Bad kitty litter, bad!

Photo: istockphoto.com/Luis Sierra
We love our cats but that kitty litter has got to go! Not only is clumping litter leaving a huge carbon footprint, it's also bad for our feline friends. Clumping is bad for the health... The main culprit is sodium bentonite, a natural clay ingredient that expands into a hard mass when it comes into contact with moisture. While this is convenient for cleaning, it's not great for kitty. Cats inhale fine sodium bentonite particles when they dig in the litter. Once inhaled, the clay expands when it hits their lungs, causing asthma and other lung problems. Cats can also ingest the clay while cleaning their paws and some even develop sores on their pads from it. Silica-based litters are not much better. This porous granular form of sodium silicate absorbs odours and moisture but is also easily inhaled by humans and felines. It's been linked to lung cancer, bronchitis and tuberculosis. Some cats can end up with a fatal form of pulmonary tuberculosis called silico-tuberculosis. ...and bad for the planet Both these conventional litters have an adverse effect on the environment. Produced by the destructive method of strip-mining, clay and silica litter can't decompose any further because they are already in their natural state. When you consider that we send about two million tons of cat litter every year to the landfill that adds up to a lot of fecal feline matter hanging around. Swheet! It's time to get kitty into some green litter. Swheat Scoop litter is made from a processed non-food grade of wheat. Biodegradable, free of chemicals and fragrance, these pellets clump when wet so it's still easy to poop and scoop. Its velvety texture is also perfect for tender paws. Yesterday's news is today's litter Several brands of kitty litter are now made from recycled newspaper. These super-absorbent and non-abrasive paper pellets won't cling to any furry behinds and are biodegradable. Yesterday's News and Good Mews are two popular brands sold in many pet stores. Corny litter The World's Best Cat Litter is made from good old fashioned Midwest corn. With its unique microporous structure, corn is capable of trapping and absorbing ammonia, responsible for the smell that makes us gag while changing the box. One Earth Cat Litter also uses fast clumping corn cob granules but has added yucca and pine for a natural fragrance. Both types are suitable for self-cleaning automatic litter boxes. Pine fresh Feline Pine uses pine sawdust reclaimed from lumberyards that has been cleaned, kiln-dried, and pressurized to remove oils. The end product is dust-free and sterile pellets that are super absorbent. Many vets recommend this litter for post-surgery because it has been sterilized. Don't flush Although most of these green litters are septic- and sewer-safe, it's best not to flush them into our waterways. Cat feces contains the Toxoplasmosis gondii (TG) parasite, dangerous to pregnant women and marine life, particularly sea otters. Unfortunately TG is not filtered out in most water treatment plants, so don't flush your used litter. You can throw it into the compost bin but only it you intend to use the compost on trees, shrubs, flower beds or in outdoor potted plants – no vegetables or fruits. Cats are famous for being finicky, so you may have to experiment to find the green litter that works best for you and kitty. Shelagh McNally is an environmental journalist based in Montreal.