Tell me about alternative cat litter
March 15, 2013 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in using alternative cat litter, like the pine or wheat-based pellets, but I'd like to know more about them in terms of covering odor, absorbing liquids, and how they spread around. I'd like to use something other than the clay-based material I use now, but I'd like to know what I'm getting into.

We have two indoor cats who are good about using their litter bin. The litter bin is in a second-floor laundry room where it is largely out of the way, but the "cat crumbs" get spread all around, plus it gets stuck in their fur/paws, so we'll find "crumbs" around the upstairs rooms. The clay-based stuff is good about keeping the odor down, even in that small room, but the litter is heavy to lug, and it seems that pine or wheat-based would be more sustainable. Also, it sounds like you can buy bedding or fuel pellets at a lower price than pellets made/marketed for litter.

My concerns are for how far the pellets tend to spread when the cats cover their droppings, how it sticks to the cats, and how well it covers up the scent and absorbs liquid. Also, do bedding or fuel pellets work as well as pellets from the "cat stuff" isle? Thanks!
posted by filthy light thief to Pets & Animals (36 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Let me tell you about the joy and wonder that is silica gel crystal cat litter. It is AH-MAZE-ING. I'm a ferociously lazy cat owner (well, when it comes to litter box maintenance... I'm diligent with the petting and loving). I do NOT scoop that box on a regular basis. And yet with silica gel litter, 1. The box never smells - NEVER, 2. The litter never sticks to the cat, 3. Very little litter escapes the box (if you put the box on a small patch of AstroTurf, that'll help with the tracking), and 4. I am a happy, happy cat owner.

It costs more than other types of litter - it's apparently cheaper on Amazon - but I'd buy it even if it were TWICE as much, because it's so amazing at eliminating any cat box-related stench/unpleasantness.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:00 PM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

My dog uses a box, and I use paper cat litter. IT GETS EVERYWHERE OH MY GOD. I know dog pee and cat pee are like two totally and completely different things, but smell is pretty much a non-issue unless it legitimately needs to be changed.

But when clean, those infernal little pellets wind up in every corner of the house. The soiled ones tend to stick to each other a bit and stay put, thankfully.

So. If not getting tracked about is a priority for you, paper litter is not the answer.
posted by phunniemee at 12:00 PM on March 15, 2013

I use Sweat Scoop and I find it superior to traditional litter in all aspects. It absorbs liquid well -- mostly I scoop out balls about 2-3 inches in diameter. I don't smell anything unless Roxie forgets to cover up her poo. I flush my litter -- not recommended based on where your wastewater goes -- but that aspect is very convenient and I like not adding to the landfills where possible.

She never gets litter stuck in her paws, but she didn't with normal litter either, so that may just be her. The litter does end up on the floor around the box, but I have a rug between it and the bathroom door, and no litter gets tracked past the rug. It's better in the regard -- normal litter got tracked outside of the bathroom, though not to a huge degree.

The one caution about wheat-based litter is that some cats like to eat it -- but we all know that cats are weird.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:01 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Silica crystals = awesome. Great for absorbing moisture and very little smell. It lasts for weeks (I have two boxes for one cat rather than one for two, YMMV.) It doesn't track or stick to the cat. Wal-Mart (at least around here) carries a brand that's about half the price of the Fresh Step crystals.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:07 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

My cat has asthma so we had to switch to a low-dust litter years ago. At first we used the compressed pine or newspaper pellets. I don't think they did an amazing job at covering smells, but it was ok. Then a neighbor cat spooked our cat and we started having litter box issues, so we had to make the litter more appealing. We found Swheat Scoop, which at the time was very low-dust, but has that nice sandy feel that cats like. She loved it and we never went back to the pellets. Unfortunately, SS has become more dusty over time, not quite as bad as clay, but still. So I don't view it as all that great. It does create those crumbs - they get tracked around our place but cluster closer to the box. It is more scoopable than pellets. What you scoop is less like a tight ball of concrete than the clay types, but a bit better than the pellets. It still smells like a litter box but with a weird dough-y smell mixed.
posted by stowaway at 12:07 PM on March 15, 2013

Regarding the tracking of any type of litter, I have the Petco Half Moon Litter Trapper Mat (other mats). In the past I have also used a heavy rubber mat with raised ridges which force the cats' paws to splay when they step out of the box and before they reach the floor.
posted by ericb at 12:10 PM on March 15, 2013

I buy World's Best Cat Litter for our two cats to use. It is, as they say, the best, or at least the best I've found so far.

I have previously trialed Feline Pine (poor odor control, turns to incredibly messy and trackable sawdust as it's used), Swheat Scoop (good for odor control but my cats seem to track it), Nature's Miracle (terrible for odor control--I mean, the clean stuff itself smells like cat pee!--and also gets tracked everywhere), several different kinds of the silica-based brands (the little tracked balls go everywhere and stepping on them while barefoot is surprisingly painful, and I've heard the silica dust isn't good for kitty respiratory systems), all the major clay-based clumping brands (too perfumed and I had sustainability concerns too), and all the major clay-based non-clumping brands (dear God the stench).

World's Best is great for odor control (except in the case of the cat who refuses to cover up his poo in some sort of macho bathroom dick swinging thing, but that's hardly the litter's fault) and is the least trackable of them all. We have two old cats in the beginning stages of kidney failure who share one box, so they pee a LOT; I scoop the box once a day and change the whole thing out when the granules start to look like they're becoming dusty, so maybe once every ten days or so. Younger cats would probably require less-frequent full-box changes. It's expensive but it's totally worth it, and the cats have never seemed unhappy with it.
posted by jesourie at 12:11 PM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

World's Best Cat litter may or may may not be the world's best, but it's made from corn, scoopable and flushable, quite effective at absorbing smells and is less dusty than regular scooping litter. We were recommended to get it because we were fostering kittens and they will eat any litter; it didn't matter if they ate this litter. We liked it so much, we've used it with every other foster cat, kitten or not.

It is, however, more expensive, not less.

The other non-clay litter I've really liked is Yesterday's News, which consists of pellets made from recycled newspaper. It's not scoopable, but is the best non-scooping litter I've ever had. The pellets are very absorbent and you can easily go a week before changing. And it's not at all dusty - cats don't track it anywhere. I don't remember how the price goes.
posted by jb at 12:11 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

We recently switched from clay litter to paper litter, largely to reduce the amount of dust. I don't think that it smells any worse. I actually think that there is less litter tracked around now, but that could be because the one cat is a real digger and pellets don't fling as much as the clay.
posted by florencetnoa at 12:13 PM on March 15, 2013

Silica all the way. I tried lots of different kinds but that was the only stuff that kept odours to an absolute minimum and easier to keep cleaned. I only had to do a full dump and clean out of her litter box once a month-ish.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:15 PM on March 15, 2013

I use the World's Best Cat litter and it's good in all respects: very absorbable, covers smells (except the little one who sometimes refuses to bury his poop, but I mean, that's not the litter's fault). I find it does track a bit, especially with the older one being kind of obsessive about coverage and digging. However, I mostly solve this by putting a small bathmat in front of the box opening. Most of the litter traps there. I just shake it out every few days and once a week change/launder it.
posted by marylynn at 12:15 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

We use the Breeze system - no tracking and no urine smell, but you do have to scoop the poo daily.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:19 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

We had a pretty good alternative kitty litter thread a few years ago, all of those brands are still on the market I believe.

I have tested every type and the majority of brands of kitty litter on the market in most every type of litter box (auto rake, auto spin, tray, top load, booda, hand roller).

Swheat Scoop (which I otherwise liked except for the cementing-to-the-bottom-of-the-tray issue) and Arm & Hammer Essentials tracks like crazy and as both are very light-weight media, the tracking extends much further than any other type of litter I tested. Feline Pine, fuel pellets and Yesterday's New tracked almost not at all but all of my cats hated all of the pellet types, which may/may not have contributed to the relative lack of tracking because they avoided those trays like they were haunted. Crystal is awesome, tracks much less than clay or corn/wheat but can be painful to step on with bare human feet.

The biggest improvement in cutting down (almost completely eliminating) the amount of tracking was using a top entry litter box. You can test one out by using any tall storage bin w/o the lid or get all DIY and cut your own hole in the lid. The downsides of top entry is they can be difficult for very old cats to navigate and if you have multiple rambunctious cats, sometimes Whack-A-Mole games become an issue.
posted by jamaro at 12:21 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I switched from clay to Feline Pine a few years ago, because my cat was having some her butt region. I actually like it a lot. To me it smell much much LESS than the clay litter, and my cat has also stopped covering her poop. We do remove the poop daily, but I don't notice any urine smell, and you just shuffle the litter around to get the pellets on top.

It does track, but not any more than the clay litter did. But I also think my cat likes to kick stuff around, so it might be her. The pellets are much easier to sweep up, though, and it's not as dusty.

I tried the newspaper pellets, but they got moldy from the urine. Blech.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:26 PM on March 15, 2013

I have seven cats. All the adults in the house have asthma. We also live in a 860 square foot home.

We have tried, pretty much literally, all the litters. Plain clay, clumping clay, Swheat Scoop, Yesterday's News, silica, silica/clay blend, the fancy Arm and Hammer corn and baking soda stuff, all of it. And every time we try, we end up coming back to compressed pine pellets. The only other thing we liked as much was the corn stuff, but it was (1) super expensive, (2) heavily scented and triggered asthma attacks when litter was changed and migraines when people were around it too long, and (3) suuuuuper expensive.

The pine stuff has been amazing. We buy either Tractor Supply's Equine Pine pelleted horse bedding for $5.69/bag, or we buy the compressed pellets that pellet stoves burn for $4.99 a bag at the hardware store. (The hardware store is a new discovery.) They seem to work equally well, as does the Feline Pine and variations thereof that you can buy at pet stores. That said, the Feline Pine, etc, cost more than three times as much in our area, so I don't recommend them.

It does track, some, but my experience has been that it's less tracking and more occasionally getting pushed out of the box by enthusiastic digging. Our experience has been that the pine stuff covered smells much better than anything except maybe corn litter...but that has its own scent, which, as I mentioned, is problematic for us. We change the box in the basement twice a week, and the one in the bedroom about once a week, and the only time it's ever failed to contain the smell was when one of the cats was sick and having diarrhea all over--and, frankly, I'm not sure that anything short of a hermetic seal could've contained that stench. Most of the time, the litter just smells vaguely of sawdust. (Also, our basement box is huge--it's one of those bed-length under-the-bed 4" high storage boxes. Fear not; we're not forcing that many cats to share a tiny, uncleaned box for a week.)

I've never had pine litter fail to absorb all of the liquid, nor has it ever left those horrible pee-soaked giant clumps that you get with some litters. (Clay and corn were bad for that, iirc.) The other nice thing is that in our experience, it dehydrates the poo fairly effectively, especially if your cats cover their poo (not all of ours do).

Pine obviously doesn't work for everyone. That said, it's far and away the cheapest of the alternative litter options, so I'd suggest starting with it, and then moving on if you find that it's not for you.
posted by MeghanC at 12:26 PM on March 15, 2013

I have to disagree about World's Best Cat Litter. I tried it out based on the many recommendations it gets here and was extremely disappointed. Actually, at first I was thrilled: it smelled great out of the box and scooped up very easily. Nothing stuck to the bottom of the litterbox. However: 3 days in, what a stink! This litter has NO odor control and on top of that, the corn takes on a strange odor of its own after coming in contact with the waste. I scoop every day and still I could not control the smell. It was horrible. I switched back to traditional clay litter. (Also: I later read the reviews on and many of them shared my experience).
posted by yawper at 12:30 PM on March 15, 2013

I bought Feline Pine for years and then discovered that cheap as hell wood stove pellets work just as well. It's like $5.99 for 40 lbs.
posted by kinetic at 12:31 PM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I used Swheat Scoop for a very long time and it was pretty good. I had 3 cats and the litter boxes were kept in an unfinished basement in my house.

Then I moved to a condo, and needed to keep the litter boxes in a small laundry room on the same floor as the rest of the living space. The Swheat Scoop was all over the place. I simple hadn't realized how much it tracked in the house, because the cats knocked most of it off before they got up the stairs. I considered a top-entry box, but my obese cat could very likely knock the whole thing over climbing into it. Maybe sometime if I figure out a way to weight it, so I can't knock it over.

I've switched back to a traditional litter. I'm open to trying some others, but not immediately.
posted by Kurichina at 12:35 PM on March 15, 2013

We have three cats and switched to feline pine a few months ago. It greatly reduces odor (except in instances where my male cat poops but he is a special case as he doesn't bury his droppings) and tracking. It can get expensive depending on the brand but a little goes a long way. I tend to mix it with abut of baking soda.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:47 PM on March 15, 2013

Eartha and Malcolm love their Breeze Cat Litter System.

Cement pellets, and a seive into a pee pad. No pee clumps, just poo to scoop. Pretty nifty and no stink.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:48 PM on March 15, 2013

Please note that a dear friend found her dogs eating some fancy brand of wheat-based cat litter and then pooping out huge quantities of wheat-based cat litter dog logs all over the house for a day and a half afterward. Further investigation revealed that one of her three cats had been eating and pooping the wheat-based litter as well. YMMV.
posted by Lynsey at 12:51 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

40lbs of pine pellets from the Horse supply store costs about $6 in my 'hood. I have two cats, one bag lasts me 2.5 months.

I LOVE pine because I scoop the poop out, let the liquid dissolve pine pellets, the smell is at a minimum, and every few days I dump out the entire box, rinse it, and start over.

2.5 months from one bag! The ability to have a fresh box any time because it is so cheap and easy!

A mat helps with tracking. A little dustpan and brush action takes up the stray bits the mat misses.

I will never go back to crystals (one month old pee? *shudders*) and clumping litter is out.

I like a really fresh box. Inexpensive pine pellets make that possible. Tracking isn't that big a problem with a mat in place.

I bet a top-loader box would solve the problem of tracking entirely.
posted by jbenben at 1:13 PM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've used WBCL for a couple of years now and have been happy. The store was out of it recently, so I picked up a bag of Swheat Scoop and have not been as impressed.

I might have to try the pine pellet thing. This is horse country and there are enough feed/tack places around. I've also read that certain poultry feeds work quite well as a substitutes for WBCL.
posted by jquinby at 1:31 PM on March 15, 2013

When you do try an alternative litter, be sure you still have some of your old standby at home in case your cat refuses to use the alternative. We tried a couple options with our old cat (paper-based Yesterday's News and chicken feed World's Best) and he refused to use them and held his pee instead.

A vet had told me that World's Best is just about the same thing as chicken feed crumbles, so (if that is true) it might save you some money if you wanted to go the World's Best route.
posted by dayintoday at 1:35 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have an asthma kitty, too, and we use Yesterday's News. Even the scented version gets smelly, but we change it every day and do the best we can.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:35 PM on March 15, 2013

silica dust isn't good for kitty respiratory systems

I've started using this Precious Cat litter. No more kitty sneezing and all the advantages mentioned upthread. It's more expensive but seems to last a lot longer so I think it's worth it.
posted by fuse theorem at 1:58 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

We use Feline Pine, and it does a great job of covering urine smells but a poor job of covering poop smells. So we scoop the poop daily and sweep the bits of litter that get tracked around the box. Fresh litter once a week or so. Seems to work out pretty well.
posted by mai at 2:31 PM on March 15, 2013

We recently tried out a bunch of cat litter options and I think everyone has covered almost everything already on the topic except one thing:
pellet-based litter is noisy. The cat's litter box is within hearing range of our bedroom and when she uses it at night, "Clatter, clatter clatter." Your litter box is out of the way, but I figure this is likely to be relevant to at least someone reading this.

After trying Feline Pine, Swheat Scoop, a newspaper-based litter (probably Yesterday's News, but I don't remember specifically) and World's Best, we ended up choosing World's Best. It is not incredibly dusty, it doesn't clatter in the night, and the odor control is reasonable.

The real answer here is that you should just try a few out and see what you and the kitties like.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:32 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use Feline Pine for non-picky cat and clumping Tidy Cats for picky cat. Feline Pine is pretty good at neutralizing urine scent but not poop, as mai said above. I scoop the poop daily and switch out the whole thing twice a week. You don't have to fill the litter box as much as with scoopable litters; I do six handfuls (both hands).

Non-picky cat occasionally uses the Tidy Cat litter box, which she doesn't always have access to. I have a feeling that she prefers the Tidy Cats (softer on the paws, I suppose) and may switch her to that once I use up the Feline Pine.
posted by fozzie_bear at 2:50 PM on March 15, 2013

After using Swheat Scoop for a while, I picked up a bag of Exquisicat Wheat, and it's a lot better. It clumps better, very little dust, and it seems to track less, since the grains are a little bigger. My dogs apparently find it less palatable than Swheat Scoop, which is another big plus.
posted by Fig at 4:08 PM on March 15, 2013

I've been happier with Swheat Scoop than I was with the clay clumping stuff -- less gets tracked out of the box; it's just as good at neutralizing the smell, but without the perfumey odor the clay litter had.

The cat had to be brought to it slowly by mixing the old with the new for the first couple of trays full.
posted by Zed at 4:44 PM on March 15, 2013

I've been using Tidy Cats Pure Nature Cedar, Corn & Pine and really like it. It's light, a big plus after switching from clay-based litter. It smells nicely of pine. It has no catbox smells. And though it's not exactly "clumping," it seems to dessicate the waste and leave little dry chunks that you can sift out with a scoop. Very happy with this brand. Another plus - it doesn't get stuck i the cat's toes, always a problem with clay litters.
posted by Miko at 7:27 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I mix Nature's Miracle with World's Best - makes it smell and clump a bit better. My cats (2 indoor females) vastly preferred the Feline Pine Scoopable, to the point where it took me ages to transition them off of it because they'd refuse. But it tracked just too much. One refuses to use the pellet kind. For some reason with Swheat Scoop it just didn't clump fast enough, and one of our cats was always coming in with wet litter on her paw from trying to burry it while it was still damp (ugh). Unfortunately, I've cycled through all of them for years and nothing has been perfect, but the two I ended up with bond together fairly well and seem to be acceptable to the cats and me.
posted by Sweetums at 6:44 AM on March 16, 2013

I have also explored every option, and although it's by no means perfect (still a bit of tracking), I have cut it down using a combination of:

1. Fresh Step Crystal Cat Litter
- unfortunately cheapest at big box marts like Target or Walmart
- I find that other brands like Petco, Precious Cat, ScoopFree and Just The Crystals don't work as well or are not as cost effective.
- "organic litters" like Swheat Scoop, World's Best, etc. are terrible for my cat because he is long-haired and static-y and kick-y after he's done with his business!
- There's a "Fresh Paws Reward Points" program where you enter a code that is in each bag and you can redeem some cat toys and such.

2. the Booda Dome
- this traps most of the litter because the cats are forced to walk down a series of steps before exiting the litterbox.
- top entry litter box did not work as well for me because my cat does this uber-jump as he exits and manages to scatter litter everywhere regardless! I think top entry only works for cats that stand on the lid for a little bit before sauntering off.

3. a LARGE litter mat
- I am still trying to figure out the best one--I have the foam-stripey kind which works but my cat scratches it quite a bit so it has to be replaced soon. This is just one available on Amazon but you can try other brands as well.

The most important part of this setup: face the Booda Dome into a corner of a wall and place the mat in front of the exit so the cats are forced to get out in a really awkward roundabout way to maximize their time on the litter mat! This will ensure that the maximum number of crystals fall off their paws. Building a cat labryinth is essential for maintaining your sanity.
posted by angermanagement at 9:43 AM on March 16, 2013

I recently tried Tidy Cats Pure Nature and I'm not happy with it at all to be honest. For whatever reason, I'm having to scrape clumps off the side of the pan every time, something that never happened before with Tidy Cats clumping (I think this has less dust than Fresh Step or Scoop Away, and a more convenient non-cardboard package). It's also getting all over the floor, but that's something that happens with everything we use.

Based on this thread, I'm planning on trying the silica gel crystals next.
posted by cali59 at 11:05 AM on March 17, 2013

So, this is really late, but I wanted to put in my two cents as well.

I have used Arm and Hammer clay litter with baking soda, Feline Pine (both pellets and chips), Yesterday's News, Swheat Scoop, and a walnut litter brand I can't remember off the top of my head right now.

For the first ~six months, I used the clay litter. I hated every second of it, but as an inexperienced cat owner who had previously always had someone else more interested around to deal with litter, I assumed that it stunk because I was being lazy and not cleaning it often enough (I would clean it about once every 3-4 days; still do, most of the time).

Then I found out about all the awful stuff in the dust and made the switch to Feline Pine chips, which my cat didn't mind at all (she's never been picky) but which I hated. It smelled fantastic for about three days, after which time I just couldn't get it to stop stinking to high heaven. I realized later it was because my cat refused to ever dig in it. She'd use it just fine, but she would pee in exactly one spot every time and poop in another, and then leave without ever trying to bury it. But she tamped it down pretty well, so there was no tracking. I guess I can't really complain there - it probably would have been fine if I'd been willing to police it better.

The Feline Pine pellets were among my favorites. They lasted forever, and scooping was a breeze. They turn to sawdust when they're wet, which allows the moisture to evaporate quickly, and they never stick to the box. Scooping can be a bit bothersome since there's always some dust at the bottom, but if you regularly empty/upturn the box it's never an issue, and the box cleans with just a quick spray-down of a hose. Some cats are finicky about using them, but I just switched out the whole box and she made the switch with not a single accident. They don't track at all, though I still had to do a fair amount of cleaning. This is the litter that taught her to really dig her little heart out - she started digging so enthusiastically that she would send pawfulls of the litter out of the box, a habit she kept after I switched the litter again.

I would have kept using pellets forever, but a bad urinary tract infection forced me to switch. I tried Yesterday's News, but didn't like the lack of clumping (though it didn't smell, which was nice, and my cat didn't dig into it too much). it also didn't track, and when it did end up on the floor through digging it was easy to see whether it was dirty litter or clean.

I then used Swheat Scoop, but in a basement apartment with ants that was a HUGE mistake. Fun fact: Ants love food. Crazy, right? Totally didn't occur to me that a box full of perfectly-sized ant-food would get swarmed. I am now using this litter again in my new apartment which is ant-free, and it's pretty good. Tracks a decent amount, but it's not horrible. It does tend to get cemented to the sides or bottom of the box, but that may also be a result of my cat's digging fanaticism - she always tries to get all the way to the bottom before peeing. I wish she did that for #2... Either way, it scoops just fine otherwise, though you do have to be diligent or it will form into massive mountains buried under the surface like rocks in a desert, which are really hard to get out and stink to high heaven because the moisture got trapped there. My cat never tried to eat the litter.

My favorite of all time was the walnut litter, which I sadly can't buy any more. It didn't smell, clumped fine without adhering to the bottom, didn't track much, and was pretty cheap. The only thing a little annoying about it was that it was sometimes hard to see the excrement in the box because the litter itself was already dark brown. Really though, not an issue overall. I will be going back to this litter when I move back into my old area again - there is only one pet store in a 50-mile radius of me that sells this litter, and I am not currently close enough to it to get there before it closes due to my work hours.
posted by Urban Winter at 12:55 PM on March 18, 2013

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