Is Cedar Litter Safe for Cats?

Cedar contains phenol and terpenes, both of which are toxic to cats. Commercial cedar litters are treated to remove these harmful compounds, making them safe for use by cats. Avoid using any cedar with your cat that isn’t specifically labeled as cat-safe. 

Cedar Oil Can be Toxic to Cats

The oil of many types of cedar trees, including the genus cedra and others commonly classified (sometimes incorrectly) as cedar, often contain phenol and terpenes — organic, aromatic compounds that are toxic to cats when ingested. 

Cats lack the enzymes needed to metabolize these compounds. Ingestion can lead to serious illness, liver damage, or even death. 

Contact with oils containing phenol or terpenes, even if not immediately ingested, will often be ingested eventually during grooming.

Keeping your pet safe means keeping potentially harmful essential oils out of the home altogether.

If you suspect that your pet has come in contact with a potentially toxic essential oil, contact Animal Poison Control immediately for further instruction at 1 (888) 426 4435. Note that a consultation fee may apply. 

Black and white cat laying next to red telephone

Signs and symptoms of essential oil poisoning include ataxia (impaired coordination and balance), drooling, tremors, nausea, vomiting, facial droop, pawing at the face, and increased redness of the lips and gums.

If you suspect contact, don’t wait until signs or symptoms develop. Seek medical assistance for your pet immediately. 

Cedar Can Cause Respiratory Issues

Cedar may also pose risks to your cat’s respiratory system, sometimes causing respiratory inflammation, allergic responses, or asthma.

Cedar naturally contains plicatic acid among other contact allergens. Most cats will be unaffected, but those sensitive to these irritants should not use cedar litter, or any other wood litter for that matter. 

If your cat develops any signs or symptoms of asthma or respiratory distress, stop use and contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Common symptoms include rapid, shallow breathing, panting, exaggerated rise and fall of the chest while breathing, or faint wheezing while exhaling. 

Commercial Cedar Litter is Cat-Safe

Pile of cedar logs

Commercial cedar cat litters are treated, usually by a process called kiln-drying, which removes a large majority of these potentially harmful compounds. 

Kiln-drying involves heating wood at high temperatures over time, causing a large majority of phenol and terpenes to evaporate.

When choosing cedar to use as cat litter, ensure that the product is specifically designed for use by cats. Out of an abundance of caution, avoid using cedar shavings that aren’t specifically manufactured for use by cats.

Why Choose Cedar Cat Litter?

Cedar cat litter, much like pine and other wood litters, have a variety of benefits. Especially when compared to traditional clay litters. 

Cedar litter is better for your cat’s health. Cedar litter is free from harmful additives, like the clumping agents and artificial fragrances commonly found in other types of litter. 

Cedar litter is better for the environment. Often being made from scrap wood that would otherwise go to waste, no new trees are cut down to produce cedar litter. And because it’s all-natural, cedar litter is both biodegradable and compostable. 

Black and white cat in tree enjoying nature

Cedar litter does a good job of controlling the odors of urine and ammonia. Though not quite as good a job as pine, which due to it’s natural antimicrobial properties helps suppress the growth and reproduction of odor-causing bacteria. 

And lastly, due to their larger size, cedar pellets are low tracking and dust free. Making them a relatively low-mess solution. 

Alternatives to Cedar Cat Litter

Pine and other wood pellets are a common alternative to cedar, but unfortunately share many of the same downsides.

Pine, for example, also naturally contains phenol and other contact allergens that your cat may be sensitive to. 

Paper pellets won’t contain phenol, terpenes, or the contact allergens found in cedar, but are much worse than wood pellets at managing odor. 

Summary

Cedar oil and certain types of cedar wood contain dangerous levels of phenol and terpenes, organic aromatic compounds which can be fatal when ingested by cats. Commercial cedar litters are either treated to remove these compounds or use types of cedar wood with low concentrations of these compounds. 

Never use cedar shavings with your pet that aren’t specifically labeled as cat-safe. 

If you suspect that your pet may have come in contact with a dangerous essential oil, contact Animal Poison Control immediately. 

Cedar litter may also pose a risk to cats who are sensitive to common allergens found in cedar. If your cat shows any signs or symptoms of respiratory distress, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Sources

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.