Cat Litter vs Pine Pellets – Comparing Clay and Wood Litter

When comparing clay litter vs pine pellets, pine pellets may seem like an easy choice. After all, pine pellets are better for the environment, better for your cat’s health, and create less mess. But your cat’s preference should play a large role, and not all cats will like pellets.

Pine litter is better for your cat’s health

If you’ve ever used clay litter, you know how dusty it is. But that dust is more than just irritating, it can be harmful to both you and your pet.

Many clay litters contain crystalline silica, a known carcinogen when inhaled. When using the litter box and stirring litter around, your cat is likely to breathe in small amounts of silica dust — which may cause silicosis and other respiratory problems.

But that’s not the only concern with litter dust.

The artificial fragrances used in many clay litters may be overwhelming to cats, and possibly harmful. Keep in mind, a cat’s sense of smell is about 14 times stronger than that of a human. If the perfumes in litter bother you, imagine what it’s like for your cat. In worst cases, your cat may even be allergic to some of the perfumes used in litter, putting them at increased risk for respiratory issues.

And if that’s not enough, sodium bentonite, a common and potentially harmful clumping agent, is often ingested in small amounts during grooming or by curious kittens. When swallowed, it can cause serious issues like renal disease and intestinal obstruction.

Calico cat at vet

On the other hand, plant-based litters, like pine litter, are made of all-natural ingredients with no additives — never containing crystalline silica, sodium bentonite, or synthetic fragrances.

With little to no dust, pine litter won’t cause the respiratory issues commonly associated with clay litter.  

If you do choose to use a clay litter, we recommend choosing a non-clumping and unscented litter with no additives. Learn more about the benefits of using a wood pellet litter vs a clumping clay litter.

Pine litter is better for the environment

Clay litter is most often made of bentonite clay, which is harvested through the extremely damaging process of strip mining.

Strip mining, a type of surface mining, involves removing massive layers of soil and rock to expose the minerals underneath. Through this destructive process, wildlife habitats are ruined and nearby waterways are polluted.

Even post-production, clay cat litter is harmful to the environment. It’s neither biodegradable nor compostable. Because bentonite clay is already in its final form, it just sits and stays in landfills virtually forever.

Strip mining of clay cat litter

Pine litter is made from reclaimed lumber scraps, a byproduct of the lumber industry. This means that no new trees are cut down for production.

Because pine litter is made from an all-natural, renewable resource, pine pellets are both biodegradable and compostable — which can help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.

Pine pellets are better for the environment than clay litter, and it’s not even close.

Clay litter is a little less expensive

Clay litters are generally the least expensive variety of litter. A basic clay clumping litter is almost always cheaper than a comparable plant-based litter.

If cost is important to you, sticking with clay litter is generally the most budget-friendly option. Just beware of going too cheap. Super-budget clay litters tend to have more dust and more questionable additives.

But when comparing price, don’t be fooled by the price per pound. Pine pellets last significantly longer than clay litter on a per-pound basis, only needing to be changed about once per month.

And to make things even closer, bulk wood stove pellets are safe for use as cat litter at a similar price point to clay. Just make sure they’re treated to remove pine oil, are made from untreated wood, and contain no ingredients other than pure, natural wood.

While they’re more expensive than clay litter, pine pellets are the most budget-friendly plant-based litter.

Wood pellets naturally suppress the odors of urine and ammonia

The artificial fragrances found in clay litter work by masking smells rather than controlling them, which is why their smell is often so overpowering. Pine litter, on the other hand, has a mild, natural pine scent.

Gray cat making stink face

Pine, and some other types of wood litter, have natural antimicrobial properties. While clay litter does nothing to actually control smell, pine litter actively suppresses odor-causing bacteria.

Though pine litter is effective at neutralizing the odors of urine and ammonia, it isn’t so great at managing the smell of feces. To keep your pine litter box smelling good, it’s best to scoop solids as soon as possible.

Pellets create less mess

Clay litter can get pretty messy. The small clay granules will track more than pellet litter, and there’s certainly much more dust.

Even those advertised as “non-tracking” and “dust-free” aren’t much better in our experience. A high-walled litter box can help contain some of that mess, but may be difficult for some cats to navigate.

While some clay litters are misleadingly labeled as low-tracking or low-dust, pellet litters actually are.

The larger size and heavier weight of pellets makes them much less likely to track. While some sawdust may escape the litter box and need to be vacuumed, it won’t become airborne like the dust found in clay litter.

If cleanliness is a big concern, paper pellets are the least messy type of litter. Unlike wood pellets, paper pellets don’t dissolve when wet. Instead, they swell and absorb moisture, leaving no sawdust to track.

Consider your cat’s preference

Cute cat laying on back

Perhaps the most compelling reason to use clay litter is simply that most cats are already used to it. While pine pellets certainly have their advantages, there’s something to be said for sticking to what works.

It’s always best to respect your cat’s preferences. If you try to transition to pellet litter and your cat doesn’t seem to like it, try an alternate plant-based litter with a softer, more familiar texture.

Allow your cat to have their say. They’re the one using the litter box, after all.

Are pine pellets better than litter?

Pine pellets are better for your cat’s health, better for the environment, better at neutralizing odors, and less messy than clay litter. But your cat’s preference is an important and often overlooked consideration. Make sure your cat is happy with whatever litter you choose.

Final thoughts

When comparing clay and pine cat litter, it’s clear that pine has many advantages. It’s better for your cat’s health, better for the environment, neutralizes odor in a more effective way, and is less messy.

But despite the benefits, some cats strongly prefer clay litter. And that’s okay. Don’t force your cat to use something they’re not comfortable with.


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.