Cats are wonderful pets, but the litterbox and the scooping… well, it’s a chore. The right cat litter will reduce odor, make clean-up easy, and make your cat more comfortable.
I’ve been a cat owner (cat roommate? cat co-inhabitant? I’m not clear on the proper terminology here) for over 10 years, and during that time I’ve done many tests on litter performance. I’ve tried what must be dozens of brands in order to optimize the cat’s litter box.
Picking A Cat Litter
Cat litter comes in a number of different styles and is made out of all sorts of materials. This is the case because the problem that litter solves isn’t terribly unique and many materials can accomplish it. You need something that will…
- absorb and retain liquid
- clump when wet
- maintain its integrity when scooped
- be acceptable to a cat for walking on
- odor absorbing
- non-tracking (it doesn’t stick to cats’ paw when they leave)
It turns out that you can do this with clay, corn, wood chips, newspaper, and all sorts of other things.
The Best Cat Litter: Dr. Elsey’s Premium Clumping
After all my testing, this remains out go-to kitty litter. Dr. Elsey’s Premium Clumping Cat Litter is a grey, odorless, litter that has the pretty classic litter look of tiny crushed gravel. I buy the Ultra formula, but I don’t see much difference between the Ultra and the others.
A 40-pound bag of this litter costs about $19 (shipped) from Amazon, which is a very good deal, especially when it turns out to be an excellent litter.
Aside from the price, this is the best odor-controlling litter I’ve found. It require less frequent scooping and full-box-changes than any other litter I’ve seen.
Dr. Elsey’s has a medium-sized litter grain, which means that it’s large enough that the grains don’t stick to a cat’s paw and get left on your floor, but it isn’t so large that it’s uncomfortable on cat’s paws. Many cats, especially older ones, will reject large, uncomfortable litters.
This is a clay-based litter, which not everyone loves, but it’s the most effective and sanitary solution I’ve found. This formula isn’t entirely dusty-free, but it’s better than most so you’ll need to pour it carefully.
Most Sustainable Cat Litter: Okocat Premium Natural Wood
I’ve purchased ökocat Premium Natural Wood Clumping Cat Litter a number of times and I’ve been happy enough with it to recommend it.
At $20 for 20 pounds, it’s twice the price of Dr. Elsey’s and it’s actually downright expensive, but it comes with some really nice perks.
This litter is almost entire tracking free, so more if it says in the litter box than any other litter I’ve used. That means less vacuuming, and no litter pad necessary. This is also a clay-free, plant-based, wood litter that is probably the most healthy material of any litter I’ve bought. As a by-product of this, Okocat is compostable and fully biodegradable, so it’s the most sustainable litter choice.
I prefer the standard formula, but if you have an older cat you can try the Super Soft formula, while long-haired cats will be best served by the Less-Mess formula.
As far as effectiveness goes, Okocat is very good, but won’t mask odor as well as a clay. It clumps well and is quite scoop able, but it doesn’t clump or clean up as well as Dr. Elsey’s.
Other Litters I’ve Tested
Here are some of the litters I (well, my cat) tested but they didn’t stand out. These were all OK-to-good…
Boxiecat Premium Clumping Cat Litter
Boxiecat is billed a premium, zero-dust clay litter and it has a price to match, at the $1/pound mark. It has a smaller grain than most clay litters, which will be a perk for many cats, but mine doesn’t care.
The litter also is designed to clump at the top as opposed to liquid draining down and forming deep clumps, which would make scooping easier. While this is true enough, I find that that’s the case with most fine-grain litters and that it really doesn’t make the litter scooping to much easier or any more pleasant. Boxiecat is lower dust than a less premium kitty litter but it has more tracking than a larger formula, so the cleanup wasn’t considerably less.
Overall this is a good cat litter, but it could never justify the added expense.
Purina Tidy Cats Clumping Cat Litter
Purina Tidy Cat is a value litter that costs $14 for 40 pounds. It’s a clay-based formula with good clumping and minimal dust. Overall performance is middling with higher level of tracking that the Dr. Elsey’s and worse odor control This stuff is fine if you see it in the supermarket and need something in a pinch, but not worth buying online.
World’s Best Cat Litter
This is a pretty standard corn-based cat litter. The name “World’s Best Cat Litter” is clever marketing and got me to buy it once, but putting a name on something doesn’t actually make it the best (sorry to all you “World’s Best Grandma Mug Owners”).
This litter professes to be flushable, something which I would not recommend, and more natural than other materials. The corn-based formula is admirable, but this litter has a lot of dust and very bad tracking, so it’s much more messy than other options. There is a slightly malt or grain-type smell to it, but it’s otherwise unscented.
Litters I’d Avoid
These are cat litter’s I’ve purchased that were notable disappointments…
Purina Tidy Cats Light Weight
I purchased this based on the performance of the other Purina litter and — mainly — because it came in a very nice plastic pail. This meant transporting it would be easy and retrieving it from my closet would be less of a hassle. While the plastic bucket did its job, the litter was great.
The lightweight formula meant scooping and refilling the litter was very easy, but this litter had a lot of dust and a lot of tracking, so the area outside the litter box was a mess. This means frequent vacuuming and washing up, which was move of an annoyance then the lightweight was worth.
Purina Yesterday’s News
This paper by-product based litter is quite bad at odor-control and worse at clumping than the competition. It was also worse about drying out, leaving the litter soggy and unpleasant during clean up. This litter is softer for cat’s feet but is overall quite ineffective at odor masking and isn’t one I’d buy again.
Arm & Hammer Ultra Last Clumping Cat Litter
This was another clay-based, classic cat litter. Being from Arm & Hammer I expected it to neutralize ammonia odor and other smells better than any other litter, but it didn’t stand up to expectations. Performance was not bad, but it has a really strong chemical smell that permeated the surrounding area. As a result I cannot recommend this product, and am still surprised it’s something Arm & Hammer would release.