Best Cat Litters and Everything You Need to Know About Litter Box Care

Caring for your cat’s litter box is one of the most important ways that you can keep your feline friend healthy and happy. It has to be done, and if you take the time to do it right, both you and your kitty will be better off in the long run.

Have you ever wondered what type of litter is best for your cat, how many litter boxes you need, or how often to clean out your litter box? Have you dealt with issues like cats refusing to use a litter box, missing the box, or tracking kitty litter all over the house?? If you’ve got any questions about the best way to go about proper litter care and litter box troubleshooting, we’ve got your answers here.

Black cat digging in a litter box, litter scoop nearby
Photo: Adobe Stock/Guajillo studio

Understanding Different Types of Cat Litter

For a long time, the types of cat litter you could buy were limited, but now, in response to consumer demand for alternatives, there are many types of cat litter available on the market.

Clay Litter

The most popular cat litter is still clay litter, which used to be one of the only options available. It is easy to find and well-known, but it does tend to give off a lot of dust and isn’t biodegradable. However, there are low-dust, odorless, and scented options available. If you’re looking at buying a clay litter, you should know that there are clumping and non-clumping varieties to choose from as well. Many vets recommend an unscented clumping litter.

Close-up of a bag of clay cat litter being poured into a plastic cat litter box
Photo: Adobe Stock/Nariman

Crystal Litterbeads of silica gel. It is highly absorbent, comes in scented or unscented varieties, and can even be reused for up to a month. It doesn’t create dust, and it’s not easy for your cat to track it out of the litter box. However, it can be expensive, it doesn’t clump, and some cats don’t like the sensation of it under their paws.

Other Litters

  • Recycled Paper Litter: dust-free, unscented, low-odor, affordable, eco-friendly, non-clumping, may need changed often
  • Pine Litter: dust-free, natural scent (some cats may find it too strong), compostable, non-clumping
  • Walnut Shell Litter: low-dust, low-tracking, clumping or non-clumping (may not clump as well as clay), highly absorbent, biodegradable, natural scent
  • Corn Litter: dust-free, biodegradable, clumping, natural or scented varieties, can be expensive
  • Grass Litter: low-dust, low-odor, clumping, biodegradable, can be expensive, can cause allergies
  • Wheat Litter: dust-free, natural or scented, clumping (may not clump as well as clay), odor-absorbing, biodegradable, prone to pests if not stored carefully
Close-up of an orange cat standing on top of cat litter in a pink litter box
Photo: Adobe Stock/Guajillo studio

Cat Litter Alternatives

Cats have a natural desire to bury their urine and feces, so lots of different materials may work as cat litter replacements for some felines. Some families elect to use sand, one of the cheapest (or sometimes free) and most effective options, as a kitty litter alternative. In a pinch, dirt, sawdust, wood shavings, chicken feed, sand, and moss can all be used as temporary cat litters. However, due to smell, dust, and other issues, these materials may not be good long-term solutions.

Playful orange kitten lying in litter box, playing with wood shavings as an alternative form of kitty litter
Photo: Adobe Stock/Evgenia Tiplyashina

Which Is the Best Cat Litter for My Cat?

Part of the problem with choosing a cat litter is that you and your cat may have different opinions about what’s important in a litter. You may care about masking that unpleasant urine smell, while your cat may be turned off by artificial scents, for example.

Without trying the litter out, there’s no way to tell for sure what your cat will like. But you can take a look at the pros and cons for each type of litter listed above and make a good educated guess about what might work well for your particular cat and then experiment with other litters if it doesn’t work. You can also choose the type that works best for you in terms of price and other factors you care about and see whether your cat likes it.

If you’re unsure, you can always talk to your vet about which litters are the safest and which one might be most appropriate for your cat. Many vets recommend unscented clumping litters for maximum benefits for both humans and felines.

Small gray kitten looks at camera while sitting in homemade cardboard litter box
Photo: Unsplash/Pedro Candeias

What type of litter box is best?

Again, it’s hard to know which type of litter box your cat will respond best to. Most cats are okay with a very simple plastic box, but a few are pickier than that. Some cats prefer to do their business in the privacy of a covered box. Some cats will be afraid of the noises made by automatic self-cleaning litter boxes. Larger cats may struggle to get through the hole in the side of a covered litter box.

If possible, get to know your cat’s personality and preferences before spending a lot of money on fancy litter boxes or litter box furniture (litter box containers that look like a piece of furniture, such as an end table, from the outside).

There are also cheaper alternatives if you want to hide your litter box from the outside world and keep the mess contained. Some people use simple plastic totes or other containers with lids to create a self-contained litter-box-within-a-box that helps keep the smell and litter inside and looks more appealing from the outside. This also allows you to make the litter box look how you want it and make the hole the right size for your cat.

Large cat with head and one paw sticking out of the top of a covered litter box container
Photo: Adobe Stock/FurryFritz

How Many Litter Boxes Do I Need for My Cats?

The number of litter boxes you’ll need may depend on a number of factors, such as the number of cats you own, how well they get along, how picky they are about their litter box cleanliness, and how large the space is that they inhabit (you probably want at least one litter box per floor in your home).

One simple rule many cat owners find effective is this: one box per cat, plus one extra. Having a box for every cat and an extra box as well helps make sure every cat has space to do their business comfortably and everything stays as clean and sanitary as possible.

Adult cat sniffs at young kitten who is using the litter box
Photo: Adobe Stock/nadezhda

How Often to Scoop Cat Litter

Some cats are pickier than others about how often their litter is scooped. If your cat stops using the litter box, the first thing you should check is whether or not it has been scooped out recently enough.

In general, it’s best to scoop out your cat’s litter box once per day. If you have multiple cats, you may need more litter boxes to avoid having to scoop the litter more than once per day.

Close-up of person's hand using a scoop to clean cat litter box
Photo: Adobe Stock/New Africa

When to Replace Litter and Clean the Litter Box

Keeping your cat’s litter box clean can help keep your cat happy and healthy and minimize any issues you have with your cat using the bathroom outside their box. In general, kitty litter boxes should be emptied out, cleaned, and refilled with fresh litter about twice a week. Some cat owners may find that they can reduce odor by cleaning the box every other day, while others may be able to get away with only cleaning the box once a week—it’s really a personal choice for you and your kitty.

Adding more litter to your cat’s litter box will not change how often you have to clean it. Besides, most cats won’t use litter more than about two inches deep, and some felines prefer even less depth to their litter.

Two gray kittens look curiously over the edge of a litter box
Photo: Adobe Stock/Галина Сандалова

How to Properly Clean Out a Litter Box

Every time you change the litter, bag the litter, take it out to the trash, and wash out your cat’s litter box with mild dish detergent. Be careful with other types of cleaning products, as some of them can be toxic to cats and some may have an odor that your cat will try to stay away from.

Some cat owners use a liner in the box so they can wash it less often. These liners are supposed to be able to be tied up and taken out like a trash bag, but many cat owners find that their felines claw the bag during their normal digging process, rendering it useless. All the same, it may be worth a try if you really hate cleaning the box.

Siamese cat sitting still in a small litter box
Photo: Adobe Stock/Axel Bueckert

What to Do If Your Cat Won’t Use the Litter Box

It’s frustrating to have a cat who refuses to use the litter box or, perhaps, doesn’t quite understand how to do it properly. Here are some troubleshooting ideas.

Several different medical conditions can cause changes in bathroom habits in cats, so it’s always a good idea to call your veterinarian and make sure there’s nothing wrong with your cat before you try other troubleshooting methods. After that, the first thing you should do is make sure your cat knows where the litter box is and can easily get in and out of it.

If your cat outright refuses to go near their litter box, they may also dislike the type of litter you’ve gotten or something else about the surroundings, such as a lack of privacy or a close proximity to their food and water. You can try switching the room that the box is in, switching litters, or getting a new type of box. Offering your cat a few different types of litter may help you figure out what works more quickly.

If your cat goes to their litter box to do their business but tends to miss the actual box, a container box might be helpful to let your cat know where the boundary is.

Black-and-white cat sits outside litter box looking in at the silica sand cat litter
Photo: Adobe Stock/Imagenatural

How to Switch Cat Litters

Some cats are not picky about their litter, but others don’t do well with a quick change between two different types of litter. Most cats and kittens, however, will make a smooth transition between two types of litter if you slowly add more and more of the new type of litter each day for a week or longer until you’ve completely switched over.

We hope this answers all of your litter-related questions. We want every cat owner to feel confident in their litter care routines and every cat to feel well cared for.

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