At Trillcatz we use woodstove pellets instead of clumping or clay litter. Contact me if you would like information on the many benefits of wood pellets vs. clay.
Clumping Litters a Deadly Convenience?
die. Kittens die.
It’s part of life. But
we still grieve when they die, even though we know it is only the body, not
the spirit, that is gone. How
much worse we feel then those deaths were unnecessary - could have been
prevented by something as simple as changing the kind of litter we use.
breed Japanese Bobtail cats and I grieved in 1994 when an entire litter of
kittens (born in November 1993) died. Despite
round-the-clock nursing and force-feeding of fluids and food, one kitten, then
another, let go of his grasp on life.
three kittens started out as a robust, lively group.
Then at weaning time, just as they were learning to use the litterbox,
they began to vomit a yellow frothy substance and to pass yellow diarrhea; the
diarrhea looked and smelled like clay. They
also had nasal and eye discharge. The
diarrhea proceeded to turn harder and even more clay-like, and finally the
kittens stopped moving their bowels at all.
The veterinarians said they could feel “a hard mass” inside.
The kittens dwindled into thin, dehydrated, frail little skeletons,
sunk in apathy. Then they died.
these kittens first fell sick, I wasn’t too worried because I had seen the
same set of symptoms in two earlier litters.
The first time it happened I’d lost one kitten, but the other
survived with a week of force-feeding fluids.
When a second litter started to exhibit the same symptoms, we took the
kittens and their parents to the veterinarian, who tested them for everything
from intestinal parasites to feline AIDS.
The results were negative. “Some
kind of virus” was the vague diagnosis, or “possibly giardia” (an
intestinal parasite), even though the test for it was negative.
We nursed them, gave them fluids and love, and like the previous
kittens, these two were over the problem in a week.
the third time, with the November kittens, although I was a little worried, I
was confident we could pull these through as well.
But their illness dragged on for three weeks, and they grew
progressively weaker. Again we had the cats and kittens tested for a variety of
problems; again, nothing. An
then, all within the same week, the kittens died.
a fourth litter, born in late March 1994, began to exhibit the same symptoms
yet again. I felt frustrated, frightened and helpless.
What was going on? Was
there something in the environment? Was
my home somehow a “sick house?” Was
one of the adult cats carrying something that the kittens were picking up? I always keep my cats indoors, so it couldn’t be exposure
to outside cats.
decided I needed a new perspective and began to look for a holistic
veterinarian. The next day, a
friend gave me the card of a new holistic veterinarian in town, Dr. Stephanie
But before I had the chance to take the kittens to see this new vet, I was struck by a bolt of lightning. The clumping litter! It was almost as though someone had whispered it into my ear. It made perfect sense. Everything fit; it explained all the symptoms. My thinking went along these lines:
1. Clumping litter is designed to form a hard, insoluble mass when it
gets wet. It also produces a fine
dust when stirred (as when a cat scratches around to bury a recent deposit).
And these clumping litters absorb many times their weight in fluids.
2. When cats or kittens use the litterbox, they lick themselves clean;
anything their tongues encounter gets ingested. Kittens especially tend to ingest a lot of litter when they
are first learning to use the box.
3. Once the litter is inside a kitten or cat, it expands, forming a mass
and coating the interior - thus, both causing dehydration by drawing fluids
out of the cat or kitten, and compounding the problem by preventing any
absorption of nutrients or fluids.
cats and kittens had probably reacted with diarrhea initially in an effort to
cleanse their bodies of the litter before it had a chance to settle and coat
their insides. But kittens have
very small intestines; a hard insoluble mass could very well produce a
complete and fatal blockage within a couple of weeks.
the strength of these deductions, I immediately went out and bought a
plant-based litter to replace the clumping litter.
I also took several of the hard, clay-like lumps of stool produced by
two of the kittens and smeared them open.
Not only did the stools have the consistency, smell, and texture of
clay, but they even retained the color of the litter (gray with blue flecks)
inside. This was confirmation
enough for me.
soon as I could, I took all the kittens along with their mother to Dr.
Chalmers, who said that she had already heard of problems like this with the
clumping clay litters. She put the kittens on a holistic course of treatment
(slippery elm to help soothe the intestines; homemade chicken broth to nourish
the kittens without putting further strain on their insides).
also showed me an article by Lisa Newman, another holistic health
practitioner, citing some of the cases of illness and death that she (Lisa
Newman) has seen first hand - illnesses and deaths most likely caused by
clumping litter. A light went on
in my head when I read the following:
has been a rise in depressed immune systems, respiratory distress, irritable
bowel syndrome, and vomiting (other than hair balls) among cats that I have
seen in the past two years. All
had one thing in common... a clumping product in their litterbox.
In several cases, simply removing the litter improved the condition of
the cat.” (Healthy Pets - Naturally, April 1994)
problem of health difficulties and even deaths resulting from clumping litters
appears to be more prevalent than most people are aware of.
I recently spoke with another Japanese Bobtail breeder, who told me of
a kitten she sold that subsequently became very ill with a severe respiratory
problem. The new owner used a
clumping litter, and her veterinarian found that the kitten’s lungs were
coated with dust from the litter.
a veterinarian to spot this problem is unusual.
A more common diagnosis would lay the blame in the door of a virus,
germ, fungus or parasite. There
is not a general awareness yet that the clumping litters can be harmful - even
fatal - to cats.
And the problem extends beyond cats. As Lisa Newman points out in her article, dogs get into the litterbox for “snacks,” and ingest the litter too. She reports that the autopsy of one dog revealed that his stomach was filled with the clumping litter.
article entitled “How Cat Litter is Made” recently appeared in Cat Fancy
magazine (October 1994). Shockingly,
the article contains no cautions against the use of clumping litters, even
though the description of one of the main ingredients in such products should be
enough to alarm any thinking person. “Sodium
bentonite, a naturally swelling clay, is often added as an extremely effective
clumping agent. When liquid is
added, bentonite swells to approximately 15 times its original volume.
Because sodium bentonite acts as an expandable cement would, litters
containing sodium bentonite should never be flushed; when they expand they can
block the plumbing.” A few
moments’ thought is all that is needed to realize that something able to block
household plumbing must be wreaking havoc on the plumbing of our feline
about my kittens after I switched to a plant-based litter?
Sadly, the two females died. Both
were passing clay stools right up until the time of their deaths; one kitten was
still passing clay almost two weeks after I switched litters. The two males survived, though it took months for them to
fully recover. Only after switching
to a completely organic, homemade diet was I able to clear up the last traces of
their ordeal. And still I grieve
for the kittens who died to needlessly.
What Can You Do
may feel has horrified as I do at the thought that there must be thousands of
kittens and cats (and other animals) ailing or even dying from clumping clay
litters. What can we do to prevent such suffering?
thing is let the manufacturers know we won’t buy such products.
My husband called a company that makes one of these clumping litters.
The woman he spoke with said that the company is aware that clumping
litters may be causing health problems, but that it is the consumers
responsibility to make sure their cats don’t eat the stuff.
husband pointed out that cats clean themselves with their mouths, so of course
they’re going to eat the litter every time they use their cat boxes.
Unfortunately, the company’s representative maintained her “buyer
the attitudes of such companies, we can vote with our pocketbooks by purchasing
products from businesses that are more responsive to our concerns.
Be sure to let the makers of the clumping litter know why you no longer
purchase their product. You might
even choose to boycott all products made by these companies (it isn’t hard to
find out who makes what - just read the labels).
An even more effective move might be to show this article to the owners
or managers of stores selling these products.
you suspect that an animal may be suffering an ailment caused by clumping
litter, take him or her to a veterinarian or holistic practitioner immediately,
and explain what you think may be happening.
If you encounter resistance it may mean that the veterinarian is
unfamiliar with the problem and doesn’t know how to handle it.
Try to find a holistic vet - either locally or someone you can work with
by phone - who has some experience with clumping litter impacting the
intestines. Most importantly,
replace the clumping litter right away with one of the plant-based litter
alternatives. Even if your cat is
healthy, it makes sense to switch to a different litter.
you love cats as I do, spread the word. Tell
everyone you know about this problem. Tell
your veterinarian. You may save the
lives of many kittens, cats, and other beloved creatures.