Let’s face it, cat litter is its own smelly and sticky mess—especially if your cat isn’t into it. Felines can become quite finicky (more so than usual) if you’re not using the kind of litter that truly suits them.
According to Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, chief veterinarian of Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital in Ontario, Canada, and veterinary medical advisor at Rover.com, the right cat litter varies from cat to cat, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the best one.
“Cats are very tactile, so [many] will naturally prefer the texture, odor, and consistency of a certain litter type or brand over other options,” Dr. Greenstein tells Mental Floss. For pet owners, she notes that the ideal litter would likely be one that’s affordable, odor-absorbing, low on dust, and that “[has] particles large enough that your cat doesn’t track tiny bits all over your house, but [still] small enough to let them bury their waste.”
To help you figure out what’s good for your feline companion, we spoke to a few veterinarians and pet experts to get their tips on what to look for, including which brands they prefer (and even what they use at home for their own pets).
Which Type of Litter Is Best for Cats?
When it comes to picking out cat litter, there are several different types to choose from, including clay, silica gel, natural pine, cedar, and wheat- and corn-based varieties. Within those types, there are certain key features to look out for as well, like whether or not a litter is clumping or non-clumping, or scented versus unscented.
Clumping cat litter, which is often clay-based, pools together when it’s wet, allowing owners to scoop urine and solid waste straight from the box. “It makes it easier to find and fully remove dirty litter using a standard scooper, versus non-clumping litter in which urine can linger and smell if all of the dirty pieces of litter [aren’t] removed,” Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, director of primary care at Bond Vet in New York City, tells Mental Floss.
Because clumping litter is so affordable and easy to grab in stores, it’s a popular choice among vets and pet parents. That said, it has its downsides, too. According to Dr. Greenstein, many clay-based clumping litters come in giant bags that are heavy to ship or carry, and the litter can give off a lot of dust—so much so that your furry pal might end up tracking it all over the house.
In this way, non-clumping cat litter—which can be made from clay, silica gel, or natural materials—might seem like the better alternative because it produces significantly less dust (some versions are even dust-free). Instead of checking a litter box on a daily basis, you may only need to remove waste once every few weeks because it absorbs larger volumes of liquid and odors. But as Randy Klein, president at Whiskers Holistic Petcare in New York City, points out, non-clumping litters do tend to “smell more,” and because you can’t separate the litter from the waste, chances are you’ll use the litter up quickly and end up having to pay more over time.
In terms of odor control, Dr. Greenstein notes that some litters have added ingredients like baking soda or charcoal, which help absorb strong smells, whereas certain non-traditional litters (like wheat-, corn- or cedar-based options) are biodegradable and may contain enzymes that make them “inherently more absorbent and odor-eliminating,” which could be ideal for some pet parents.
Yet Dr. Greenstein and other experts generally caution against using artificially scented litters. “Perfume is added for the benefit of humans—it’s not something cats would naturally look for,” Dr. Fadl says. Although some cats might tolerate scented litter, many others—especially those with allergies or respiratory issues like asthma—might not and could end up avoiding the litter box as a result. Also, because scented litters tend to mask smells rather than neutralize them, they might not make much of a difference in the end. “Nothing helps with odor management like regular, frequent cleaning of litter boxes and disposal of all bathroom waste,” Dr. Greenstein says.
Regardless of which cat litter you think might be best, experts say it’s all up to your pet in the end. “Cats are creatures of habit, so changing the litter to something they’re unfamiliar with could cause them to not want to use the box anymore,” Dr. Fadl says. If you’re noticing any changes in your pet’s bathroom habits after making a litter switch or you have any other concerns, Dr. Greenstein recommends reaching out to a trusted family vet to get their input.
The Best Cat Litters To Buy Now
1. Best Clumping Litter: World’s Best Cat Litter; From $12
While every feline is different and has unique preferences, experts say the original and unscented World’s Best cat litter—which is priced starting at $12 for an 8-pound bag on Amazon—checks all of the boxes.
Made from corn, this litter has no artificial perfumes and is almost completely dust-free. It’s also a flushable clumping litter, which makes for easier scooping and cleanups, plus it offers natural and strong odor control. “In general, low dust, lower allergen options reduce mess and have potential advantages for both humans and cats, especially those with asthma or allergies,” Dr. Greenstein says.
This litter doesn’t include harmful chemicals, so it’s safe for the planet as well, and it’s wheat-free, meaning it’s good for kitties with wheat allergies. “Personally, I use World’s Best cat litter, but litter is very subjective. [It’s] kind of like toilet paper,” Klein says.
Buy it: Amazon
2. Best Value: Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat Ultra Clumping Cat Litter; From $18
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly cat litter, experts like Dr. Greenstein recommend buying in bulk to save money. “Look for the largest sized bags of litter instead of buying multiple small bags, which can be more expensive,” she says.
In addition, Greenstein suggests going with a clumping cat litter, because “rather than dumping the whole litter box every time you clean it, clumping litters allow you to just remove the clumped component, which cuts down on waste.”
Starting at $18 for an 18-pound bag (about 6 cents per ounce), Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat ultra clumping cat litter hits the mark between high quality and price. This bentonite clay litter is hypoallergenic and fast-absorbing, so odors will stay under control, while it also clumps quickly to stop liquids from pooling and sticking to the bottom of litter boxes. Not only that, but the brand claims it’s almost completely dust-free and the clay particles are uniquely sized to help prevent tracking. (You can also get a 40-pound bag of it for just $21.)
Buy it: Amazon
3. Best for Multiple Cats: Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal Platinum Clumping Cat Litter; From $18
Most of the popular cat litters you’ll find in stores are clumping, which means they contain ingredients that instantly absorb liquid and create clusters around waste. “Clumping litter allows you to scoop out the deposits of your cat,” Klein says. “The [clumps usually allow] for longer usage of litter and cleaner litter box experiences, as well as not having to completely change the litter box often.”
Based on sheer clumping power alone, Arm & Hammer’s Clump & Seal Platinum clumping cat litter is worth checking out. Available in 18-, 27.5-, 37-, and 40-pound bags, this clay litter is formulated with baking soda crystals and designed to reduce odors on contact for up to 14 days. The brand notes that it’s also nearly dust-free and works well for homes with multiple cats.
Buy it: Amazon
4. Best Non-Clumping Litter: PrettyLitter Cat Litter; From $24 Per Month
Made from silica-based gel crystals, PrettyLitter is a subscription-based, non-clumping cat litter that offers a little more than meets the eye.
Dr. Fadl, who uses this brand at home for her pets, notes that the litter “changes color if there is an abnormality with the cat’s urine.” While she stresses that this shouldn’t be the only way pet parents are monitoring their cat’s health at home, it may help them “identify a urinary issue earlier than they otherwise would have.”
PrettyLitter is also dust- and fragrance-free, meaning cats and owners with respiratory problems like asthma may be able to breathe easier. In fact, Dr. Greenstein thinks this so-called “smart” litter could be an ideal choice for owners of older (as well as younger male) cats with a history of urinary tract issues, because it monitors pH changes in an animal’s urine. But like Dr. Fadl, she thinks it’s best used as a screening tool more than anything else.
Best of all, because it’s a subscription-based litter (prices start at $24 per month), it offers automatic delivery every three to four weeks, which Dr. Fadl says can be useful because it “reminds a cat owner to clean or replace the box on a regular basis.”
Buy it: PrettyLitter