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Cat Litter Types by Frank Utchen, DVM

Think inside the box when dealing with cats.

Few things wrinkle the nose as much as the smell of cat urine. Most cats use their litterbox every time they have to go, but sometimes something just isn't quite right with the box—and that's when a cat is prone to take matters into its own paws. Too often that results in a mess on the carpet.

A brief primer on litterbox issues that affect how readily a cat will chose to use the litterbox:

Here are your choices when it comes to thinking inside the box.

First, there's good old reliable clay litter. More than a half-century old and still a significant part of the market, fillers made of clay started the cat on the road to popularity. Clay is one of the least-expensive options in terms of price per pound, but you need to use more of it because the material needs to be completely replaced weekly to combat bacteria and odors. To remain competitive, the makers of clay litters have done a great deal to make their products more attractive, with the addition of deodorizers, dust-reducers and more.

Second, there is clumping litter. Also called "scoopable" litter, clumping has a high level of popularity among both pets and their owners. These materials dissolve around the moisture in urine or feces, reforming as a lump encasing the mess, which can then be easily scooped, raked or sifted out. Because the entire mess is scooped out each time -- assuming the clump doesn't break -- odor problems are minimized.

Although clumping litters are more expensive per pound, they require you to use less because all you need do is replace the litter you've removed with the waste. Although clumping litter does need to be replaced eventually in its entirety, that chore doesn't need to be done as often as with clay litters.

Drawbacks to clumping litter include tracking problems, because the material that sticks to moisture on cat mess clings just as easily to moisture on cat paws. A mat around the box will help knock the granules off your pet's paws before they end up all over the house.

And third, there are other less common alternative litters. There's no end to the creative minds that have been active in the creation of new cat-box fillers. You'll find products made from wood fiber, corn cobs or kernels, and pelleted newsprint and other materials (some of them recycled from other uses).

Because the range of products in this category is so varied, it's hard to generalize about them. Some of these products, such as the corn-based World's Best Cat Litter, collect marvelous reviews and a dedicated following, while others come and go quickly.

Which kind of cat-box filler should you choose? Each variety has its benefits and its followers. Clay litters maintain a hefty share of the market to this day, which says this industry-starter is obviously still the right choice for many cats. Clumping litter's ease of use has made it a popular choice, and many behaviorists say it's best in terms of what cats prefer. And I know of cats whose homes (and probably lives) have been saved by the use of an alternative product when nothing else could get them to use their boxes.

Today's choices of cat-box fillers are mind-boggling, and when choosing one, it's essential that you keep in mind who the real customer is here: your cat. It doesn't matter how much you like a filler for its no-tracking, low-dust or odor-control properties. If your cat doesn't like it, you'll be finding waste in places you neither anticipated nor wanted.

If your cat continually urinates outside the litterbox, I recommend you bring him or her to the veterinarian to be sure a bladder infection isn't the cause. There are other common causes as well, including inflammation inside the bladder and bladder stones.

And for some cats, offering a litterbox cafeteria, with a covered and an open litterbox, perhaps with different types of cat litter, helps. Feline behaviorists recommend that you have one more litterbox than you do cats (i.e., if you have 2 cats, have 3 litterboxes).

Find the brand of cat litter your cat likes, have plenty of litterboxes of different kinds available, and then keep the box scrupulously clean. It's the only way to "go."

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