Is Clumping Litter Safe for Kittens?

Clumping litter makes cleaning up easier, but is it safe to use for kittens? The “controversy” has been raging for years.

By: AlanH2O
Protect your kitten with the right litter. By: AlanH2O

When you have a new cat, one of your most important goals is to make sure they are safe and healthy.

All cats will use the litter box, and one of the first questions on the minds of those with a new cat is what type of litter to buy.

Clumping litters are convenient because they absorb the waste and make it easy to clean — but there has been some concern in recent years about the safety of clumping cat litter. How safe is this type of litter, especially when it comes to young kittens?

First, Some Background…

Most kitty litter will form clumps because it is made using sodium bentonite clay, a substance that expands and forms hard clumps when it contacts a liquid. Many clumping litters will also contain quartz silica, and both substances are safe if they aren’t ingested.

You can also find some clumping litters that are only made up of natural ingredients such as nut hulls, wood or corn.

Why It Can Be a Problem

Although clumping litter is safe when it remains outside your kitten’s body, it becomes a problem if she ingests it.

If the kitten eats just a little of the clumping litter, she will probably be fine or might get a slightly upset stomach. If, however, she has more, whether on purpose or by accident, she may get very sick.

This is because this type of litter carries the real risk of clumping in a kitten’s small intestine if it is ingested in larger quantities.

Does that mean other litter types are off the hook? No. Although the natural options don’t have any added chemicals, they are still made of items your cat shouldn’t ingest and could therefore cause digestive problems.

How a Kitten Might Ingest It

It’s possible that when you use a clumping cat litter, a bit of it will end up on your kitten’s paws, especially if the paws are damp when she enters the litter box.

The concern then occurs later when your kitty goes to groom and accidentally ingests some of the litter. Although this is a negligible amount for fully grown cats, it is a greater concern for kittens because of their smaller size.

Kittens are also more likely to become curious and decide to try eating the litter, especially if they think it is food because of clumps.

“It is conceivable that kittens playing in the [litter] box for extended periods could ingest or inhale a sufficient amount of litter to be harmed,” according to James Richards, DVM. “Even once the kittens are more mobile and spend most of their time outside the nursing area, it is probably still wise to use a nonclumping litter until they are weaned.”

Wait Until Your Kitten Is 4 Months Old

Experts generally agree that a kitten older than 4 months can start using clumping litter. At this point, the kitten knows that the litter is not food.

In addition, by 4 months, most cats are big enough that accidentally swallowing some litter while grooming won’t cause any serious damage.

The Other Side

I should note that there is a vocal group of people who maintain that the “clumping litter is bad for kittens” line has been blown way out of proportion.

They point out that this has been the primary type of litter used for years and that very few cats have had problems. They say the controversy all began when a breeder lost several kittens and thought the reason was that they ate clumping litter and it blocked their intestines (and her holistic vet agreed).

These advocates say that the risk of your kitten actually eating litter is incredibly small and that virtually no one has experienced any problems.

So What’s the Final Verdict?

If you’re anything like me, right now you’re thinking: It’s better to be safe than sorry.

I think cats expert Franny Syufy has it right when she says, “Since the curious little tykes investigate everything first with their mouths, why take chances on their ingesting something that is potentially harmful?”

If you want to avoid clumping litters for your young kitten, then you might opt for traditional clay ones or pelleted ones.

  • With clay litter, the particles are bigger (which makes them harder to eat), and they won’t stick to your pet’s fur (so she won’t accidentally ingest them).
  • Pelleted litters are larger so they further discourage eating.

Just remember that if you aren’t using clumping litter, you should expect to be cleaning out the litter box more often.

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