How to Choose a Cat Litter That You and Your Kitty Will Love

Whether you’re a brand-new cat owner or have had many feline friends in your life, one of the most important decisions you'll make is buying the right cat litter for your home. It’s right up there with choosing food for your pet. Looking at all the different products on the market these days can be admittedly mind-boggling. On top of that, there are two sides to this purchasing process: what’s convenient and good for you—and what’s pleasing to your cat. After all, if cats don’t like their litter boxes, they may end up doing their business in places you really don’t want them to. To avoid that scenario, let’s take a closer look at your options.

What Is Cat Litter Made Of?

Today, that answer can be any number of things. But it all started with clay. In the first part of the 20th century, most pet cats either relieved themselves outside or in the cellar, where their owners would leave boxes of sand or ashes from the furnace for them to use. The first commercial cat litter was introduced in 1947, when a World War II veteran came up with the idea of making it out of absorbent clay, which had been used to soak up oil spills in factories. The clay came in granulated form, and covered the odor as well as helped absorb urine at the bottom of the litter box until it was saturated. At that point, all of the litter would need to be replaced. The invention worked so well that non-clumping clay litter is still on the market today.

The next development in cat litter was the invention of clumping litter in the 1980s. Still made of clay, this litter clumped together when cats used the box, offering added convenience to owners who could clean the box by scooping out the clumps, instead of changing it all at once. This helped control odors and the litter could be replaced as needed. Clumping litter quickly became popular among cat owners, and now represents more than half of the market.

Beyond the granulated and clumping offerings, there are many more products available these days. Silica gel crystals offer owners a dust-free option and have good odor control (though not all cats like how they feel). And the choices for natural options are also abundant: there's litter made of biodegradable products such a corn, pine, recycled paper, walnut shells, and wheat.

How To Find the Right Litter

With so many kinds of litter to choose from, where do you begin?

First, think about what’s most important to you as the pet owner and the one who will be doing the cleaning. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Would you rather scoop out clumps on a daily basis or throw out all the litter at once?
  2. How sensitive are you to cat-litter dust that might be tracked around your home?
  3. Are you looking for a biodegradable product?
  4. Do you prefer a scented or unscented litter?

Take those features into consideration when you look at the products and choose a few that meet your needs.

Here's where your cat comes into the equation. You can't assume that they will love the bathroom environment you choose for them, so one thing you can do is set up a “litter test.” Simply put out several identical, uncovered litter boxes, each filled with one of the different types of litter you want your cat to try. See which one your cat chooses to use. Trust us, putting the offerings out there for your cat will make things easier in the long run. It's simpler than individual trials and it may help avoid unwanted out-of-the-litter-box accidents.

The Ins and Outs of Litter Boxes

Just as important as the litter itself is the receptacle that holds the litter. Where you put the box (or boxes) is crucial in creating the most user-friendly environment for your cat. As a general rule, you should have one more litter box than the number of cats you have in your home. So if you have two cats, set up three boxes. Since cats can be territorial, you want to give them a choice in boxes, and better yet, the option of boxes in different rooms. Also, if you have several feline friends, be sure to check out the multi-cat litter products, which are stronger and better clumping. Ideally, you'd replace your box annually. Even if you diligently keep the box clean, a new box is the best way to ensure your cat has best and cleanest environment possible

The Humane Society has more tips on litter boxes, which include:

  1. Keep the litter box in a spot that gives your cat some privacy but is also convenient. If the box is too hard to get to, especially for a kitten or an elderly cat, they just may not use it.
  2. Avoid placing litter boxes next to noisy or heat-radiating appliances, like the furnace or the washing machine. Noises can make a cat nervous, while heat from a dryer or furnace can magnify the litter box smell, which could make them stay away from the litter box (and make you want to change houses).
  3. Put the box far away from their food and water bowls. Cats don't like that smell too near their food. Would you?

Keep in mind that even after your cat has settled into a routine of using a particular cat litter in a particular box in a particular location, that ideal situation may fall apart at any moment and your cat may go off-script. This can happen for any number of reasons, the most common of which is that the litter box isn’t kept as clean as your cat would like. (Can you blame your cat? Nobody likes a dirty bathroom.) Frequent cleaning and litter replacement are key. Remember, your cat may be more sensitive than you are to any odor developing in the litter box.

Though creatures of habit, cats can eventually sour on the litter they’ve been using. This can be especially true of older cats, whose sensitivities change over time. Perhaps the scent is now irritating them. Or the amount of litter is not to their liking. (Cats don't like their litter too deep.) Or the feel of the surface bothers them. If you notice that your cat enjoys sitting on soft things outside of the box, it might be time to try a smaller granule or softer texture. Although do it slowly so that the change is not too jarring. Also take a look at the box itself, and how hard it is for your older car to get in and out of it.

Of course, a sudden aversion to the litter box could also be health-related, such as urinary tract issues or constipation, in which case you should talk to your vet.

Get to Know the Accessories

Beyond the litter and the box, there are a number of accessories that could offer even more convenience. They include:

Liners: Adding a disposable liner to the litter box makes cleanup easier for owners. You can gather it up like a garbage bag and toss the litter with ease while keeping the box clean. However, cats don't always love the disposable plastic liners. All cats are different, so if it’s an important feature for you, you should test it out.

Scoops: A big, sturdy scoop makes finding those clumps a snap. Invest in one that won't break on you mid-scoop.

Litter Mats: A special mat under the litter box will help keep litter confined to the area of the box and is a place for your cat to wipe their paws. That means curbing the amount of litter tracked around the house.

Now that you have a better idea of what you need to consider while you shop for cat litter, take a look at these deeper dives into some popular, important features.

  1. Best Clumping Cat Litter
  2. Best Biodegradable Cat Litter
  3. Best Cat Litter With Odor Control