Everything You Wanted to Know About Cat Litter: A Short History of Feline Toiletry

According to the 2014 survey made by the American Pet Product Association (APPA), over 45 million families in the United States are sharing their homes with kitties. It’s no wonder that the estimated amount of cat litter used in the United Sates has reached 8 billion pounds.

cat litter bag and tray

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Prior to 1939, the majority of cats were indoor/outdoor kitties who used the great outdoors as their ‘litter boxes’. For cats who lived strictly indoors their guardians used boxes of sand, or furnace ashes as kitty toilets, which were mainly kept in the cellar for the cat’s use. Naturally kitty guardians eventually became disgusted and unhappy with their cats tracking sand and dirt through their homes.

Around 1940 an enterprising former sailor named Ed Lowe came up with a brilliant idea about using absorbent clay as ‘litter’; a popular product used to clean up industrial oil spills. That idea took flight and in 1948 the famous brand ‘Kitty Litter’ was born; marketed by Lowe.

Since this granulated clay litter absorbed urine down into the bottom of the pan, it efficiently controlled the ammonia stench until the litter reached a saturation point. For a single cat the product lasted for about a week until it was time to clean the box and add fresh litter. Most folks today using clay litter scoop out both the solid and liquid wastes and change the box completely once a week.

In the 1950s the Fuller’s Earth Union in the United Kingdom developed the first litter that clumped. Then, in 1984 a biochemist in the United States developed a litter that clumped when wet, forming a mass separate from the rest of the contents in the box. This made it much easier for kitty guardians to scoop out and dispose of the waste without having to change the entire box’s contents. However, since this product could also clog toilets, the manufacturers instructed people not to flush clumping litter.

Eventually the ever-so-popular biodegradable litter brands appeared on the scene. These products are extremely appealing to ecologically minded folks since they are environmentally friendly. The products are made from various plant sources, which include recycled newspaper, barley, okra, clumping sawdust, wheat, pine, and cedar.

While these products are somewhat costlier than the traditional clay products, the benefits often outweigh the price since they are flushable, efficiently control odors, last longer and are also easy to dispose of. Since cats can be extremely fussy about the type of litters offered to them, the good news is that kitties also seem to find these products preferable to use and much to their liking.

Another popular type that is rated highly by feline guardians is Silica gel litter. This product is often referred to as “crystal litter”. It is a porous granular form of silicon dioxide and is touted as a type of litter which has the greatest absorbency. Compared to other litters, this product has terrific moisture control and completely eliminates odors for a much longer time than other litters.

Adding to the many types of cat litters on the market are the scented varieties, or those that contain baking soda to control odors. However, even though we can’t smell the litter boxes we use, cats can. The litter box is a high priority territorial area for kitties, therefore most cats do not find scented litter appealing and are not attracted it.

Litter box problems are both common and disturbing to kitty guardians. If a cat doesn’t find the litter appealing, or if the litter box is filthy, most cats will find other places around the house to relieve themselves. Many feline behaviorists suggest that in addition to keeping the litter box pristine, by offering problem cats with a variety of different litter from which they can choose, this can have a very beneficial effect, making our feline family members into happy kitties. In the near future, I will be writing about the different types of litter boxes that cats also seem to prefer.

What type of litter do your kitties prefer? Let us know in a comment.


4 thoughts on “Everything You Wanted to Know About Cat Litter: A Short History of Feline Toiletry”

  1. we have 6 cats and blessedly most of them go outside — except for in the winter time — for some reason when it’s cold, dark, dreary, wet, or snowing they prefer to stay inside our nice warm house and sleep all day. 🙂

  2. I have 7 cats and 7 regular size boxes around the house and 2 very extra large open litter boxes in the basement. I go through a huge amount of litter as you can imagine. I prefer the clumping kind of course because it does make things a little easier.

  3. Ed Lowe is a longtime hero of mine 😉 and we’re clumping clay users, because it works great, is economical, and we refill our 30# buckets at Petco to save those poor plastics 😉


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