What is in Cat Litter and How Does it work?

cat litter box

The contents of regular cat litter might surprise you. Choosing the right kind of litter for your kitty is important for numerous reasons.

While not all cat litter is made up of the same things, most of it contains similar ingredients.

Origins of Cat Litter

Granulated clay first started being used in cat litter back in the 1940s. It became outrageously popular due to its ability to effectively absorb urine from cats. The clay was first dried in a kiln to maximize its ability to absorb liquids.

This type of clay, however, doesn’t clump up very much. While it is still used a little bit today, it can be a real pain to maintain.

It wasn’t until the mid 1980s when clumping clay started being used in cat litter. This was a revolutionary innovation that has stood the test of time.

cat and litter

Silica Gel Based Cat Litter

A lot of cat litter products contain silica gel, which is basically just the crystallized form of silicon dioxide. This particular ingredient is included because of its ability to effectively absorb liquids and minimize unpleasant smells. If cat litter did not have this in it, you would almost certainly find it a lot harder to tolerate cleaning out the litter box.

You can easily go a full month before having to replace this litter, which is always nice. It is also easy to scoop out soiled pieces of the litter as opposed to having to change it all out at one time. This is a huge convenience for those who have a kitty at home.

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cat litter on floor

Clay-Based Litter

Clay-based cat litter has been around for a long time now, and it is still going strong. The bentonite clay that is used in litter is also great at picking up liquid, including urine. 

The older/original clay litter needs to be changed out on a regular basis, which can get annoying. It doesn’t clump up like other types, which means that you usually have to remove all of it. This is something you will most likely have to do at least once each week.

One of the great things about litter that uses bentonite clay is that it does clump up, so you don’t have to replace it all at once. You will be able to scoop out individual pieces of litter as needed, which saves you a lot of time and effort. This is one of the reasons why this type of litter has become so popular with cat owners.

Biodegradable Litter

There are actually quite a few biodegradable cat litter options available on the market today. Unlike silica-based litter, this kind is not toxic to your cat regardless of how much it might consume.

This cat litter is also a great choice for those who environmentally conscious. If you are looking for a “green” litter option, this is it. Many of these litter products are made using recycled materials and plant by-products, including beet pulp and even corn.

Keep in mind that while biodegradable litter is eco-friendly and safe for cats, it also tends to be fairly expensive.

Things to Consider When Buying Cat Litter

There are quite a few important things to consider before buying a certain litter product for your cat. The fact is that some cats take to certain types of litter easier than others, so you need to do your research.

  • Comfort: You will need to think about which litter your cat might find most comfortable. Many cats seem to prefer clay-based litter because it is so soft and easy on their paws. The texture of the litter will ultimately determined how comfy it is for your kitty.
  • Scent: If you want litter that isn’t going to stink to high heaven, silica-based products are always a good option. The silica gel in this type of litter is really good at killing funky odors.
  • Dust: Silica cat litter is also a good choice because it doesn’t generate a lot of dust.
  • Tracking: The last thing you want is for your cat to track their litter through your house after they do their business. Clumping bentonite clay litter is best for preventing this issue.
  • Price: Since you will have to buy cat litter on a semi-regular basis, you should consider the price of whatever you buy. While you shouldn’t get the absolute cheapest option, you also don’t have to choose the most expensive.
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A Matter of Trial and Error

You might need to buy more than one kind of litter for your cat, depending on how picky it is. It’s crucial that your cat is comfortable with the litter, because otherwise they might end up going to the bathroom in other places.

Give your cat at least a few days to get used to the litter you buy before deciding to try another kind. Some cats require a sort of breaking in period with new litter, while others take to it right away. It all comes down to just how particular your particular cat is. 

If they truly don’t like the litter, there’s not much you can do except try to find one that they take to better.


  • When cat litter first started being sold in stores, it was made of kiln-dried clay that didn’t clump up.
  • Bentonite clay is a very popular option among cat owners because it clumps up nicely, and is therefore easy to maintain.
  • Litter with a silica gel formula is great at picking up urine and does a good job of killing unpleasant smells.
  • Biodegradable litter is comprised of eco-friendly ingredients, but it can be fairly pricey.
  • It might take a little while for you to find a litter your cat likes, so you will have to be patient.
  • Take the time to choose cat litter that is safe for your pet, prevents tracking, and is easy to clean out.
  • Keep in mind that the texture of the litter is important, as it determines how comfortable your cat will be.
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