The other day I got an e-mail from Emily, our stalwart editor and unsurpassed pet newshound, asking if I would be interested in doing a piece on what is being touted as the latest advance in cat litter.
Since I’m just coming off a minor victory of my own in the field of cat hygiene (a prototype cat litter pan for an extremely large and senior cat), I thought it fitting that I should tackle the assignment. She sent me the contact information for the PR firm that’s handling this new super-litter, and I in turn contacted their representative with a few questions and a request for an evaluation sample. I’ll have more information on this product soon.
To be honest, I haven’t given advances in cat litter much thought over the years. My cat litter buying habits haven’t undergone any radical changes since the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. So I figured it would be good to do some background research before digging into this cat litter story.
It’s difficult for me to process the idea that cat litter was invented. The father of modern litter was Edward Lowe, an industrial absorbents salesman from St. Paul, Minnesota.
The story is that back in the winter of 1947, a neighbor of his was looking for sand to fill up the cat box. Sand was a popular filler for the cat boxes of the day, but the forward-thinking Lowe sent her away with a few pounds of clay instead. The neighbor was enthralled with its absorbent properties, and “Kitty Litter” was born. In 1964, Edward Lowe Industries launched “Tidy Cat”. That’s the brand I grew up using.
Another brand that has been around for a while is “Johnny Cat”. I don’t know much about its history, but today it is produced by the Oil-Dri Corp., which leads me to believe that it’s another cat litter spun off from the industrial absorbents industry.
Both of these brands started out as unscented bags of a substance known as Fuller’s earth, an innocuous diatomaceous clay that is also used for slow sand filtration systems to help purify wastewater. Johnny Cat still produces an unscented formula, but Tidy Cats, now a Purina product, specializes in deodorized products.
I surfed over to the Tidy Cats site and played with their product selector. You answer some questions and it tells you which Tidy Cat product you should use. The thing is, no matter how you answer the questions, it gives you exactly the same recommendations.
Purina would be very pleased if you would buy the crystals, or the crystal blend. Also, they think you should buy cat box liners (which are simply large, overpriced trash bags) and cat box deodorizer. It matters not whether you have one cat or four cats. It doesn’t matter where you say the litter boxes will be located. In fact, none of the answers to any of the questions matters in the slightest way. Just buy the crystals moron. So says Purina.
Following our historical timeline, the next big advance in litter technology (yes, they really say this) was the invention of “clumping” cat litter in by Thomas Nelson, a biochemist and a professor of medicine at Houston’s Baylor College. This litter is composed of bentonite clay, which is highly absorbent and forms a hard mass as it dries. In 1984, the world’s first clumping litter, dubbed “Better Way” was produced by a company called Harvest Ventures.
Clumping litter is very popular, comprising about 60% of the total cat litter market. I personally find scooping chunks of urine-impregnated clay to have very limited entertainment value, but that’s just me.
A lot of folks like it because it seems less wasteful than tossing the entire contents of the litter box every day or two. There are dissenters, though, who believe that the litter can be dangerous to pets that regularly ingest small amounts of it by licking their paws, or by inhaling the dust. Considering its properties, I would suggest that anyone whose cat is experiencing chronic digestive or respiratory problems might try switching to a non-bentonite litter to see if that lessens their symptoms. It’s a small thing that might be helpful, so it’s worth a try.
The Harvest Ventures folks didn’t stop at clumping litter. In 1999, they launched “Ultra-Pearl”, a silica-gel cat litter. Silica gel is a desiccant; that stuff you always get in tiny packages along with your electronics to absorb moisture… you know, the ones that say “DO NOT EAT” on them. Lots of silica gel comes from China. I believe that says it all.
There has been a plethora of cat litter innovations over the years, ranging from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous. There are low-dust litters, litters that supposedly won’t track around the house, litters with extra odor control, but the claim that really raises my eyebrows is the assertion that any cat litter is “flushable”. I don’t care how biodegradable or chemically inert your cat litter might be, I recommend that you don’t flush it down the toilet. Of course, if you enjoy meeting new people, like septic system service guys, it’s your call.
There’s a whole array of “environmentally friendly” cat litters available now, and I have to admit that I’m slightly intrigued by the concept. The one that looks most promising to me is called “Swheat Scoop”. I plan to get a box and subject it to rigorous testing.
There are also products made from recycled newspaper, corn and peanut hulls… even orange peels, which sounds a bit wacky to me. My biggest concern about these is how my cats will react to them. I know that my senior guy, who struggles with arthritis, would have trouble walking on the palletized types.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve written nearly a thousand words and barely scratched the surface of cat litter, but there’s more to come soon. A new product that’s purported to be a giant leap in cat litter is emerging. Stay tuned!