Is cat litter dust potentially harmful to cats and cat owners?

To be honest, this topic is a bit of a minefield. It is very complicated. It is hard to find clear cut answers. And there is a distinct lack of good science on it which surprises me as it is a topic that is made for scientific research. It is almost as if the cat litter manufacturers are applying pressure to scientists to steer clear of studies on cat litter. And I think cat litter dust is more of a problem than people believe.

Dusty cat litter
Dusty cat litter. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Dusty cat litters? – some more than others

If the clay litter is dusty, the cats and other members of the household may inhale the silica dust, which may result in respiratory problems….Clay litters are composed of a combination of aluminum silicates and minerals, and these litters are frequently blended with sodium bentonite, a swelling clay which is an extremely effective clumping agent. A dust controlling agent is then added to the ground clay to help prevent the silica
dust in the litter from becoming airborne. – Mark Peterson who looked for a link between cat litter products and feline hyperthyroidism (and other causes) in his study: HYPERTHYROIDISM IN CATS – What’s causing this epidemic of thyroid disease and can we prevent it?.

Obviously, some cat litter substrates are dustier than others. Years ago, I wrote about Tidy Cats Lightweight cat litter which is dustier than normal. There were anecdotal reports at the time of health problems arising from its use. It does not seem to have stopped the commercial success of the product. I obtained the input of a man working in the manufacturing plant of this litter and he confirmed its dangers. Click the links below to read these two articles if you wish:

Tidy Cats contains crystalline silica which is abrasive. It gets into the lungs and causes injury.

Cat digging around in cat litter
Cat digging around in cat litter. Image in public domain.

Common sense tells us that there is a potential for harm

The question in the title asks if cat litter is POTENTIALLY harmful to cats and humans and the answer is that it must be. Common sense tells us that. Dust of any kind is potentially harmful when ingested and when it gets into the lungs. And a lot of cat litter substrate is dusty. On a one-off basis it’ll be okay but this is about a progressive build up over time which is going to happen to both cats and people when handling dusty cat litter as it is used more than once daily by cats and once daily by humans.

Cats are more vulnerable because they are nearer the stuff. Their heads are almost buried in it when they sniff their feces before burying them. Not all cats do this in the litter tray but many do. They actively sniff their feces. They place their nose near the litter. And after they’ve buried their feces, which disturbs the litter substrate substantially, they sniff the area. At that point there must be a lot of dust. Surely this is a potential danger. Probably a real and present danger.

Cats compound the problem by grooming themselves fastidiously afterwards. They lick off any dusty residue from their coats. This adds to the potential dangers of dusty cat litter.

The AI chatbot had this to say about the potential dangers

Cat litter dust can potentially be harmful to both cats and cat owners, particularly if the dust contains silica or other harmful substances. Silica is a common ingredient in many cat litters, and it can be harmful if inhaled over a long period of time.

Inhaling silica dust can cause respiratory problems in cats, such as feline asthma, and in humans, it can lead to lung damage and other health issues. Additionally, the dust from cat litter can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat of both cats and humans.

To reduce the risk of exposure to cat litter dust, it is important to choose a low-dust litter, clean the litter box regularly, and use proper ventilation when handling and disposing of litter. You can also consider using alternative litter materials, such as recycled paper, wood shavings, or natural materials like corn or wheat.

It is also recommended to consult with your veterinarian if you have concerns about the safety of your cat litter or if you notice any signs of respiratory distress in your cat.

Surveys

The subject of dust in cat litter products is a natural one for scientific studies but there are few. One found that three workers from twenty-five making artificial aluminium silicate used for cat litter developed “abnormality of the chest radiograph consistent with pulmonary fibrosis”. The suggestion was that this form of cat litter can cause pulmonary fibrosis in humans when handled a lot. They were guarded in their conclusion which scientists always are in saying, “This study suggests that there may be a relation between inhalation of the dust of this form of aluminium silicate and pulmonary fibrosis.”

But that study (http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/oem.37.4.367) supports the thought that some cat litter substrates are potentially dangerous.

Presumption

I’d presume that cat litter dust is a health hazard to cats (primarily) and their caregivers. Some caregivers will be sensitive to dust such as those suffering from sinusitis and lung diseases. On this presumption it would be wise to use a cat litter substrate that was designed to minimise dust.

Cat litters with minimal dust

I am impressed with the tufts + paws webpage on this topic. I will take their suggestions on low-dust cat litter as good. Bar one, these are non-clay litter substrates.

  • tuft + paw’s Really Great Cat Litter
  • Okocat Original Premium Wood Clumping Cat Litter
  • Fresh News Recycled Paper Original Litter
  • Feline Pine Original Non-Clumping Wood Cat Litter
  • Böxiecat Extra Strength Unscented Clumping Clay Litter

I’ve always preferred wood-based litter as it is good at odour suppression and low dust. Although I am concerned about where the wood comes from. The pet market can be quite damaging to the environment. We need to recognise that fact.

Should a child clean the cat litter box?

Is bentonite cat litter safe?

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Leave a Comment

follow it link and logo