Sodium bentonite cat litter is not 100% safe. Pretty well nothing, human made, is 100% safe so it’s a question of how safe you want your cat litter to be. Personally, I don’t think that it is safe enough. Remember, too, that a cat’s natural cat litter is soil outside the home. This does not expand and is often damp and so there is no dust. It is entirely safe. There are two major issues: the absorbency of sodium bentonite (and the way it expands) and the dust issue. There is no such product as a ‘dust free’ clay cat litter. Incidentally steer clear of Tidy Cats litter.
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Bentonite has a lot of uses in industry and in the consumer market. It is a very adaptable and flexible product. It barely gets a mention on Wikipedia in making cat litter. Sodium bentonite expands when wet. It can absorb ‘as much as several times its dry mass in water’. It is said that the granules can expand up to 15 times their size when in contact with a liquid such as water or urine. This is why it is an effective clumping litter, which are convenient to consumers. It is much easier to remove used litter from the litter tray.
The problem as you might guess is that if a cat or kitten breathes in clay dust, the dust might clump and expand in the respiratory system of the cat causing obvious health problems or potential problems.
An alternative possibility is that a curious cat or kitten may eat bentonite cat litter granules which would be a serious matter because they would expand in the intestinal tract perhaps causing a blockage and serious health issues.
A third possible health issue with bentonite cat litter is the allergens in clay dust which can cause an allergic reaction in a cat or person. Clay litter can cause feline asthma also known as feline allergic bronchitis. A cat owner may breathe in clay dust when cleaning a tray. If they are predisposed to feline asthma, I see a potential problem.
Studes are scarse on this topic. However, a study reported this: “A suspected case of bentonite poisoning was reported in a cat which was known to ingest bentonite-containing cat litter. This toxicity led to hypokalemia and hypochromic anemia presented with lethargy and muscle weakness…” see reference below.
In another study, “Suspected bentonite toxicosis in a cat from ingestion of clay cat litter” the summary states: “A 2 1/2-y-old spayed female cat was presented for lethargy and weakness. The cat was hypokalemic (3.1 m Eq K/L) and severely anemic (60% PVC, 1.3 g hemoglobin/dL). The cat was known to ingest bentonite-containing cat litter. It recovered with treatment of i.v. fluids, electrolytes and whole blood transfusion and was discharged. Two months later the cat was presented again with signs similar to those seen previously. This occurred 1 mo after the owner resumed the use of bentonite-containing cat litter. The signs were remarkably similar to those reported in humans from the chronic ingestion of bentonite clays. Bentonite toxicosis is suggested by the coexistence of hypokalemia hypochromic anemia in cats presented with lethargy and muscle weakness.”
Cats dig around and scratch the litter to varying degrees depending upon the personality of the cat. They are potentially exposed to dust and to ingesting it. The big problem with bentonite is its absorbent qualities which cause it to expand. Is bentonite clay litter safe? The manufacturers think so otherwise they wouldn’t get away with marketing it and selling it. I has been approved by the authorities so it comes down to personal choice and standards as to whether you think it is safe enough.
My personal opinion is that it is not the best form of cat litter, not entirely safe and I would go for something else such as a wood-based litter which is non-clumping and in my opinion more environmentally friendly and safer. However, I would very much like any counterarguments that any readers have.
Reference: Gedikoglu Y, Gedikoglu G, Berkin G, et al. (2012). Employing volcanic tuff minerals in interior architecture design to reduce microbial contaminants and airborne fungal carcinogens of indoor environments. Toxicol Ind Health, 28:708–19.
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