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Dangers of clumping litter for cats and dogs

dangers of clumping litterI got angry this morning. In one of the news-feeds there was a story about the dangers of clumping litter. It looked like the story happened yesterday but as I read it I realized that was quoting an article from 1995. There have, over the years, been numerous stories in cat magazines and internet about the dangers of clumping litter for cats and dogs. The basic idea is that they breathe in the dust and lick it off their coats and then suffer – sometimes fatally — the expansion of the clay in their stomachs. Other claims are the chemicals in litter are poisonous.

Now I confess that I have used this kind of litter for my cats – though I have never observed ill-effects. The real story for me is that in all the years that the story appeared there is no detailed evidence to prove the dangers of clumping litter either way. The original much distributed 1995 article by Marina Michaels is certainly dramatic:

Dangers of clumping litters

Cats die. Kittens die. It’s part of life. But we still grieve when they die, even though we know it is only the body, not the spirit, that is gone. How much worse we feel when those deaths were unnecessary, could have been prevented by something as simple as changing the kind of litter we use. I breed Japanese Bobtail cats and I grieved in 1994 when an entire litter of kittens (born in November 1993) died. Despite round-the-clock nursing and force-feeding of fluids and food, one kitten, then another, let go of his grasp on life.

The three kittens started out as a robust, lively group. Then, at weaning time, just as they were learning to use the litter box, they began to vomit a yellow frothy substance and to pass yellow diarrhea; the diarrhea looked and smelled like clay. They also had nasal and eye discharge. The diarrhea proceeded to turn harder and even more clay-like, and finally the kittens stopped moving their bowels at all. The veterinarians said they could feel “a hard mass” inside. The kittens dwindled into thin, dehydrated, frail little skeletons, sunk in apathy. Then they died.

So what should you do? You must make your own decision. Certainly be very careful to ensure kittens and cats do not eat this litter. Personally, I now use more environment friendly plant-based litter. My view is that products like clumping litter need testing independently and the results published. That way we would know the truth, good or bad — our much loved cats deserve that. How this can drag on for all these years makes me despair.

I would very much like to hear your views on the dangers of clumping litter. Have you previously been aware of a potential problem? Has a veterinarian ever attributed an illness of your cat to this cause? Let us all know in the comments below.

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14 comments

  1. I went through this several years ago when my healthy 6 yr. old cat developed a huge internal lump. 2 vets recommended euthanasia as there was no hope of recovery and when my cat was obviously suffering, he was put down. Researching what could have happened, I found a great deal of anecdotal evidence on the dangers of sodium bentonite clay in litter. My cats symptoms were the same as all the other cats that died, allegedly from this clay. They inhale or ingest by licking, then the clay absorbs an incredible amount of moisture from inside the cat, swelling to huge proportions. My primary vet said it was impossible, however, I feel it was entirely probable.
    I’ve tried all types of natural litters, including chicken feed (non-medicated) and now mix natural with clay. No covered boxes either as the cat that died was the only one of several that used the covered box.
    Who is going to do the clinical trials? Litter manufacturers? Vet schools funded by big companies that sell litter products?

    • I have a Maine coon cat, that will be 6 yrs old on Jan 29th, 2013. Have had him since he was born (1 of 9 kittens) Kept him…awesome personality~~~Here is the dilemma…I had never heard of this before I seen this here on FB. He has had a vomiting problem for years. The vet says not to worry about it. As he probably eats too fast. Now, that I have seen this, It makes me wonder, as I have always used clumping litter. Convieniece, yes…but at what cost? Pet lovers will understand when I say, if this is truely a problem, I would love to hear from anyone wlse experinceing a similar issue with their cat. (stock in paper towels?) He is a long haired cat, and it seems to be more than furballs. You can reach me on yahoo shylo1930 and appreciate all and any feedback. :)

    • My 8 year old cat got very sick from clumping litter. She only drinks water by scooping it up with her paw. When we had switched to clumping litter she started to rapidly lose weight, became dehydrated, and stopped eating/drinking. She became nothing but skin and bones and we thought we were going to have to put her to sleep. When it dawned on me that she was going in the litter with a wet paw then licking it off we switched back to non-clumping litter. She is now eating/drinking again and has returned to a normal weight. Clumping litter should not be sold. If you are not supposed to flush it down a toilet because it will clog your pipes with a cement like substance, imagine what it can do to your cat. Just because not everyone is running to the computer and telling their story doesn’t mean it’s not harming or killing cats. I hope more people get the word out. I hope my cat makes a full recovery! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that clumping litter is not healthy for cats.

  2. Do those symptoms mimic a thyroid problem??

  3. nNot a lot to say, just that my cats always seemed to get this stcky clay -like substance on their paws and try to lick it off,, and I didn’t like to see them do that . Also the cats seemsd to be licking themselves more.Also the sticky clay would make a real mess in the litter box. There are healthier substitutes out there, ; try your local pet shop !

  4. Would someone please state the alternative litters that won’t hurt your cat? Try my local pet shop? I don’t patronize pet shops because they patronize puppy mills, and they are way too expensive anyway. PetSmart and Petco are too far away and I can’t really tell on the internet what the texture of the litter is or how it would hold up to urine or help with smells. I have 14 cats and can’t spend all day cleaning boxes either so I need something reasonably efficient to scoop. Now I have something new to worry about…

  5. I have had cats for 46 years i dont think this true

  6. I have had cats for 46years i dont think this is true

  7. We have used clumping litter (Tidy Cat) for many years without any problems. Now we have 6 rescues that range from 10 yrs to 6 months. For many years before that we used regular non-clumping clay litter, mostly tidy cat. I tried non clay litters with our kitties but they do not like it. Each time they walk around their pans and cry. I reintroduce a pan with the clay litter and they use it. Put the two litters side by side and they use only the clay one. I asked my vet about it and he said that he preferred the lower dust version of any litter.

  8. My peeps have never bought clumping litter ’cause they say we’ll get it on our paws and then lick them clean and end up eating the stuff. It’s probably super convenient for a lot of peeps. I know mine go through lots of troubles bringing in the other kind and then getting rid of it on garbage day. There are twelve of us cats here so that makes for a lot of litter! But still, the peeps refuse to buy the clumping stuff. purrs

  9. We used to use it with no problems. However, we have heard the same stories about the silicon litter and also the pellets for the breeze litter box. We saw someone making a littler box that would work similar to the breeze (letting the urine pass through into a container and you scoop on the solid matter) using safflower seeds. We have converted our Breeze Box so that it can use safflower seeds (if birds eat them, then they are really safe because birds are finicky). We have made some piddle pads that are reusable with a wash so we get the best of all possible worlds–a really clean, safe litterbox that is reasonably environmentally friendly.

  10. i foster feral kittens and have noticed that a couple of them eat the litter, so they are now all on a wood (sawdust) pellet litter, which is safer, so maybe the clumping litter does have a problem but only for a few cats that for some reason eat the litter.

  11. I used to use a clay non-clumping litter and now I use a wood based clumping one. I haven’t noticed any powder or dust. I must be a bad mother

  12. It isn’t the clay that kills kittens so much as breathing the silicate that causes the clumping. If a cat does not bury it activates a smell, sodium silicate that can and does make humans sick. We just had kittens fail, from a cold winter, inside, and we did all the right things, but the adult cat using the litter box, fail to bury, we say them fail.

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