Environmentally friendly cat litter is quickly growing in popularity as people realize the potential health concerns and environmental destruction associated with clay and silica-based cat litters.
Natural cat litter has the benefit of being compostable, virtually dust-free, and made of more renewable and sustainable sources than traditional clay litters. These eco-friendly cat litters come in a variety of materials, the most popular at the moment being paper-based cat litter, corn-based cat litter, and wood-based cat litter.
However, there are also varieties made from walnut shells, coconuts, wheat, bamboo, and grass seeds. If you’re trying to figure out what is the best natural cat litter, here is a list and description of the most popular eco-friendly cat litter available in the US, by primary ingredient.
I’ve based the below descriptions for each sustainable cat litter brand on the manufacturer’s website. Because different consumers have different preferences and experiences, it’s best to scan through a few of the descriptions and reviews to get a general sense of how the litter is expected to perform on the factors that are most important to you.
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Paper Cat Litter
A paper based cat litter made from recycled paper (i.e., newspapers, magazines, phone directories). Most newspapers today are printed with organic and/or soy-based inks and the process used to make the litter neutralizes these inks to leave no residue on your cat. 99.7% dust-free and 100% non-toxic. Liquid waste falls to the bottom, and you must remove the solid waste daily. You should replace the entire litter weekly. LINK
Hartz Recycled Clumping Paper Cat Litter
A paper cat litter of which 80% is made from recycled paper. The paper clumps and turns blue while soiled so you can easily identify the portions that need to be cleaned out. The litter does not stick to the pan and is 99% dust free. However, the packaging is not recyclable. LINK
Fresh News Post Consumer Paper Pellet Cat Litter
A paper based cat litter made from 100% recycled paper. This litter is biodegradable and is 99% dust free. The litter has a small pellet shape with built-in baking soda to neutralize odors. LINK
ökocat Dust-free Paper Natural Litter
If you’re concerned about the possible residual inks from recycled paper made of newspaper, the ökocat paper litter is made from natural wood fibers and is 99.9% dust-free. Also, the paper packaging is compostable and recyclable. LINK (Company); LINK (Amazon)
Wheat Cat Litter
sWheat Scoop Fast-Clumping All-Natural Cat Litter
A compostable and biodegradable cat litter made of wheat. In the past, the company packed it in paper, but unfortunately has recently switched to plastic packaging. LINK
Corn Cat Litter
World’s Best Cat Litter
A compostable cat litter made of corn. A patented process compresses the corn into highly-absorbent granules that clump well. 5 variations are available: clumping (green bag), multiple cats clumping (red), multiple cats clumping with lavender essential oils (purple), zero mess (purportedly with 2x the clumping power + additional odor control), and zero mess pine-scented (2x the clumping powder + pine scent from the addition of natural pine fibers). 99% dust-free. LINK
A corn based litter (among other clay-based litters) that is virtually dust-free and compostable, but the plastic packaging is not recyclable. LINK
Rufus & Coco Wee Kitty Corn Cat Litter
A 99% dust-free litter made from biodegradable corn. LINK
Pine Cat Litter / Wood Cat Litter
ökocat Wood Cat Litter
This wood-based cat litter comes in 5 different variations, depending on your cat’s needs and your preferences. They are all made from reclaimed wood. The options are: original clumping wood natural litter, a softer version for delicate paws, a version made specifically from reclaimed pine, a version for long-haired cats so litter does not get stuck in long fur, and a version that uses smaller granules instead of pellets to more resemble the feeling of clay. LINK (Company); LINK (Amazon)
Feline Pine Original Cat Litter
A pine cat litter made 100% from reclaimed pine (i.e. no new trees are cut down to make this litter). It is available in clumping and non-clumping formulas. The litter is made from the sawdust, a byproduct of lumber production. This sawdust is then compressed into pellets.
For the non-clumping formula, the pellets turn into sawdust once saturated with liquid. In the daily cleaning of cat poop, gently shake the litter box to encourage the sawdust to settle at the bottom and the pellets to stay on top. Change the entire batch of litter once it becomes 90% sawdust. If using the clumping litter version, liquid waste clumps and you should clean out the solid waste daily. LINK (Coupon); LINK (Amazon)
Simply Pine Natural Cat Litter
A non-clumping cat litter made of 100% biodegradable Northern pine sourced from reclaimed timber and fallen trees. 2 varieties are available: soft cracked pine (little pine pieces) and in pellets. I theorize that this is the same product as that offered by ökocat because the FAQ section of both websites is the same (at the moment of posting). LINK (Company); LINK (Amazon)
Cedarific Wood Cat Litter
Two types of wood litter, both 100% biodegradable and compostable. Cedarific Natural Cat Litter is a non-clumping litter made from natural wood fibers. Easy Earth is a clumping cat litter made from renewable hardwood and cedar chips. LINK
Next Gen Pet Cat Litter
An all natural, clumping wood cat litter. The wood comes from scraps salvaged from furniture and musical instrument factories. They offer three options of wood-based litter combined with the following: Green Tea Fresh includes green tea leaves, Timber Fresh includes Hinoki cypress wood, and Cypress Fresh combines both Hinoki cypress wood and green tea leaves. This brand is also offered as Forest Fresh Cat Litter. LINK (Company); LINK (Amazon)
It’s A Tea Potty! Hinoki Wood & Green Tea Natural Cat Litter by Weruva
All natural, clumping wood cat litter with additional Hinoki cypress wood and green tea leaves. Could this be the same product as Next Gen’s Cypress Fresh cat litter? LINK
Nature’s Miracle Natural Pine Litter
A clay-free, pine based litter (among other clay-based litters) made from Southern Yellow Pine Softwood. Virtually dust-free and compostable, but the plastic packaging is not recyclable. LINK
Only Natural Shaved Pine Cat Litter
Bamboo Cat Litter
EcoCare Bamboo Cat Litter
Unfortunately, I cannot find the manufacturer’s website, but this is a cat litter made from bamboo. LINK
Maelson Bamboolyte Cat Litter
A 100% biodegradable and compostable cat litter made from pellets of natural, fast-growing bamboo. Additionally, the carton and inner fresh seal-liner are both 100% compostable. Currently not selling in the USA. LINK
Walnut Cat Litter
Eco-Shell Naturally Fresh Cat Litter
An all natural and biodegradable cat litter made from walnut shells. 7 varieties are available: Herbal Attraction (clumping with naturally scented herbs), Ultra Odor Control (clumping with added enzymes to better control odors), Quick-Clumping, Natural Training (clumping with natural scented herbs), Alpine Meadow (clumping with a blend of herbs and botanicals), Multi-cat (clumping), and Pellet (non-clumping pellets). This litter was formerly a product of Blue Buffalo. LINK
Coconut Cat Litter
An all-natural, organic, 100% biodegradable cat litter made from coconuts. 100% dust-free. Every day, dispose of cat poo and stir the remaining cat litter to disperse the urine (coconut naturally absorbs the smell of cat urine). The entire batch of litter should be disposed of after 15 days. One bag should last one cat one month. Check out their website to learn about their free monthly delivery program. At the time of this post, this option was 20% cheaper than ordering from Amazon. LINK (Company); LINK (Amazon)
Grass Cat Litter
Only Natural Pet Grass Seed Litter
SmartCat All Natural Clumping Litter
Natural Mix Cat Litter
Purina Tidy Cats Pure Nature Cat Litter
A natural cat litter made with cedar, pine, and corn in recyclable packaging. LINK
DIY Cat Litter
Some people choose to make their own litters. Three ideas include:
- Shredded newspapers / recycled paper
- Wood shavings/sawdust
Why Avoid Clay Cat Litter?
Clay litters are currently the most common choice for cat litter as it is the cheapest, most widely available option. Clumping clay litters come from a specific type of clay called sodium bentonite, which is very good at absorbing moisture. Clay expands in volume when wet, resulting in good clumping, but accidentally or improperly ingested can be dangerous to cats. An additional drawback is that even the ‘dust-free’ clay litters usually emit a small level of silica dust. Ingested or inhaled (even through normal use), this dust can be detrimental to both cats and humans by damaging the lungs and respiratory tract.
From an environmental perspective, the process of mining clay is environmentally destructive. Usually surface-mined (or strip-mined), this means that miners must remove all the soil and rock on top of the clay to extract the clay deposits.
In the U.S. alone, more than 1 million tons of bentonite was utilized for litter. Disposal is another issue as the clay does not degrade in landfills. Clay litter is the plastic shopping bag of the litter world: a convenient solution that, in one-use, converts non-renewable natural resources directly into waste.
However, I should note that in a scientific study assessing a cat’s preference for three types of litter: clay, silica gels, and wood pellets, the cats showed a clear preference for clay.
Why Avoid Silica / Silica Gels Cat Litter?
Silica crystals/gel cat litters are popular because they are highly absorbent and control odors well. However, crystalline silica can irritate the respiratory and digestive tract of both humans and cats. It can also potentially cause silicosis/lung disease or lung cancer. Additionally, from the cat’s point of view, some cats do not like the feel of the crystals on their paws, though compared to the potential to develop lung diseases, that seems a minor inconvenience.
Flushable Litters and the Dangers of Spreading Toxoplasma Gondii
I want to note that many of these natural cat litters claim to be flushable. However, I do not include this information because I strongly believe that cat poop should not be flushed.
As such, flush-ability should be irrelevant to litter selection. Infected cats may carry the eggs of Toxoplasma parasites in their poop. As these eggs have an extremely tough outer shell, sewage treatment facilities may not be able to kill them before returning the treated wastewater into the open waters.
A study by the University of California found that more than 40% of live otters and more than 60% of dead otters along its waters were infected by Toxoplasma gondii. A direct link to cats has not yet been established, but considering that cats are the only animals that are known to carry the eggs of Toxoplasma parasites, there is a strong theory that cat poop might be the source. Better safe than sorry – protect the sea otters and don’t flush your cat poop.
Beyond sea otters, Toxoplasma gondii may very well become a widespread human public health problem with the potential to infect the brain and increase suicide rates. As cat caretakers, we need to be responsible for the proper disposal of our cat’s poop.
Best Cat Litter / Best Natural Cat Litter
Given the environmental destruction and potential health implications associated with traditional litter choices (clay & silica gels), it makes sense that natural cat litters are growing in preference and popularity. The above natural cat litter brands offer benefits and drawbacks, as included in their descriptions. Choose one of the eco-friendly cat litters that align with your preferences and dispose of your cat poop properly.
If you generally change the entire litter box weekly anyways, perhaps Yesterday’s News’ paper cat litter or CatSpot coconut litter is a good choice for you. If you are strictly zero-waste, you may be interested in ökocat cat litter for its fully compostable litter and packaging.
I can attest to World’s Best Cat Litter as being the best one I’ve used so far (My two cats and I have been happy customers for the last 4 years), but I have not tried the more than 20 brands listed above, including the variations within each brand, to make a definitive statement about the “best natural cat litter”. Additionally, my experiences may not align with your own depending on your sensitivity to smells, or the humidity/airflow/sunlight of your litter area, all of which may make your experiences with a particular litter vastly different than someone else’s.
Based on the information above, I would choose a natural cat litter that appeals to you. Try a bag out for a month and if you or your cat(s) don’t take to it, perhaps try a different type until you find one that you love. Come back and let me know what you think is the best natural cat litter on the market.
Lastly, if you’re interested in how to live more zero-waste with your cat, read this article next!