When comparing paper, pine, or wood pellet litter vs clumping litter, pellets are a much safer choice. Clumping agents like sodium bentonite pose health risks to cats and humans alike. Non-clumping pellets are a safe, eco-friendly alternative to clay cat litter.
Clumping litter may be harmful to your cat
Clumping agents are designed to bind when wet, making it easier to scoop soiled cat litter.
Unfortunately, the same properties that make clumping litter so convenient are also the reason that they’re a danger to your cat’s health.
The potential dangers of sodium bentonite
Sodium bentonite, the most common clumping agent, can swell to up to fifteen times its original size when wet, forming cement-like clumps.
Needless to say, it should not be ingested.
The problem is that when a cat uses clumping litter, small amounts of sodium bentonite stick to their fur and are ingested during grooming.
Most often, the clumping agent is passed with no issue. But sometimes it can accumulate in your cat’s digestive tract, leading to diarrhea, vomiting, and, in worst cases, obstruction.
There is some debate regarding the issue. There have been no significant scientific studies proving or disproving the risks. There are, however, countless anecdotal reports from pet owners and veterinarians alike.
The dangers of crystalline silica dust
Litter dust is more than just an annoyance. It can be harmful to you and your pet.
Repeated exposure to silica dust, a carcinogen commonly found in clumping clay cat litter, can cause silicosis. A disease in which silica dust particles cause inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue, leading to irreversible and persistent cough, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.
The more frequent and heavy the exposure, the more at risk you and your pet are for further complications — like lung cancer, autoimmune diseases, kidney disease, and respiratory diseases (like COPD).
Non-clumping pellets vs clumping clay cat litter
Non-clumping pellet litters offer a safe alternative to clumping clay litter.
Because they’re made from natural, biodegradable ingredients and are virtually dust-free, pellet litters are among the best options for your cat’s health.
Wood and pine pellets are also better for the environment, create less mess, and do a better job of controlling the odors of urine and ammonia. Learn more about the benefits of wood pellets vs clay cat litter.
What about clumping pine litter?
There have been attempts to make a natural litter that acts as much like clumping clay litter as possible. Those made from granular wood, walnuts, wheat, and corn are common clumping alternatives.
But do plant-based clumping litters pose the same risks to our pets?
The clumping agents found in these litters may seem to share some of the same dangers as sodium bentonite. Guar gum, for example, a common natural clumping agent, has been found to cause intestinal blockages when consumed without sufficient liquid.
But it’s not as bad as it sounds.
The amount of guar gum a cat would need to ingest to cause problems is significant, especially when compared to the amount of sodium bentonite that would be problematic.
Plant-based clumping litters offer a safe alternative to clumping clay litter, and provide a good alternative to pellet litter. Though they’re still best avoided by kittens (who are more likely to eat litter out of curiosity) and cats with pica (who may ingest unusually large amounts of litter).
Why is clumping cat litter bad?
Sodium bentonite, the clumping agent found in clay litter, may place your cat at risk for health problems like vomiting, diarrhea, and intestinal blockages. Natural, plant-based clumping litters offers a safer, healthier alternative.
What’s the advantage of clumping cat litter?
The main advantage of clumping cat litter is it’s ability to bind urine into solid, scoopable clumps. This makes cleanup quicker and more convenient, leaving a more hygienic, better smelling litter box.
Clumping cat litter containing sodium bentonite is best avoided. When ingested during grooming, clumping agents may lead to health problems like diarrhea, vomiting, and intestinal obstruction. Pellet litters are a healthier, eco-friendly alternative.
- Guar Gum. (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved June 2, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-919/guar-gum
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2019, October 16). Silica: Health Risks of Exposure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/silica/risks.html
- American Lung Association. (2020, March 9). Silicosis Symptoms and Diagnosis. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/silicosis/symptoms-diagnosis
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.