. Perfumed litters do not add to the cat's enjoyment of the litterbox, nor do they fool the cat into thinking that the box is acceptably
clean (although they may fool the owner). Perfume is actually a repellent for cats.
All clumping litters are not created equal--some clump better than others. Usually, the
better litters are also somewhat more expensive than the others. The cheap clumping
litters that break up easily should be scooped daily and dumped out entirely twice a week.
A premium clumping litter, such as Everclean HD, makes the job of litterbox cleaning quick
and simple. If scooped out daily, the cat can enjoy a clean, fresh-smelling litterbox every
day. (Note: clumping litters are not recommended for kittens under four months of age.)
Clay is still the most popular box filler because of its ability to absorb from 75% to 100%
of its weight in moisture. Cats do not like stepping on wet litter and wet litter has an
offensive smell to cats as well as to humans. Keep this in mind if you are considering an alternative box filler. The strange texture and smell of the new substrate may also put off
your cat. If he does not recognize it as being an appropriate substance in which to
eliminate, he will either try to hold his urine (which may precipitate a health problem), or
he may find the living room carpet more to his liking. Although many of the alternative
litters boast their status as earth-friendly, if you have to use strong chemicals on your
carpeting to remove the odor of cat urine, the environment is going to suffer in another way.
If you decide to introduce a new litter to your cat, put it in a new litterbox. Keep the old
boxes the same until you see that the cat is using and liking the new litter. Let the cat
discover it for himself--don't force him to go into it. You may take some urine or stool from another box and put it in the new one to give him the idea that this is for him. Once you
decide on a litter you both like, don't change it, even if another litter is on sale (that is,
unless you really like cleaning the carpeting!)
Get The Scoop!
Before the advent of kitty litter, cat boxes were filled with newspapers.
George Plitt came up with the idea of packaging ashes from burned wood for cats to use. The cat litter industry had its birth one day in 1947 when one of Edward Lowe's neighbors who was tired of dealing with sooty paw prints, asked for some sand.
Edward's father owned an industrial absorbents company in Cassopolis,
Michigan so instead of sand, Lowe suggested using absorbent clay. The neighbor loved the product and soon returned for more.
Realizing that he was on to a good thing, Lowe filled 10 small bags with ground clay,
called it Kitty Litter and approached a local pet store. The shop owner was skeptical because sand was available for next-to-nothing and he doubted that anyone would
pay 65 cents for a five-pound bag of Kitty Litter. "So give it away," Ed told him. Soon customers were asking for more and were willing to pay for it. Lowe visited cat shows
and traveled to pet stores across the country selling Kitty Litter from the back of his 1943 Chevy Coupe. By 1990, Edward Lowe Industries, Inc. was the nation's largest producer of cat box filler with retail sales of more than $210 million annually.
The next major advance in cat box filler came in 1984 when Thomas Nelson,
Ph.D., an enterprising biochemist, developed the first clumping litter. While studying organic
chemistry, he investigated the molecular structure of clay. He discovered that some
types of clay trapped urea through hydrogen bonding and prevented it from breaking down. Consequently, there was no offensive ammonia odor. He found that clays that were dried but not baked were very absorbent and would form a clump when the cat urinated on them. The clump could then be removed, thereby getting rid of the urine in
the litter box and making the jobs of litter box cleaners everywhere much easier.
Between the two men, a wildly competitive and every-growing industry was spawned that is expected to bring in an astounding $765 million by 2003.