new cat is coming home from the
animal shelter tomorrow. Busily you shop, checking off the items on your list,
food, toys, a scratching post and myriad other goodies.
And at the very top of the list are litterbox necessities. You head to the
nearest pet supply superstore, and are faced with row after row of “all things
litter.” Pastel-colored clumping litter, good old clay litter, some that’s made
from pine and some that’s made from newspaper...What to choose, what to choose?
Whether you are an experienced owner or a novice, the multitude of choices
could prove daunting. But this was not always the case.
Prior to World War II, most cats lived indoor/outdoor lives and their
toileting areas were neighborhood backyards and gardens. For indoor needs, some
families kept boxes of sand or ashes from the furnace for their cat’s use in
the cellar. Housewives of the 1940s were none too enamored with cats tracking
ashes or sand through their homes. So an ex-sailor named Ed Lowe suggested that
his neighbor try absorbent clay, which was a popular product for cleaning up
industrial spills in wartime factories and happened to be made by his father’s
firm. Kitty Litter was born.
Granulated clay litter offered improved odor control over ashes or sand by
siphoning urine to the bottom of the pan and controlling ammonia smells until
the litter reached a saturation point-usually within a week in a box used by a
single cat. Today, most folks either scoop solids daily and completely replace
the litter once a week, or use less litter in the box and dump and clean daily.
The granules of traditional litter are fairly large and do not tend to cling to
a cat’s paws, so there is little tracking of litter outside the box.
To Clump or Not to Clump
Granulated clay litters remained unchallenged for nearly 40 years, with
little change or refinement until Thomas Nelson, Ph.D., needed a way to
supplement his income while in graduate school. The biochemist began to raise
Persian cats, and ended up developing clumping litter. Quoted in an October
1996 article in Cat Fancy magazine, Dr. Nelson explains, “I
hunted around and found clays that were dried but not baked. They 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. I had a box of litter I did
not change in 10 years-I just added more-and it had absolutely no odor at
The removal of almost all urine and feces does produce a better-smelling box
area for weeks at a time without completely throwing out the old litter and
starting from scratch. But we should point out that if more than one cat
uses the box, there is usually a fairly pronounced odor in 4 to 6 weeks, even
with scooping and litter replacement. It is necessary to replace the
approximate amount scooped out with fresh clumping litter, for if it is allowed
to go below a certain volume, urine will tend to pool and cake in corners and
odors will arise.