To me, the ideal cat litter has to meet several requirements:
1. It must be a clumping litter, so that the box can be kept clean with daily scooping rather than having to be changed weekly.
2. It must be flushable, so that I don’t have to haul the used litter out to the bin every day or else store it in the house until trash day. (NOTE: You may have heard that it is not safe to flush cat litter. I’ve discussed this issue in detail below.)
3. It must do a good job of controlling odor (without using perfumes that smell worse than what they’re covering up).
4. It must be reasonably priced.
5. Most importantly, it should be safe for my cat.
Swheat Scoop is a natural, wheat-based cat litter that meets these stringent standards. It isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as anything I’ve ever found.
Why a Natural Litter?
The cheapest cat litters on the market are clay-based. However, clumping clay litter may pose a health risk to cats. Franny Syufy, the About.com guide on all things cat-related, notes that although no rigorous studies have been done, anecdotal evidence suggests that as cats lick the clay dust from their feet, it may build up in their digestive systems, possibly causing a blockage. (This is a particular problem for kittens, and the exhaustive ConsumerSearch report on cat litter advises that kittens under three months old should not use this type of litter.)
Another drawback to clumping clay litter is that it cannot be flushed. As the ConsumerSearch report notes, flushing clay litter can cause serious plumbing clogs. And non-clumping clay litters, as noted above, need to be changed frequently, which is not only a nuisance but also increases their cost because you go through litter faster. Natural cat litters, like Swheat Scoop, are made from biodegradable plant matter that won’t harm your pet or your plumbing.
How Do the Costs Compare?
A 25-pound sack of Swheat Scoop costs about $30 at PetSmart-more than a dollar a pound-while clay litters can cost as little as 40 cents a pound. However, the price starts to look better when you think about how often the litter needs to be changed. Swheat Scoop does such a good job of controlling odor that, as long as I scoop the box daily, I can go for a few months between litter changes. This means that one large bag will last us four months. Non-clumping clay litters, by contrast, need to be changed weekly, and even the non-clumping kind should be changed monthly, according to the Petco website. So even if we pay three times as much per pound, we spend less in the long run, because the litter lasts more than three times as long. And meanwhile, our litter box stays odor-free.
What’s the Downside?
The one significant drawback of Swheat Scoop is that it tends to “track”: the cat picks up the litter on her paws and spreads it all over the house. However, ConsumerSearch notes that this is a problem with clumping clay litters as well, so it seems you have to make a tradeoff between the convenience of scoopability and the inconvenience of sweeping your floors more often. Since I find sweeping the floor less of a chore than changing the litter, the scoopable clumping litter wins for me hands down.
Is Cat Litter Safe to Flush?
You may have heard that flushing cat wastes down the toilet harms wildlife. It is true that Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite sometimes found in cat feces, is harmful to sea otters. Sewage treatment may not destroy this parasite, so flushing infected cat litter can transfer the organism to waterways and into the ocean. For this reason, Syufy advises cat owners to bag all their litter and put it out with the trash.
However, not all cats are carriers of T. gondii. Cats can become infected in two ways. Outdoor cats, or cats that hunt, may pick up the parasite from critters they encounter. Also, cats that are fed raw meat may pick up the parasite in their food. Thus, as noted by the Cornell Feline Health Center, indoor cats that do not hunt and do not eat raw meat are unlikely to be infected. Moreover, even if a cat has been infected, the parasite will pass out of the cat’s body within a few weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So if your cat is an outdoor cat, or is fed raw meat, then flushing its litter may indeed pose a risk to wildlife. However, any cat that has been kept indoors and has not eaten raw meat for at least a few weeks should be uninfected, and its litter should be safe to flush.
Some folks may also quibble about the environmental impact of flushing cat litter as opposed to landfilling it. Depending on where you live, you might consider it more wasteful to use a gallon and a half of water (or more, if you have an older and less efficient toilet) to flush your cat’s waste than to bag it and send it to the landfill. Here in the Mid-Atlantic states, water is not a terribly scarce resource-in fact, more of it keeps falling from the sky all the time-so I consider flushing to be the greener choice. However, your environmental mileage may vary.
For those who have indoor cats and are looking for a flushable cat litter, Swheat Scoop is definitely worth a try. It’s easy to use, good for odor control, and cost-effective in the long run. Just be prepared to sweep your floors a little more often.
“Choosing Cat Litter and Accessories.” Petco.
Franny Syufy, “Cat Litter: To Scoop or Not to Scoop.” About.com.
“Cat Litter: Full Report.” ConsumerSearch.
Franny Syufy, “Sea Otters and Cat Feces.” About.com.
Cornell Feline Health Center, “Toxoplasmosis in Cats.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Toxoplasmosis: Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.