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  • Jennifer Van de Kieft

Litter Preference: An Unscientific Study By 5 Cats


Josh hanging out in a freshly cleaned box with new litter.

We choose everything for our cats, food, toys, litter box, and the litter that goes in it. I like to give my cats options so they can decide what they prefer.

I had been using Naturally Fresh walnut based litter that I liked, and had been recommended by the rescue I volunteer with, but began testing out other litters to see what my cats preferred. I liked the walnut based litter because it was lightweight, good clumping, easy to clean the box after being dumped, and it has this earthy kind of smell. I first tried Fresh Step Unscented with activated charcoal. My cats LOVED it. They would hang out in the box after I put a new batch in. I found it dusty, harder to clean the box, and heavy with a strong scent (even though it’s “unscented”). I wanted to try to find a litter we could all agree on. I got a bunch of suggestions from a feline behavior group I belong to.

Unscientific Experiment: I have 5 young cats ranging in age from 1 to 4 years old. There are no litter box issues with this crew. I have 3 boxes spread out in my main living area which is an L shape that my cats prefer to use. The bedroom boxes are barely used. I scoop twice daily, and dump the litter and clean the boxes every week. Of the 3 main living area boxes, 2 are favorites. Each week, I used the FreshStep Unscented in 2 boxes, and added a new litter to the 3rd using one of the favorites. I switched up which favorite I used each week. I did not count how many times they used each box, but it was pretty obvious which ones they preferred by the amount of waste in the box.

Here’s the list of litters I tried and what I found:

Dr Elsey’s Ultra Clumping Clay litter: low dust, medium weight, cats liked it ok, but the big issue was odor control. After only 3 days, I had to dump it out.

Smart Cat Grass litter: no dust, light weight, cats liked it ok, made from grass, easy to clean boxes, good odor control.

World's Best Multi-Cat: no dust, medium weight, cats liked it ok, made from flushable corn formula and claims to be environmentally friendly.

Okocat is a wood based litter: very light weight, did not clump well, cats used the box only a few times, and smelled like wood.

Tidy Cat Free and Clear Unscented with activated charcoal: This was a winner from the cat’s perspective. Even my husband noticed how much they used the box with this in it. Litter is heavy, a little dusty, definitely has a scent even though “unscented”, inexpensive, and sticks to the bottom of the box. Again, cats loved it, I hated it.

Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal with baking soda: Another winner from the cat’s perspective. The box with this was used frequently. This was clearly scented, and finer in texture than the other litters, but heavy and a little dusty. Cats loved it, me not so much.

Dr. Elsey’s Touch of Outdoors is grass based - I thought this might have better odor control, but again, I dumped it after 3 days due to the smell. Cats liked it ok.

A mix of 4: One week. I didn’t want to be wasteful, and put 4 leftover litters together in one box thinking the cats would likely hate it. Weirdly, that might have been their absolute favorite! I didn’t even pay attention to what I did, so I cannot replicate this. But, maybe mixing litters is something they like. I prefer coffee blends and wine blends, so maybe it’s not weird that my cats like litter blends.

Conclusion: I prefer the natural lightweight litters like Smart Cat grass litter and Naturally Fresh Walnut based. The cats prefer the heavy, dusty, who knows what’s in this like the Fresh Step, Tidy Cat and Arm and Hammer. Since we cannot agree, I’m using a combination of Smart Cat grass litter with Tidy Cat Free and Clear. I think the Tidy Cat had the least dust from the litters they loved. Using the combination, the dust seems low, good odor control, the weight is manageable, and it’s easy to clean the boxes.

Jennifer Van de Kieft is a Certified Feline Training and Behavior Specialist residing in Brooklyn, New York City.


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