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 fibers.
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 horse bedding or wood stove pellets as litter, you’ll first want to make sure they’re safe. Contact the manufacturer to make sure that their pellets contain no potentially harmful additives and are kiln dried to remove phenol.
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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 understand the risks so you can do so safely.
Commercial wood and pine pellet cat litters are always safe to use. But pellets not specifically manufactured for use by cats should be vetted to ensure safety.
Phenol and essential oil poisoning
Many natural 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, then metabolized by the liver. Unfortunately, cats lack the enzyme (glucuronyl transferase) needed to break down phenol. Exposure may lead to serious liver damage, liver failure, and may even be fatal.
If you think your cat may have come in contact with a toxic oil, the primary signs to watch for are:
- Ataxia (impaired coordination and balance)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pawing at the face
- Facial tics or facial droop
- Increased redness of 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) 426-4435 immediately. Note that a consultation fee may apply.
Cats can be allergic to pine and other types of woods
Though relatively uncommon, some cats may be allergic to the contact allergens found in pine, cedar, and other types of wood pellet cat litter. Frequent exposure may cause irritation, asthma, and chronic respiratory disease.
Pine naturally contains abietic acid. Cedar naturally contains plicatic acid. For some cats, these allergens may cause respiratory disease or asthma when inhaled.
If your cat develops any signs or symptoms of respiratory distress 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)
- An 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 allergens in wood pellets. If your cat is sensitive to either, wood pellets should be avoided.
Some cats are more likely to eat wood pellets than other litters
Pica is an eating disorder in which a cat (or person) compulsively eats things that aren’t considered food. Certain illnesses and conditions make this behavior more likely, like anemia, kidney disease, and certain nutritional deficiencies. In other cases, it’s a strictly behavioral problem. Kittens, in particular, may eat things out of curiosity.
Eating cat litter is common among cats who suffer from pica as a result of nutritional deficiencies.
Needless to say, cat litter should not be consumed. In addition to the risks of intestinal blockages and other gastrointestinal issues associated with eating any type of litter, the consumption of wood pellets further places your cat at risk due to the amount phenol being ingested.
If your cat is eating pellets (or anything they shouldn’t), contact your vet immediately. They may recommend switching to another type of litter, along with dietary changes and/or dietary supplements.
While the issue isn’t specific to wood or pine pellets, anecdotal reports indicate that it’s a relatively common concern.
What wood pellets are safe to use as cat litter?
A process called kiln drying is used to extend the shelf life of a vast majority of wood pellets and shavings. This process also happens 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 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, like Feline Pine, included.
Ask your veterinarian if you’re unsure.
If you’re particularly cautious, paper pellets provide an alternative to wood pellets that share many of the same benefits. Learn more about the differences between wood and paper pellets.
Contact the manufacturer to be sure
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.
Though almost all pine litters are kiln dried, don’t assume that a certain brand of pellet will be safe for your cat. Some contain other potentially harmful additives, like those intended to increase burning efficiency. Never use old, potentially outdated information found online to draw your conclusions.
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:
- Their pellets are kiln dried to sufficiently remove pine oil and phenol
- Their pellets are made from untreated wood
- Their pellets contain no additives or ingredients other than pure, natural wood
Be sure to explain that you intend to use their pellets as 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.
While the answer will almost always be ‘yes, our pellets are kiln dried’, we strongly recommend a better safe than sorry approach.
Is pine litter safe for cats?
Pine litter is safe for cats, as long as the pellets or shavings are kiln dried to remove a majority of phenol and contain no potentially harmful additives. Because pine litter is made from natural wood fiber, pine pellets and pine shavings are also safe for kittens and cats who are prone to infection.
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, or other harmful additives. Contact the manufacturer to ensure that their fuel pellets have been kiln dried and contain nothing other than pure, untreated wood.
Aside from phenol and allergens, wood fuel pellets sometimes contain other 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?
Kiln dried horse bedding pellets are safe to be used as cat litter. Equine pellets are often a better choice than wood stove pellets, because they’re less likely to contain potentially harmful additives.
Is pine bedding safe for cat litter?
Pine bedding and other wood shavings are safe for use as cat litter, as long as they’re kiln dried to remove phenol. Pine shavings make a great alternative to clay cat litter due to pine’s natural antimicrobial properties.
Are wood pellets good for cat litter?
Wood pellets make a great alternative to traditional clay cat litter. They’re better for your cat’s health, better for the environment, have natural antimicrobial properties, are relatively inexpensive, and make less mess.
- Wood pellets are all-natural, generally made from nothing but natural wood fiber. They usually contain no additives and create little to no dust, making them a healthier option for you and your cat. Especially when you compare wood pellets to clay litter.
- 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 are both biodegradable and compostable.
- Wood pellets, pine in particular, have natural antimicrobial properties which help to suppress odor-causing bacteria.
- Wood pellets are generally the least expensive plant-based litter, and even cheaper when purchased in bulk. Because wood pellets only need to be changed about once a month, their price point is much closer to clay litter than it may seem.
- 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?
- Wood pellets create less mess because they track less than granular litters and are virtually dust-free
Learn more about the pros and cons of wood pellet cat litter.
Is pine 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 allergens found in the wood.
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.
Due to their size, kittens can be more easily affected by the irritants and additives found in their cat litter, especially when compared to their adult counterparts.
Avoid using clumping litters, litters containing chemical additives, and litters containing artificial fragrances with kittens.
Are wood or pine pellets toxic to cats?
No. Though pine and other woods naturally contain phenol, which is toxic to cats, a majority of 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.
What types of pellets are safe for cats?
Any type of wood pellet that has been kiln dried is safe for use as cat litter. This includes a variety of woods, like pine, cedar, and oak. Pellets made for a variety of purposes may also be used, like wood stove fuel and equine bedding pellets. Paper, tofu, hemp, and Tidy Cats Breeze pellets are also cat-safe alternatives.
Are hardwood or softwood pellets best for cat litter?
While most wood pellet litters are softwoods, like pine and cedar, 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 kind of wood pellets are best to use as cat litter?
There is no best type of wood for pellet cat litter. Pine, cedar, oak, and mixed-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.
Wood pellets are an affordable, eco-friendly alternative to traditional cat litter. Just make sure that the wood pellets you choose contain no additives and are kiln dried to remove a majority of 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 remain after kiln drying, consider using paper pellets — which share many of the same benefits.
- Cornell Feline Health Center. (2018, May 22). Feline Asthma: A Risky Business for Many Cats. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-asthma-risky-business-many-cats
- Benson, K. (2020, March 6). Essential Oils and Cats. Pet Poison Helpline. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/blog/essential-oils-cats/
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.