Cleaning the litter box is the most dreaded job of any cat guardian, but high-quality cat litter makes the task easier. What makes a person happy, however, can be the exact opposite of what a cat prefers. If the texture is wrong or the litter is perfumed, a cat may choose to do their business outside of the box.
We set out to find the best cat litters to please both cat and guardian. To learn more about the litter preferences of cats and their toileting needs, we consulted four veterinarians. Guided by their advice, we tested 28 different litters, including clay, paper, silica gel, wood, grass, and corn substrates. Editorial review samples were provided by their manufacturers, with the exception of Dr. Elsey's Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter.
We tested each kitty litter for one to four weeks to evaluate its weight, shape, softness, dust, scent, clumping ability, ease of cleaning, odor control, tracking, and cost. Read more about our testing process in the methodology slide. Scroll to the end of this guide to learn more about types of litter and read our cat litter FAQs.
This kitty litter quickly absorbs liquid, forming a tight clump that is easy to remove in a single piece. Moistened clay was rarely stuck to the interior of the litter box. Best of all, Naturally Strong Litter contains bits of activated charcoal for odor control and was effective at preventing foul odors throughout our three-week testing period.
Several years ago, I switched my cat to Dr. Elsey's Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter at the recommendation of a veterinary behaviorist, and I've been using it ever since. I was eager to see how a cheap cat litter would hold up compared to other brands tested for this guide. Quite well, it turns out.
In testing, it absorbed liquid almost instantly and clumped tightly. With a bit of heft to its grains, less litter was tracked out of the box than with our top pick. A bit of a downside: This litter controls odors with 100% sodium bentonite clay rather than activated charcoal. If I'm lax on emptying and thoroughly cleaning the box every couple of months, odors begin to accumulate.
Pretty Litter takes the guesswork out of monitoring a cat's urinary health with its color-changing silica gel litter. When a cat's urine is too acidic, too alkaline, or contains blood, the litter changes color from a healthy yellow-green to an ominous dark yellow, blue, or red.
Both of my cats used Pretty Litter willingly, and despite its light weight, it did not stick to their feet as much as the clay litters. The litter is dust- and fragrance-free, but it does have a bit of a chemical scent.
Pretty Litter did a good job of controlling odors. The closer we got to the end of the litter's lifespan (about two weeks for two cats), the more I noticed a slight ammonia scent. Around that same time, the litter can also give false color readings. We had one stressful morning when one of my cat's urine turned blue. It turned out the only thing that was wrong was that I hadn't changed the litter fast enough.
Paper litters, most of which come in the form of small, firm pellets, can be good for cats with respiratory problems. Of the five paper varieties I evaluated, Ökocat's Paper Pellet Litter performed best in my first round of testing. It absorbed liquid quickly and the paper pellets did not immediately fall apart.
The pellets were the softest and smallest of the paper litters, making them more compatible with a cat's natural scratching, digging, and burying behaviors than brands with heavier, larger pellets. This litter does not clump. Instead, the paper pellets absorb as much liquid as they can before falling apart and turning into a sort of mulch. Scooping is only necessary for solids.
Neither of my cats were willing to use the paper litters, so I can't speak to how well Ökocat controls odors or holds up over time. It is clear from the weight and shape of the litter that the pellets are very low tracking compared to smaller-grained clay and natural varieties. While the litter isn't dust-free, it is close. The pellets are also biodegradable and unscented.
Ökocat's Non-Clumping Paper Pellet Litter is 35% to 60% more expensive than the other paper brands we tested. Unlike most paper litters made of recycled paper, Ökocat uses sustainably sourced dye and white paper free of synthetic chemicals. It's less environmentally friendly but better for sensitive cats.
Thanks to its good clumping ability and odor control, World's Best Multiple Cat Litter came out on top of the 12 natural litters we tested. Its lightweight granules are made from compressed corn kernels. They are slightly harder than those of the clay litters in our best overall and best budget cat litter categories, but they are still satisfyingly scratchable for cats.
World's Best absorbed liquids instantaneously to form tight, solid clumps that maintained their shape and structure during removal. The litter's natural corn-cereal scent controlled odors well when cleaned twice a day. However, I found if I left clumps in for 24 hours, the scent of ammonia became increasingly strong. In the last few days of our three-week testing period, the remaining litter in the box was somewhat less effective at absorbing odors than it had been in the beginning. Based on this observation, I would expect that by the end of four weeks, ammonia odors are likely to be even more noticeable.
I tested the cat litters in two phases: a pre-cat phase and a cat phase. First, I compared litters belonging to the same category in heats of four at a time, assessing them for a variety of factors, including clumping ability, dustiness, scent, and texture.
The top two litters in each heat went on to the next phase. Each one was poured into a litter pan for the cats to use for anywhere from one to four weeks to test for odor control and tracking. Litters that were tested for two weeks or less were those that my cats refused to use or those we tested prior to receiving the bulk of the litters for this guide. For each litter, I considered the following qualities:
Nearly every one of the more than a dozen veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, and cat specialists I've spoken to about cat toileting behavior agrees that most cats prefer, or are at least more tolerant of, nonperfumed clay litters. \"Generally speaking, I recommend a fine-grained, clay-based clumping litter that is unscented,\" said Dr. Karen Sueda, veterinary behaviorist at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital.
Most clay cat litters are made from absorbent sodium bentonite clay, a naturally occurring material acquired through strip-mining and broken down into pebble-sized granules. Some clay litters are mixed with activated charcoal for additional odor absorption. They come in both unscented and scented varieties. Traditional clay litters are also quite dusty when poured, scratched at by a cat, or cleaned, though many newer formulas produce very little dust.
Cons: Weigh more than some other varieties of cat litter; are produced in an environmentally unfriendly way; scented formulas can be too strong for a cat's sensitive nose; can be easily tracked out of the litter boxes, especially lighter weight formulas; some formulas are very dusty
For cats that suffer from respiratory problems like asthma or have recently undergone surgery, Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer at Bond Vet, typically recommends a paper litter, which tends to be less dusty than clay litters and less likely to stick to incision sites.
Most paper litters come in pellet form and are made from either recycled materials or sustainably sourced wood. They are also almost always non-clumping with pellets that absorb liquid and slowly break apart over time. Only solids need to be scooped out of a litter box filled with paper litter.
Pros: Good for cats with respiratory problems, only solids need to be scooped from the litter box, pellet formulas are low-tracking, made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials
Silica gel or crystal litters are made from sodium silicate sand, a naturally occurring material acquired through strip mining. They do not contain crystalline silicate or other carcinogenic materials that may be harmful to cats, but the inhalation of microscopic silica dust over time could lead to respiratory issues.
Silica gel litters are ultra-absorbent odor-eaters, but as the non-clumping granules saturate with urine over time, they may become less effective at preventing ammonia odors. Some silica litters, particularly crystal versions, may be too sharp for sensitive paws.
Grain, grass, wood, and walnut shells are all used as alternative materials in natural cat litters. According to Satchu, not only are these biodegradable options more environmentally friendly, some have additional benefits too. Due to their absorption ability, wood litters are typically low tracking and do a good job minimizing odors while grain litters are a safe bet for cats who like to snack on litter due to behavioral issues.
Ultimately, the superiority of one style of natural litter over another comes down to a cat's individual preference. \"I try to encourage owners to choose one litter and stick with it through kitty's life because they are ultimately creatures of habit,\" said Satchu. \"Any litter that will keep kitty going where they're supposed to be going is a good litter in my book.\"
Cons: Some cats may dislike the scent and/or the texture of natural litters, lightweight formulas are more easily tracked than heavier clay litters, more expensive on average than clay litters
Cat litter was invented in 1947 by a 20-something named Edward Lowe to help out a neighbor who ran out of sand (which is what people put in litter boxes those days, if they let their cats inside at all). Lowe gave the neighbor some of the dried clay bits his father used to help clean up grease spills at factories. He called it Kitty Litter, as a 1984 People magazine story on Lowe explains.