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natural and non-toxic cat litters worth trying

4 Natural and Non-Toxic Cat Litters Worth Trying

Delve into the world of natural and non-toxic cat litters, highlighting the best options on the market.

Natural has become a bit of a buzz word lately and I’ll be completely honest here: as a veterinary doctor, it’s kind of a source of exasperation! This is not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with wanting to lead a more natural lifestyle or use lifestyle and pet products with more natural ingredients; there isn’t. In fact, although I’m a scientist at heart I’m also a real lover of nature and believe that maintaining a strong connection with the natural world is incredibly important for our health, physically and especially mentally. But the terms “natural” and “non-toxic” are unfortunately often used by corporations, brands and even influencers online for the purposes of unnecessary scaremongering, in order to sell products. And that just ain’t right.

The reality is that the vast majority of unnatural (or synthetic) products – be they pet products, home products, food or beauty products – undergo rigorous testing prior to sale to ensure that they are safe for consumers. Just because a cat litter incorporates synthetic chemical fragrances, deodorizers or even antibacterial agents doesn’t mean that it’s harmful. Likewise, just because a product is 100% natural it doesn’t automatically follow that it’s harmless!

So, key point: just because an ingredient in a pet product (or any other product!) is toxic, it doesn’t mean the finished item is toxic. Toxicities can only occur if there is high enough exposure.

Simplified: toxicity = ingredient x exposure.

It’s certainly true that many pet products contain potentially toxic ingredients, just as many medications are toxic at high enough doses. However, these products are still completely safe to use for the vast majority of individuals, so long as the manufacturer’s instructions (or in the case of medications, the doctor’s orders) are followed. 

Above said, let’s take a look at some natural and non-toxic cat litters that are worth the hype, and why they’re worth investing in over the alternatives.

Best for Odor Control – Fresh Step Clumping Cat Litter (Unscented)

Fresh Step Clumping Cat Litter, Advanced, Simply Unscented, Extra Large, 37 Pounds total (2 Pack of 18.5lb Boxes) (Package May Vary)

I don’t want to start any riots in the comments section, but to prove my point I want to begin with a bentonite clay cat litter. Again, bentonite clay is a completely naturally occurring compound, and it’s entirely non-toxic. The only precautions to bear in mind are to select a very low dust litter to avoid respiratory irritation (which may be particularly bothersome for individuals with asthma).

Fresh Step are a really solid brand: they do one thing (cat litter, of course), and they do it well! Fresh Step’s unscented clumping cat litter contains added activated charcoal (also natural and non-toxic) which helps lock away unpleasant odors without relying on artificial fragrances. Whilst lesser brands might leave your home smelling of lilies with a pungent undertone of cat urine, Fresh Step aims to leave it smelling of nothing, which I’m sure we can all agree is the preferable option.

Best for Respiratory Issues – World’s Best Cat Litter (Original Unscented)

WORLD'S BEST CAT LITTER Original Unscented, 32-Pounds - Natural Ingredients, Quick Clumping, Flushable, 99% Dust Free & Made in USA - Long-Lasting Odor Control & Easy Scooping

Serial readers will be sick of me harping on about World’s Best cat litter, but I just can’t help it: this litter is ace! And I’ve picked it here for cats and humans with respiratory issues for two key reasons:

  1. It’s very, very low dust, minimizing inhaled particles (which can be irritating for sensitive airways) for both you and your cat.
  2. It’s unscented. Whilst synthetic fragrances generally aren’t harmful at the “doses” used in cat litter, they too can be irritating for especially sensitive airways and may cause issues for individuals (including felines) with asthma or allergies.

World’s Best litter is made from natural corn; that’s right, the sort that also comes on the cob! Whilst it may seem gimmicky at first glance, the reality couldn’t be further from this, since World’s Best actually does a fantastic job in the litter tray area ticking all major boxes: odor control, low dust, low tracking, quick clumping and easy scooping. Of all the litters on this list, World’s Best is my personal favorite as both a vet and as the owner (or more accurately, human servant) of a very fussy three-legged moggy.

Best for Multiple Cats – Naturally Fresh Multi-Cat Unscented Clumping Walnut Cat Litter

Naturally Fresh Cat Litter - Walnut, 40 lb (25001)

Naturally Fresh litter excels for multi-cat households due to being virtually dust free, fragrance free and relatively affordable as natural cat litters go. In fact, being made from 100% natural walnut shells, this litter is about as natural as it gets. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly and effective cat litter that doesn’t rely on synthetics then this is the litter for you.

However: I do have an instinctive dislike of scaremongering as means of achieving sales, and so I can’t help but dislike the suggestion on Naturally Fresh’s website that competing cat litters which may be mixed with silica can cause health issues, since there is no hard evidence that this is the case.

The only proven health concerns associated with silica – specifically silicosis and an increased rate of lung tumors – occur when relatively large amounts of silica dust are inhaled over long periods of time (for example, by stone mine workers over 10+ years in the job). The exposure that the average cat owner will receive when using a silica based litter is very low, even when the litter is used over many years. After all, changing your cat’s litter tray is not a full time job!

I therefore find claims that litters containing silica will make you or your cat unwell unnecessarily alarmist. Naturally Fresh litter is already a standout product, so a fear peddling marketing approach isn’t really needed in order to sell bags. Hopefully they’ll rethink this angle in the future, as I’m otherwise very happy with this litter and I’m sure thousands of other cat owers are, too. 

Best Recycled – Fresh News Recycled Paper Pellet Cat Litter (Original)

Fresh News Cat Litter, 11.36 Kg

Ok, ok: the eagle eyed will have noticed that this cat litter technically isn’t 100% natural (although it’s pretty close), since it’s made in Michigan from 100% recycled paper collected from recycling centres and as part of PaperGator Recycling programmes. However, I had to include it anyway, because it really is a standout cat litter for the environmentally conscious cat owner’s consideration (now there’s a tongue twister!) In fact, using and then composting Fresh News cat litter diverts as much as 3,000lb of litter from reaching landfills – pretty awesome “news”!

Fresh News is also very low in dust and suitable for use in the homes of individuals (two or four legged) with respiratory issues. Fresh News litter contains a naturally high proportion of carbon, since paper is basically made from wood pulp, and wood pulp in turn is basically made from cellulose (which in turn is basically made from carbon). This carbon does a fantastic job of locking away odors, keeping your home free from lingering reminders that your cat has recently relieved themself. Purrfection.

Types of Natural Cat Litters

Clay based cat litters

Completely safe for the vast majority of individuals (human and feline) despite the negativity they receive online. Be sure to pick a low dust option.
Strengths:
– Provide good odor control
– Clump well and scoop easily
Weaknesses:
– Heavy
– Not flushable 

Walnut shell cat litters

An incidental byproduct of the food industry which may otherwise go to waste. Eco-friendly and effective.
Strengths:
– Low tracking
– Low dust
– Biodegradable
Weaknesses:
– Odor control is typically not as good as clay based litters

Wood pulp or pellet cat litters

Less commonly seen. Okocat Natural Wood Cat Litter is the best example I’ve come by in terms of quality and performance.
Strengths:
– Can have good odor control
Weaknesses:
– Relatively heavy
– More prone to tracking

Tofu based cat litters

Tofu isn’t just for Tom Yum! These litters can be an excellent choice for the planet conscious pet parent.
Strengths:
– Flushable
– Relatively lightweight
– Typically biodegradable
Weaknesses:
– Can be expensive

Corn based cat litters

A really strong all rounder and my personal favorite type of natural cat litter. Strengths
– Generally low dust and low tracking
– Cost-effective
– Relatively environmentally friendly
Weaknesses
– Some types can track

Grass seed cat litters

Some cat owners seem to swear by grass seed litters. They’re a pretty solid choice, and tend to be budget friendly, too. 
Strengths
– Low dust
– Biodegradable
– Lightweight
Weaknesses
– Clay based litters offer better odor control

FAQ

Are crystalline silica and bentonite clay safe in cat litter?

Ironically, the two cat litter ingredients that receive most press (and a variable degree of scaremongering) online are crystalline silica and bentonite clay. Which, by the way, are both completely naturally occurring and non-toxic compounds.

Many cat owners worry about their cat’s and their own exposure to the crystalline silica dust present in some (especially cheaper) cat litters. This concern comes from studies that have identified health problems specifically in individuals who work for many years in stone mines and processing plants, breathing in relatively large quantities of crystalline silica dust every work day.

As a scientist, my interpretation of this is that yes, inhaling large quantities of crystalline silica day-in, day-out over many years is likely to cause problems. But going back to toxicity = ingredient x exposure, your exposure as a cat owner using a litter that contains crystalline silica is far, far lower than a stone mine worker (especially if you choose a low-dust litter and are careful not to go sticking your face in the bag). There’s certainly no studies to show an increased rate of respiratory issues in cat owners using such litters, or even in the cats themselves.

Bentonite clay is another (naturally-occuring) compound that receives a lot of attention online, again with the main worry being inhalation of dust particles. Like silica dust, long term exposure to large amounts of inhaled particles will likely cause issues. And for individuals (human or feline) with respiratory issues, inhaled particles of bentonite clay, crystalline silica or any other dust can cause irritation and exacerbate respiratory symptoms. So, pick a very low dust litter, whether opting for a natural or synthetically enhanced product, and you’ll be just fine.

Is natural cat litter better?

The main reason to choose a natural cat litter is that these litters tend to be more environmentally friendly. They are often biodegradable, and often less carbon dioxide emissions are produced during manufacture of these litters. It’s a common misconception that natural, non-toxic cat litters are safer than synthetically enhanced cat litters; see the introduction of this article, to find out why!

Is Naturally Fresh litter safe for cats?

Yes, Naturally Fresh litter is safe for cats, and it’s an excellent choice if you’re looking for a biodegradable, absorbent and virtually dust free option: in fact, as you can see I’ve rated this litter as my top pick for multi-cat households in Top Biodegradable Cat Litters of 2024. It’s also my top pick for odor control for the reasons discussed above.

How often should I change my cat’s natural litter box?

Solids (that’s a nicer way of saying cat poop) should be removed from the litter box as soon as you notice them (and you should be checking the tray at least twice daily, in case these ‘deposits’ aren’t immediately obvious…which they usually are!). You should also scoop daily to remove clumped liquids, or patches where it’s apparent that your cat has urinated for non-clumping litters. Finally, your cat’s litter tray needs to be fully emptied and thoroughly scrubbed at least weekly, and more often if it sees a lot of visits or if you have multiple cats.

Can kittens use natural cat litter?

Yes: all of the natural and non-toxic cat litters included in this article are safe for kittens to use. Some natural cat litters may pose a small risk to kittens as young cats are more curious and more likely to eat small amounts of litter. Clay based litters especially have the potential to “clog” the gastrointestinal tract, causing blockages that require veterinary intervention. So, consider avoiding clay based litters if you are catering for kittens, or make sure you’re able to keep things especially well supervised.

Conclusion

A key point that I’d love my fellow cat owners to take away from the above article is that cat litters containing unnatural or synthetic ingredients are generally very safe to use, and in many cases perform better than natural alternatives. A key example here is where odor control is the priority. However, natural litters do have some wonderful strengths and selling points, not least the fact that they are typically more environmentally friendly than the more traditional alternatives.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of the above litters to a pet owner in my veterinary consult room; to a friend or family member; or indeed, to use them myself! As with anything, it’s ultimately about choosing a litter that meets your specific needs and preferences, as well as your cat’s. Whilst natural isn’t always best, if it’s a factor that you prioritize then the above litters won’t let you down.

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