Are Wood and Pine Pellets Safe for Cat Litter?

Pine pellets are generally safe for use by cats. You just need to make sure that the pellets are treated to remove the phenol found in pine oil, contain no chemical additives, are made from untreated wood, and contain nothing other than 100% natural wood.

Wood pellets specifically made and marketed for use as cat litter, like Feline Pine or Simply Pine, will always be safe for your pet.

But if you’re considering using equine or wood stove pellets as litter, you’ll need to first make sure they’re safe. Contact the manufacturer to make sure that their pellets contain no potentially harmful additives and are kiln-dried sufficiently to remove phenol.

The Potential Dangers of Wood Pellets for Cats

Using the wrong wood pellets with your cat can cause some serious health complications. If you’re going to use wood stove or horse bedding pellets as litter, it’s important to first understand the risks, so you can do so safely.

Commercial wood and pine pellet cat litters are always safe to use.

Phenol and Essential Oil Poisoning

Many essential oils, including pine oil, contain phenol — an organic chemical compound that is toxic to cats.

Phenol is absorbed rapidly, either by ingestion or through the skin, and then metabolized by the liver. Cats, and some other small animals, lack the enzyme (specifically glucuronyl transferase) needed to break down phenol. Which may lead to serious liver damage, liver failure, or even death.

If you think your cat may have come in contact with a toxic essential oil, the primary signs to watch for are:

  • Ataxia (impaired coordination, impaired balance)
  • Drooling
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Pawing at the face, or facial droop
  • Increased redness at the lips or gums

If you suspect that your cat may have been exposed to pine oil, or any other potentially harmful essential oil, contact your veterinarian or Animal Poison Control at 1 (888) 426-4453 immediately.

Asthma and Chronic Respiratory Disease

Forest of pine trees

Pine naturally contains abietic acid, and cedar naturally contains plicatic acid. These allergens may cause respiratory disease or asthma when inhaled.

If your cat develops any signs of respiratory problems following a switch to a wood litter, stop use and contact your veterinarian immediately.

Common signs of respiratory distress and asthma attacks in cats include:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • Breathing with an open mouth (similar to panting).
  • Abnormal or exaggerated rise and fall of the chest and abdomen while breathing.
  • Faint wheezing when exhaling.

Unfortunately, the process of kiln drying does little to reduce the presence of these compounds in wood pellets. If your cat is sensitive to either, wood pellets should be avoided.

Clumping Wood Pellet Litter

In the never-ending quest for convenience, some brands have started making clumping pine pellet cat litter.

We’re not big fans.

Natural or not, clumping agents are potentially harmful to cats.

When a cat uses litter, small amounts of the clumping agent can stick to paws and fur. When grooming, your cat will unintentionally ingest small amounts. Kittens may eat litter out of curiosity.

Unfortunately, because clumping agents do exactly what they’re supposed to do, clump when wet, this can be a big problem. Many clumping agents have been found to sometimes cause serious medical complications, like intestinal obstruction, when swallowed.

What Wood Pellets Are Safe to Use as Litter?

A process called kiln drying helps to reduce the risks associated with pine and other phenol-containing woods, making them commonly accepted as safe for cats.

Kiln drying involves heating lumber at high temperatures to dry and harden wood. During kiln drying, a majority of phenol is evaporated.

But be aware, there is some controversy regarding the small amounts of phenol that can remain after kiln drying. But this isn’t an issue specific to wood stove or equine pellets. It’s an issue with the general use of pine and other softwood litters with cats — common commercial brands included.

Ask your veterinarian if you’re unsure.

Contact the Manufacturer to be Safe

Black and white snuggling with red phone

Wood pellets labeled specifically for use as cat litter are okay. But before using a wood stove or horse bedding pellet as litter, you’ll have to do some research.

Never assume that a certain brand of pellet will be safe for your cat. And never use old, potentially outdated information found online about certain brands.

Things can and will change.

To verify that a specific wood pellet is safe, you’ll need to contact the manufacturer directly and verify that:

  1. their pellets are kiln dried to sufficiently remove pine oil and phenol.
  2. their pellets are made from untreated wood.
  3. their pellets contain no additives or ingredients other than pure, natural wood.

Be sure to explain that you intend to use their pellets as a cat litter, and are inquiring because of potential health concerns. It will help to clarify your question and may encourage a more accurate, helpful answer.

Are Wood Stove Pellets Safe for Use as Cat Litter?

Some wood stove pellets are safe for use as cat litter, but some may contain phenol — an organic compound that is toxic to cats. Contact the manufacturer to ensure that their pellets contain no additives and have been kiln-dried to remove phenol.

Aside from phenol and allergens, wood stove pellets sometimes contain additives intended to decrease emissions or increase burning efficiency.

While there’s little information available regarding the effects of many of these additives to cats, it’s best to avoid exposing your pet to anything unnecessary.

Can You Use Horse Bedding Pellets for Cat Litter?

Most horse bedding pellets can be used as cat litter. To be sure, contact the manufacturer to ensure they contain no additives and have been kiln-dried to remove phenol.

Equine pellets are often a better choice than wood stove pellets, because they’re less likely to contain potentially harmful additives.

Is Wood Pellet Litter Safe for Kittens?

Wood pellet litter is generally accepted as safe for kittens. Though there is the danger that your kitten may be allergic to pine, or whatever wood is contained in your pellets. It’s always the safest choice to use a non-clumping paper litter with kittens.

When choosing a litter for your kitten, it’s particularly important to consider the risks associated with each type. Consider that kittens learn about the world in much the same way as human babies — with their mouths.

Kittens can be more easily affected by irritants and additives in cat litter than their adult counterparts. If your kitten is allergic to any ingredient in your litter, it can have a pronounced effect.

Always avoid using clumping litters, litters containing chemical additives, and litters containing artificial fragrances with kittens.

To be as safe as possible, use a non-clumping paper litter.

The Benefits of Wood Pellets as Cat Litter

Wood stove pellets and log in front of fire
  • Wood pellets are generally the least expensive plant-based litter, and even cheaper when purchased in bulk.
  • If you have a wood stove or already use equine bedding, buying pellets is multi-purpose. You’ll need to keep a supply of pellets anyway, so why not use them with your cat as well?
  • Pine pellets are all-natural, generally made from nothing but wood. They most often contain no additives and create little to no dust, making them a healthier option for you and your cat.
  • Pellets are much better for the environment. Most are made of reclaimed wood from the lumber industry, meaning no new trees are cut down for production. They’re made from a renewable resource. And they’re both biodegradable and compostable.

Are wood or pine pellets toxic to cats?

No. Though pine and other woods naturally contain phenol, which is extremely toxic to cats, most wood pellets are treated with a process called kiln drying. This process causes a majority of phenol to evaporate, making wood pellets safe for cats.

Can you use hardwood pellets as cat litter?

While most wood pellet litters are softwoods like pine, hardwood pellets can be used as litter too. Just be sure to confirm that they’re treated to remove phenol and contain nothing but 100% natural fibers with no chemical additives.

What type of wood pellets are best for cat litter?

There is no best type of wood for pellet cat litter. Pine, cedar, oak, and mix-wood varieties are common. If choosing between wood stove and horse bedding pellets, equine pellets are generally a better choice because they’re less likely to contain potentially harmful additives.

Summary

Wood pellets are an affordable, eco-friendly option for cat litter. Just make sure that the wood pellets you choose contain no additives and are kiln-dried sufficiently to remove phenol.

If your cat is allergic to pine or cedar, or if you’re hesitant to use wood pellets because of the trace amounts of phenol that can remain after kiln drying, consider using paper pellets — which share many of the same benefits.

Sources

About Matthew Alexander

Matthew lives in Maryland with his two cats, Puff and Pancho. He’s been caring for and fostering cats with various special needs for more than fifteen years. He hopes to pass some of the insight and knowledge that he’s gained on to the readers of Pawmore.