Is Clumping Cat Litter Safe for Cats?

Many cat-owners appreciate the convenience of clumping cat litter, which makes it easy to scoop both solid and liquid waste from your cat’s litter box.  This keeps the litter box smelling cleaner for longer, reducing the frequency of completely changing out and replacing the litter. However, you should be aware that clumping litter may pose a danger to young kittens.

The safety of clumping litter is actually a controversial topic. While there is nothing in the scientific literature documenting the health hazards to cats of clumping litter, there are many anecdotal reports from pet owners relating problems their own cats have had that the pet parent relates to the use of clumping litter. Clumping litters usually contain sodium bentonite, which is a natural clay. Even though sodium bentonite is considered to be an inert, non-toxic substance, many clumping litters form very hard, cement-like clumps which are not safe to be flushed as they may clog the plumbing in your home. Additionally, sodium bentonite expands many times when it comes into contact with water.

Young kittens are naturally curious and are more likely to try to taste-test litter than are adult cats. Kittens are also messier than adult cats and more likely to get litter stuck to their fur and paws, which they subsequently ingest upon grooming. It is easy to see how ingestion of clumping litter could easily cause intestinal distress or blockages in small kittens. The ASPCA notes that “…while there has been no proof to claims of problems in scientific literature, caretakers may wish to delay introducing kittens to clumping litter until 3 to 4 months of age.”

In the absence of scientific documentation regarding the safety of clumping cat litter, pet parents must decide for themselves whether or not to use clumping litters. It may be prudent reserve the use of clumping cat litters to adult cats and older kittens that are less likely to ingest the litter.  You can also consider use of a system such as the Tidy Cat Breeze cat litter system, which uses non-clumping, non-tracking, dust-free large clay pellets which don’t cling to your cat’s paws or fur.

What are your thoughts on clumping cat litter?

About author

Abby Rosenberg

Abby Rosenberg is a PetMeds employee and long-time cat lover. She was a volunteer for several years at a local no-kill cats only rescue shelter. This has prepared her for her most challenging role to date: secretary, photographer, social coordinator and treat dispenser for Daisy, and Daisy’s sidekick Harley. Daisy is a dilute calico Devon Rex cat, and Harley is a “cow-cat” who was adopted from the shelter where Abby volunteered. You can also find Abby on Google+

There are 13 comments

  • Carole says:

    I’ve had my 2 cats for 6 1/2 yrs with never any infection. I changed their litter to clumping about 1 month ago. Last week one cat was DX with an eye infection & today the other with an ear infection> Coincidence? I really don’t think so.

  • Lori says:

    I have a cat that pukes after he uses the litter box (with clumping litter). Or, it is possible he is on his way TO the litter box to puke (apparently, some cats are tidy enough they do head for the box to blurch). Any thoughts on this?

  • Dana says:

    We lost a kitten from our 1st litter. He died from ingesting and inhaling Tidy Cat clay clumping cat litter. It hardened in his digestive tract (just like it would clog household plumbing if flushed) and jellified in his lungs (from inhaling the dust created when they scratch around in the box). After he died and found an article online relative to the dangers of clay clumping litters, I took my dead kitten straight into the vets office to confirm my findings. The loss of our kitten was unncessary and I will spread the news to every person I possibly can – CLAY CLUMPING LITTER KILLS!

  • kate says:

    does anyone know if tidy cats breeze is safe for very small littens? My month old kittens seem to want to try to eat them. I worry about choking.

  • Heather W. says:

    After 2 weeks of using a clumping cat litter, 2 of my cats got sick. Sachelle began vomiting a sticky light yellow liquid substance. Whenever something goes wrong, I try to think about what is different..what have I been buying or doing differently and thank goodness, put 2 and 2 together,,stopped buying that crap clumping litter and both cats had no more issues.

    If you put tacky tinsel on your Xmas tree even though you know it’s dangerous to cats/pets and you care more about your drapes and sofa that nobody will remember in a few years – DON’T HAVE A CAT – They deserve better!

  • Drax says:

    Carole: “I’ve had my 2 cats for 6 1/2 yrs with never any infection. I changed their litter to clumping about 1 month ago. Last week one cat was DX with an eye infection & today the other with an ear infection> Coincidence? I really don’t think so.”

    This is the definition of a coincidence.

  • Madeleine says:

    In defense:

    I have had cats for over 30 years. Granted, all my cats but one were adults when adopted/rescued. For the past 20 years, I have used clumping litter and not one of my cats developed a litter ball blockage. And this is from one who was very resistant to clumping at the beginning for the same reasons as stated above. I am a very conservative cat mom and look to the health of my cats obsessively. I would do nothing to endanger their health.

    I would suggest for those who have very young kittens that it seems prudent to use non-clumping as very young kittens, like children, are curious as to what things taste like. However, when your kit is beyond 5-6 months old, I would not hesitate to use clumping all the while monitoring whether they are making it their dinner. By then, they should know what the litter is for and that it doesn’t taste at all like a good food alternative.

  • Glendon Thomlison says:

    Since 1973 we have been owned by 1-5 cats. When the clumping litter came out, we knew nothing of the problems with the new material. All we knew was that two working people were delighted to be able to clean the boxes in minutes. We loved it, moreover, it ended up being less expensive because we were not throwing out a whole box of stinking litter every week. We loved it. Still do.

    Then came rumblings of troubles with sick or dead animals. We had none of that with the dozens of animals (many were rescues and/or fosters) over the years. We have healthy animals and we smell very good. Guests have commented on not noticing any \cat smell.\

  • Linda says:

    The odor of the clumping litter is so intense it makes me gag when I fill the litter box. I can imagine what this does to my cat, which is why she probably has quit covering her waste. I agree it’s more convenient, but with all the chemicals involved, I’m sure it has repercussions. I think I’ll switch back to a more natural product. I really liked the product called Feline Pine.

  • sadie says:

    I have used but it is not for our cats.
    W e found out the hard way.
    Our cat puts its paw in her water bowl and licks water from her paws.
    Then she goes to teh bathroom- means her paws are covered with clumping litterWe did not realize this issue until we noticed her paw covered.
    We guess we did not see it initially because she licked it off or ate it .
    We are back to pine.

  • amanda says:

    I just had Two of my cats die from tidy cats litter with kidney failure do to this litter do not use this product

  • kathy says:

    My cat was in the ER for 4 days this week with enlarged kidneys. First they thought it was lymphoma. They ruled that out. Now they think he has the dry form of FIP, which has the same prognosis – 4-6 months. He doesn’t fit any of the symptoms of dry FIP other than enlarged kidneys, lack of appetite, and loss of weight. He has always been the only cat in the house, and he is an indoor cat only. The vets don’t know what it is, so I think they are just guessing that it’s FIP – I hope they are wrong and that it is the litter that caused this in the first place. They have him on steroids and antibiotics for life. After starting the steroids and antibiotics, he was back to normal in 4 days. His kidney levels are still above normal, but have decreased significantly. I am throwing out the rest of the clumping litter – Tidy Cat – and buying him regular litter on the way home tonight.

  • jim mcdaniels says:

    Yes it seems the clumping litter is dangerous.
    The old fashioned non clumping litter may be the way to go for many.

    REPURPOSE:

    Non-clumping litter (natural CALCIUM Bentonite clay):
    *I’D LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT THE NON CLUMPING LITTER CAN BE A VERY GOOD SOIL AMENDMENT IMPROVER FOR YARDS AND GARDENS AND POTTED PLANTS WHEN TILLED OR THROWN ON TOP-PREFERABLY WITH A FERTILIZER BROADCAST SPREADER!*

    From what I’ve read, the non clumping litter is hard and does not break down or become mushy when wet or over time, it helps break up your soil, hold moisture and nutrients for use by plants and adds air to the soil. People buy the stuff new just for this purpose, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for the cats and then dispose of the used by this method where it will serve your yard plants for decades to come.
    The rain and watering should wash out the harmless cat urine.
    We’ve been throwing away this wonderful natural soil amender we paid for and hauled home, all these decades!

    Clumping litter (natural SODIUM Bentonite clay):
    I see on another site “can you seal your pond with clumping cat litter” the clumping litter was used by a person to line a backyard duck pond to stop water loss. Clay to stop water loss in ponds is the old school method, instead of modern rubber sheet like liner material.

    If your building a pond, you might consider this natural liner method…

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