You have a garden. Why buy cat litter?

I’d like briefly to address two aspects of owning a cat that can burden the planet: litter and food.

Cat using a garden as a toilet

Cat using a garden as a toilet. Photo by jmettraux.

A discussion about drying clothes on outside clothes lines (washing lines) gave me the idea. Do you dry your clothes on a clothes line or in a tumble dryer? I believe that in the USA only about 5% of people dry clothes outside, in the air. The remainder use tumble driers.  This is because the law forbids air drying outside. An American might kindly clarify that for me. In the UK, about 40% of people dry their clothes naturally, outside in the air. Which one do you think is better? Air drying leaves clothes smelling so much sweeter and it is entirely natural.

Is it sensible to forbid people to use environmentally beneficial ways of doing something?

Cat litter

  • About 2.16 million tons of mined clay is used in the USA per year as cat litter
  • Once dug up – leaving an ugly hole – it is transported to a drying facility where petroleum products are used in the process. Then it is..
  • transported to retail outlets and then
  • transported to homes and used and then
  • transported to landfill…where it hangs around for a few centuries.

Clearly there is a quite a large environmental impact from clay based litter. How many cat owners with fenced gardens have a cat litter tray in the house full of clay-based litter where their cat routinely goes to the toilet rather than letting their cat use the garden?

Now, I realise a lot people will shout at me and start talking about risks, hygiene etc. But I don’t see any more risk or a hygiene problem in a cat using a garden (where available) than using a litter tray, provided common sense is used. If the cat is a full-time indoor cat, an outside toilet facility using the earth, that is available, could be used. That would eliminate all the environmental impact problems of using conventional litter. I think we owe it to the planet and our children to think about how we can do small things to improve the environment and make things sustainable.

In my opinion it is not viable to use cat litter as composting material. It does not work. Very few people train their cat to use a human toilet. Throwing litter down the toilet must be irresponsible.

Before cat litter was invented cats used to go outside and use the garden as a toilet. Perhaps some sand was put down for the purpose. It was all natural and normal and not labour intensive and environmentally dubious.

In a previous post I decided that wood based litter is more environmentally friendly than clay based.

Cat Food

The source of cat food is mysterious and horrible. I won’t focus on that but on the amount of waste. In my experience, cats, perhaps because they are long sighted – they can’t see the food very close up – can leave quite a lot of wet cat food in the bowl where it goes off. That food could be used to feed other animals rather than dumped in the garbage bit (dustbin in UK) where maggots breed and run riot. Once again waste cat food is destined for landfill sites. We have enough landfill sites and in the UK and we are running out of space for them.

I know people are going to shout at me! I put waste food out for the foxes and the odd stray cat who is starving. What they don’t eat the slugs get and the bowls are completely clean the next morning. None of my cat food is wasted. Everyone gets a share of it and there is no landfill.

Oh…and I dry my clothes on a line. I only use the tumble dryer as a last resort. What about you?

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You have a garden. Why buy cat litter? — 16 Comments

  1. I love the smell and feel of clothes sun dried. Three of my cats use the garden, and one uses wheat based litter. It is more expensive than clay but worth it as it has little dust and is a natural smell stomper. It doesn’t clump well, but it is worth it still. Bigfoot had skin problems while I used clay. It was here on POC years ago that I learned about the dust from clay being potentially hazardous. I told my vet about Bigfoots magical cure for his skin problems and he took note.

    Keeping it as natural as possible is the name of the game. I planted my tomatoes in huge pots this year. Between the gophers and the cats, I decided to leave the whole garden to them.

  2. Hi Michael I have so many cats that using only bagged cat litter would be enormously expensive so I use sand which I buy by the ton. I used to mix it with a certain brand of cat litter which knocked out any odour but that is no longer available. The used sand gets buried outside in the garden (wilderness)which is very very big.
    I give them a lot of my special preparation as well as dry food. I mix cooked chicken liver, canned food dry food add water and mash it all together to form a thick soup. All the cats love it and it overcomes the problem of cats not drinking enough water when given only dry food. It also enables a cat with a jaded appetite to eat enough, and ensures that they get at least some high quality protein. Most of the protein in cat food is plant protein. That is why taurine has to be added. If any is left over it goes in the microwave and the cats will eat that before it even cools down.

    • You sound very organised and cat-orientated, which is what I would expect. I am pleased you do things the old fashioned way but with modern ideas. You have a nice “hybrid” homemade cat food concoction, which interests me. It is chicken liver + dry food that has been made wet food + wet food, it seems to me. It solves the habit that cats have of being poor drinkers, which is their heritage from the wildcat.

      Perhaps you could add another comment and provide a bit more detail on your homemade cat food diet if you have time. It seems easy to prepare and it seems also to be more healthy that typical canned cat food.

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  4. Our cats rarely use litter trays as they have their own earth toilet in the corner of our garden, so a bag lasts us for a long time. But I know when our ex neighbour with 15 cats lived here her wheelie bin was always full of used litter, wet and soiled and the bin men were very unhappy about it as it was very heavy to shift too.
    We also dry our washing outside, it smells wonderfully fresh, we don’t even own a tumble drier as we are very conscious of saving the environment and every little helps.
    We have wheelie bins here for recycling and it makes me annoyed that some people can’t be bothered to use them, they put paper and tins and glass that could be recycled,into the rubbish bin instead. We also have garden bins here, it’s so easy to put the stuff in the right one and all the bins are emptied fortnightly.

    • I think you are what I call “enlightened”. You do the right things. It is refreshing. So many people just do what is expected of them or what is rammed down their throat by advertising or because of what other people do.

  5. Hi Michael. The best way is to explain how I prepare that hybrid food.
    Let’s say it is for 8 cats.
    1. I Cook about 800g (it comes in plastic trays of around 800g) of previously unfrozen chicken liver in water with a tiny bit of salt added. Cook only long enough to change the colour to brown and it stays soft.
    2. When cool enough and the cats haven’t already stolen it. put it in the fridge for future use.
    3. Select a generous-sized mixing bowl.
    4. Add 2-3 big lumps of liver
    5. Add 3 teacups full of wet canned food
    6. Add enough dry cat food to get what you calculate will be enough for 8 cats.
    6. Mash it all together with your previously disinfected hands adding water until it has a nice sloppy feel. Make sure the liver is thoroughly turned to mush and spread evenly throughout the soup.
    7. Fend off several flying cats.
    It sounds complicated and long-winded but really it only takes a couple of minutes when you get the hang of it. Adjust the quantity of everything used to suit what they ear.
    It’s also OK to use canned dog food because it is cheaper and the liver has more than enough taurine for them I use Rokus or Ferry from Holland. I have often used dry dog food as well because I found the the Turkish dog food Goody is very good for cats with an upset stomach, but they always have liver with it. I discovered that several of my cats were getting sick from eating Friskies dry cat food.. Another reason I sometimes prepare the goulash with dog food is because i have a sneaking suspicion that they get too much taurine from using cat food and liver together, and too much vitamin A. Don’r ever use beef liver. One serving of beef liver has 900% of the daily requirement of vitamin A for humans and is dangerous for cats.
    A lazy man’s way is to mash up some of the liver in the pan to make a thick soup and just pour it onto their individual bowls of dry cat food. I will be doing a lot of that this coming summer. They will need all the liquid they can get. They never turn their noses up at this tasty fare. It sounds like a lot of work but it goes very quickly and nothing is wasted.

    • Wow. Thanks for that really useful information. I think I am going to try this because I am not entirely happy with straight cat food. It is nice to find a simple homemade cat food that is better than off-the-shelf commercial cat food.

    • Fantasic Harvey – very inspiring. I cook beef for them like that – just a tiny bit but raw in the middle. They love it.

      Michael I had a cat in Canada for 7 years and never had a litter box. Ever. Not even for 5 minutes. I have never used a dryer – I don’t even have a TV 🙂 – it’s actually because I am lazy more than anything and never even bothered to get a dryer – I have a bunch of clothes hanging over various doors in my flat right now 🙂

      • Sounds like me but I have a TV which I hardly watch. As you can gather I think people can do better – especially Americans, dare I say it – to reduce their carbon footprint and running tumble driers and shipping cat litter hither and thither simply adds to the carbon footprint. American has the second highest carbon footprint per person of all the countries (Saudia Arabia is top) and it is about twice that of the UK.

        I think I’ll try that recipe as it is a nice combo. Commercial cat food spiced up with raw so you get the balance and specialist nutrients with the raw element. That is the way I see it.

      • I have a dryer but don’t use it for everything. I hang a lot of stuff because I fear it will shrink in the ether. In college I hung everything because I couldn’t see paying for sons thing that would happen naturally in a few hours anyway. I also have clothes hanging all over frequently. I don’t usually hang things outside unless I want it to dry very quickly.

  6. I wss surprised that you said cats don’t eat all their wet food, Michael. Monty eats every last scrap and licks the plate until it is sparkling clean. There isn’t even a microscopic bit of food left on just about any plate I give him. My sister’s cat will leave some. I think she needs to put down less at a time. When I look after him for her there is less waste. I guess I’m good at knowing how much to put down. Except once in awhile with Monty. He doesn’t stop eating if he feels full. He just keeps eating. Fast. Like he hasn’t eaten in a month. So if I misjudge and put down too much he will scarf-n-barf. Having a cat who does that helps you learn correct portions for a cat’s little tummy in a hurry.

    • You make a very nice point I think, Ruth. I am guessing that you put down a little bit less than most other people and that means he is hungry enough to eat with relish and gobble it all up. Like most people, I probably put too much down but I put down one sachet. Interesting that that may be too much.

  7. I have a garden. Why do I buy cat litter? Because Monty likes to poop in his litter box. He will pee outside, but he asks to come in to poop. He didn’t always do this. He may go back to pooping outside in the fall. He likes to bury it under leaves so that our back yard looks like it was takes by little gnomes putting the leaves into tiny piles. Under each is a little Monty surprise. I’m just as happy to have him preferring to use his box. I use corn based litter. I don’t flush it. Monty is such a good cat to always use his box. I did see him spraying the back fence once. Otherwise if he pees outside he buries it in dirt or leaves. If our soil were sandy he might like going outside more.

    • I guess you know I am theorizing 😉 I don’t expect people to do away with litter and train their cat to use the garden but I think the point needs to be made.

      Cat litter is big business and driven by business. The natural alternative often does not seem to be considered.

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