If you're a cat owner, you know that choosing the right litter for your feline friend is essential to keep them happy and healthy. But with so many options available, it can be challenging to know which one is the best fit for your cat. Two of the most popular choices are clumping and non-clumping litter, and seasoned cat owners will know the age old question: should I choose clumping or non-clumping cat litter?
In this blog, we'll take a closer look at the difference between these two types of litter and help you decide which one is right for you and your cat.
What is clumping cat litter?
Clumping cat litter is cat litter that is made from a variety of materials, including plant fibres (wood, corn etc.), clay and silica gel. As the name suggests, this type of litter forms clumps when it comes into contact with urine or faeces, making it easy to scoop out and dispose of. When your cat urinates in the litter tray, the liquid is absorbed by the litter and forms clumps that are easy to scoop out. This makes it easy to keep the litter tray clean and fresh, as you can remove the clumps soon after they form.
Types of clumping cat litter
- Wood clumping cat litter
- Corn clumping cat litter
- Mixed plant fibre cat litter (e.g. wood and corn)
- Clay clumping cat litter
- Silica clumping cat litter
Some litters clump better than others, so you'll often hear people discussing 'how well a litter clumps'. What they mean is, how stable or solid is the clump so when you scoop it out, it doesn't fall apart. The reason this is important is because you want all of the clumped litter to be easily removed from the tray as it holds the urine and therefore the smell. If the clump collapses, the urine soaked litter will remain in the tray.
Different litters take different amounts of time to form a solid clump. For example, Tippaws Long-lasting Clumping Litter is best left for at least 15 to 30 minutes so that the litter has time to absorb all the urine and form the solid clump.
Different litters form different shaped clumps. It's a myth that a clump has to be perfectly round to indicate good clump performance. Particularly as this would rely on a cat peeing perfectly in one place to form it! As long as your clump is absorbing all the urine and forming a stable, solid clump, the litter is performing well.
However, there are some potential downsides to using some clumping litters so it's very important you choose the right one. Some cats may be sensitive to the dust that is produced when the litter is scooped, which can cause respiratory problems. For this reason you should choose a dust-free natural litter or a low-dust natural litter.
In addition, clumping litter can be more expensive than non-clumping litter at face-value. However, you need to do a lot more full tray changes with a non-clumping litter so it can work out the same price. Even if it does work out to be more expensive, the cost is worth it to reduce the huge environmental impact of litter.
Traditionally the UK is a "Non-Clumping" litter market. This means that we as a nation use more non-clumping litter than clumping litter, about 80% vs. 20%. As more and more people in the UK get a cat, now 11 million of us, people are realising the value of clumping litter over non-clumping litter and we'll discuss this in depth.
Which clumping litters are best?
We always recommend using a natural clumping cat litter such as those made from wood or corn. Natural cat litter is made from materials such as wood, paper, corn, wheat, and even coconut. It is an excellent alternative to traditional cat litter such as clay litter. While with clay cat litter clumping may be good, it is very bad for the environment.
Clay litter is technically natural but when we talk about natural cat litters in the cat litter industry, generally we are talking about cat litter that is made from renewable sources and that is biodegradable or compostable (or both).
While clay comes from the earth, the process of extracting it is called strip-mining. Strip mining destroys entire ecosystems as the top level of the Earth’s surface is removed. The damage is far reaching. It means that the wildlife habitats and forests are completely destroyed and cleared. This also results in soil erosion and therefore reduces the likelihood of this land being used for agriculture.
What is non-clumping litter?
When most people think of non-clumping litter, they think of non clumping clay cat litter. Non clumping litter is usually made from somewhat absorbent materials but doesn't form clumps. Instead, it absorbs the moisture from urine and faeces, making it more difficult to clean and maintain.
One of the main advantages cat litter that is non clumping is its affordability or at least perceived affordability when you see the price of a bag next to a bag of clumping litter. As discussed previously, you use a lot more non-clumping litter on a monthly basis so it doesn't always work out cheaper.
However, there are also some potential downsides to using non-clumping litter. It can be more difficult to keep the litter tray clean, as the litter can become saturated with urine and faeces. This can lead to unpleasant odours and you needing to change the litter tray 2-3 times a week. This is not only a huge inconvenience compared to clumping litters, it also produces a lot more waste which ultimately ends up in landfill.
In addition, non-clumping litter may not be as effective at controlling odours as clumping litter, which can be a problem for some cat owners. Especially in multi-cat households where multiple litter trays are required or encouraged.
Why do cat litter trays smell of ammonia?
Smelly litter trays are such a big issue with cat ownership. When your cat pees on traditional non-clumping litter such as wood pellets, silica or clay, the pee may be partially absorbed by the litter but some of it will sit on the bottom of the tray or on top of the litter. The pee isn’t being removed from the litter tray regularly and therefore it starts to smell after a while.
With non-clumping litter is that, say 50 or so pellets or grains get saturated with urine, it’s near impossible to isolate all of these ‘bits’ of litter and remove them from the tray, so you’re nearly always left with urine soaked litter in the tray. Over time (a few hours) this starts to smell very strongly.
Why does cat pee smell so bad?
We’ve talked about urine remaining in the tray with non-clumping litters and why this contributes to a litter tray smelling so badly, but the question of why cat pee smells so bad still remains. We all know that strong “cat pee” odour that smells so strongly of ammonia.
Urine from a healthy cat actually only contains a small amount of ammonia - about 0.05%. This is the same as the amount of ammonia in human urine. However, cat urine contains about 2% of urea (again, the same as human urine) which is converted to ammonia by an enzyme produced by bacteria present in litter trays. This is why litter trays that either: contain non-clumping litter where you’re not removing all the urine or contain clumping litter and are not cleaned out very regularly end up smelling strongly of ammonia and that “cat pee” smell we all know and hate!
So what can you do to avoid the situation where you have urea being converted to ammonia in your cat’s litter tray and ultimately have a fresh and clean smelling home? The answer is: switch to clumping litter!
Is clumping cat litter better than non-clumping cat litter?
At Tippaws, we believe that in the battle of clumping vs. non-clumping litter, clumping litter wins for several reasons.
Clumping vs. non-clumping cat litter: six benefits of clumping litter:
Easy to clean: Clumping litter forms clumps when it comes into contact with urine or faeces, making it easy to scoop out and dispose of. This makes cleaning the litter tray a more convenient and efficient process.
Lasts longer and costs less in the long run: Clumping litter absorbs moisture more efficiently, meaning it tends to last longer than non-clumping litter. This means you don't have to replace it as often, saving you time and money in the long run
Reduces odour: Clumping litter can help reduce unpleasant odours associated with cat waste. When clumps are removed regularly, it reduces the amount of waste in the litter tray, which in turn reduces the smell.
More hygienic: Since clumping litter makes it easy to remove waste, it helps keep the litter tray more hygienic. This can help prevent the spread of germs and bacteria that can be harmful to both cats and their owners.
Better for the environment: Using clumping litter will reduce your overall litter waste and is better for the environment. If you use a compostable litter, you can also compost your litter reducing its impact on the environment even further. It's important to note that both clay cat litter (non clumping and clumping) are bad for the environment so this isn't limited to non-clumping
Convenient for multi-cat households: Clumping litter is especially beneficial for multi-cat households where litter boxes can quickly become overwhelmed with waste. With clumping litter, it's easier to keep the litter box clean and reduce the risk of odours and hygiene issues.
Should I choose clumping or non-clumping litter for kittens?
You can choose either clumping or non-clumping litter for kittens. The important decision to make here is less about the category of litter (clumping or non-clumping) and more about the composition of the litter.
What happens if a kitten eats cat litter?
Kittens are incredibly curious (as we all know!) and will try to eat anything and everything. We've all had a mobile phone cable or a shoe lace chewed by a kitten. In fact, when Gus was about 4 months old he ate a hairband and we ended up at the emergency vets at 1am (long-story short, he was absolutely fine and passed it naturally). When it comes to cat litter for kittens, you need to assume they will eat some of it. So very fine natural litters should be avoided as small clumps could form in your kitten's gut if ingested. Equally, clay litters should be avoided as they can be dangerous when ingested.
Most brands will advise if the litter is safe for kittens or not - it's very unlikely any responsible pet care brand will ever put a kitten in danger by recommending their litter when they shouldn't, so as a general rule of thumb, check with the brand or company. For example, Tippaws Long-lasting Clumping Litter is safe for kittens. If your kitten does ingest a large amount of cat litter and you're worried, call your vet immediately for guidance.
How does dust in some clumping litters affect kittens?
Ensure you are choosing a low dust or dust free cat litter for your kitten in case your kitten has respiratory problems that you are unaware of. Dust inhalation in small kittens could cause future problems too.
Do kittens need a soft clumping litter?
We would always recommend a soft litter for kittens are their little paws are sensitive and may be agitated by sharp clay litter.
Tips for maintaining a clean and odour free litter tray when using clumping litter
- Choosing the right litter tray: We always recommend an enclosed litter tray with a high lip and a cat-flap. This gives your cat privacy to go to the loo (we all know how private cats are!). It also helps keep in any pee or poo smells. Finally, it will help minimise any litter escaping the tray while your cat is burying their pee or poo. There are many litter trays on the market, if you'd like some recommendations please send us your requirements (size of cat, number of cats, aesthetic look) and we will send you a list.
- How do stop clumping litter tracking? When cat litter escapes the tray, this is called tracking. Our Long-lasting Clumping Litter is low-tracking compared to other natural litters on the market. Less than 0.5% of litter in the tray will be carried out of the tray on your cats paws. Having a tray that has a high lip means it is even less likely that your cat will carry litter out of the tray as they will need to step up and out, so the excess litter will drop in the tray during this motion. We highly recommend using a tracking mat for any litter. The Pet's Corner mat is the best on the market - trust us, we've tried them all!
- Fill the tray with litter - 3-4cm deep: Some cats like a lot of litter, some like little. Observe your cat's behaviour when they are burying and you should be able to gauge what their preference is. If in doubt, we suggest going for more rather than less.
- Litter tray placement: You want your cat's litter tray to be in the same place at all times so as not to confuse your cat. You wouldn't want to be desperate for a pee and not know where the loo was! It needs to be in a location that is easily accessible during the day and night. Litter trays can be disturbing - from the noise cats make when burying to the smell of a poo. Make sure you put it in a place that is least disruptive to you and your family.
- Remove urine clumps and poo very regularly! This is the most important step you can take to ensure you can go as long as possible in between full tray changes!
- How do I remove clumps of litter from a litter tray? Use a high quality scoop - our Tippaws Litter Scoop made from recycled ocean plastic works perfectly with our Long-Lasting Clumping Litter. Scoop out clumps daily or twice-daily depending on how often your cat pees or how many cats you have. Our litter is very tight-clumping so you should be able to remove most, if not all, of the urine-soaked litter that has come into contact with urine. This keeps your tray nice and fresh as you leave behind only non-soiled clean litter.
- How often should you remove faeces from a litter tray when using clumping litter? Don't forget to remove faeces 1-2 times a day too depending on how often your cat goes for a number 2!
How often should I do a full tray change when using a clumping litter? This depends on so many different factors, a few are:
- Your cat's health and how much he or she pees
- How many cats you have
- How big your litter tray is e.g. an average 40cm (L) x 30cm (W) tray will need an initial fill of 3.6L. A jumbo tray will need a much bigger initial fill.
- Where the tray is located and whether you can smell any bad odours from it
- How much clumping litter do I need? This also depends on many factors. Check out our Litter Guide for advice on how much litter you need depending on the size of your litter tray and cat's health.
Which cat litter is best for absorbing moisture?
Clumping cat litter is far superior for absorbing moisture. In fact, non-clumping cat litter hardly absorbs it at all. You want to get a clumping litter that is advertised as superior odour control or tight clumping, as both of these indicate that the cat litter will be good at absorbing moisture. Some cat litters will also contain a high performing clumping agent which will make it even more effective.
What does a bad clumping cat litter look like?
An underperforming clumping cat litter will have the following traits:
- It won't be good at clumping and so as a result, it won't be good at absorbing and containing all of the cat urine. This means your tray won't be completely clean and it will smell of cat pee
- It will be made from materials that are uncomfortable for your cat to use, such as clay
- It won't last very long and you end up changing your litter tray as frequently as you would with a non-clumping cat litter
Which is better, clumping cat litter or non-clumping cat litter?
Choosing the right litter for your cat is an essential decision that can have a significant impact on your cat's health and happiness, not to mention the comfort of everyone living in your home. While both clumping and non-clumping litter have their advantages and disadvantages, when we ask the question: is clumping litter better, it's clear that clumping litter is the better option for most cat owners, for their cats and for the planet. So, next time you're shopping for litter, consider investing in a high-quality clumping litter like Tippaws Long-lasting Clumping Litter to keep your cat happy and healthy, and their litter tray a lot less smelly!Subscribe to our newsletter to get 10% off your first order.