The Evolution of Cat Litter: From Clay to Silica

Cat Litter Evolution

Like chocolate chip cookies, Play-Doh, and the pacemaker, cat litter was an accidental invention.

And we’re thrilled for the mishap because without it we’re not sure how we’d be able to live with our lovable, furry friends under one roof.

But kitty litter didn’t always look the way it does today. And the first version certainly didn’t have the lifesaving health alert benefits of modern silica litter.

Here’s a look at how cat litter has evolved over time and a side-by-side comparison of the best options available to you today.

Demand Sparks Ingenuity

Cats have been living with us through the entire modern age - and long before then, too. But before the 1940s, cat parents resorted to letting their furry friends outside a few times per day or filled a makeshift cat box with anything they had on hand. Things like sawdust, shredded newspaper, sand, and dirt were common cat box fillers.

In 1947, a man by the name of Ed Lowe was working at his father’s ice, coal, and sawdust factory. The business also produced kiln-dried clay, which was used as a safe, fire-retardant way to soak up grease spills.

One day, Mr. Lowe’s neighbor, Mrs. Draper, asked Ed for some of the sawdust from his factory for her cat’s box. Without any on hand, Ed gave her a bag of the kiln-dried clay instead. After trying it out in her cat’s box, Mrs. Draper was ecstatic! The clay filler worked far better than any sawdust or sand she had ever used before.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Lowe began marketing the clay as “kitty litter” and sold it in pet stores for $0.65 per bag. Cat parents were overjoyed with the new invention and were willing to pay for Ed’s kitty litter rather than get another filler for free from their backyards.

In 1964, Ed officially created Tidy Cats and began marketing his product for sale in grocery stores. In 1990, Ed sold his company and lived out the rest of his life as a happy millionaire until he died at the age of 75 in 1995.

Modern Options

Sadly, Ed didn’t know that clay cat litter can be extremely hazardous to cats. Not only can the dust cause severe respiratory problems or even cat allergies, but also the material offers the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.

Today, cat owners have far more options than Mrs. Draper did back in 1947.  

Improved Clay

Clay Cat Litter

Clay kitty litter manufacturers have taken notice of the warnings from the veterinary science community and have tried to make a better product. That’s why you’ll see clay cat litter advertised as “low dust” or as containing antibacterial elements.

However, clay cat litter is still a dangerous option for your cat’s litter box as it can also cause blockages in your cat’s digestive system and in other pets who get into the litter box. It also makes it easy for toxoplasmosis to be spread to you and members of your family.

Natural Media

Pine Pellet Cat Litter

Before the invention of silica cat litter, many health-conscious pet parents turned to natural media for filling the litter box. Natural media includes options like pine pellets, corn, beet pulp, wheat, and recycled paper materials. Each of these causes far less dust and are usually harmless if accidentally ingested by a pet.

However, the trouble with natural media is it can still be a breeding ground for bacteria and it offers nothing in the way of odor control.

Silica

Silica vs Traditional Litter - PrettyLitter

In the 1990s, silica cat litter was invented. Silica microcrystals - like those that make up PrettyLitter - are highly absorbent. This allows the tiny granules to trap odor and bacteria. However, the silica microcrystals also allow moisture to evaporate, so all the bacteria stay trapped while the litter dries.

Silica is also an entirely dust-free material, which means it can be kicked around, sifted, and poured without causing any irritation to you or your cat.

As an added bonus, silica microcrystals are easy to combine with other vital additives. PrettyLitter combines the engineering genius of silica with health indicators that alert you by changing color if your cat’s urine is an abnormal pH or contains blood.

Tell us about your cat litter experience (good or bad) in the comments below!




Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

Author



13 Responses

Rai
Rai

July 31, 2018

@BC – You’re 100% right: PrettyLitter doesn’t clump. Clumping litter can be extremely harmful to pets if they accidentally ingest it – even just one granule. PrettyLitter works by trapping odor and bacteria within the silica crystals and allowing moisture to evaporate. So all you need to do is scoop the solids and stir the litter once per day to encourage evaporation. If your PrettyLitter isn’t drying out and you’re getting that urine odor, I recommend checking the ventilation in your cat’s litter box. Are you using a covered box? Is the litter box in a humid area, like a bathroom or basement? Try moving the litter box to a drier location. Also – and I know this one can be difficult to predict – don’t clean the litter box right after your cat uses it. PrettyLitter won’t have enough time to allow the moisture to evaporate if you hop on cleaning duty right after Fluffy does her duty. ;-)

BC
BC

July 31, 2018

Problem I have is that it doesn’t clump and I actually have more urine odor than with prior clay litter

Virginia L Albano
Virginia L Albano

July 18, 2018

My cat really enjoys the Pretty Litter. It has wonderful order control. So far, so good.

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

July 13, 2018

@Martha – Hey Martha! Good on you for keeping tabs on your kitties’ litter color! The blue color indicates that your cat’s urine is highly alkaline, which very well may have been caused by a change in their regular diet. However, it could also be a sign of some urinary tract problems. I recommend continuing to monitor and if the blue litter color reappears after they’ve been on their usual diet for a while, take them in for a vet check up, just to be safe.

@Pat – I had this same problem, Pat! My little guy, Hunter, is a kicker and he used to throw his litter everywhere. Not a fun thing to clean up. I recommend getting a covered or high-sided litter box if your cat is doing this. Unlike clay litters, PrettyLitter doesn’t make any dust, so it’s far safer to use in an enclosed litter box. Hunter has been using a covered litter box + PrettyLitter for over a year now and we’re both much happier! No more messes!

LORI
LORI

July 13, 2018

I noticed my two cats were urinating in the new litter but not going #2. I figured it was just a timing thing…. anyway…I came home after running a few errands to find the litter box tipped over onto its side. Well I guess one of them didn’t like the new litter. so… I did as the video suggested and poured some of the regular litter on top. so far so good. soon I will be able to use only pretty litter. Cross fingers :)

Patricia E
Patricia E

July 13, 2018

It’s only been a few days, but can I just say I think I am falling in love! We have 2 kitties and two boxes located at separate ends of the house. The box in our master bath was the worse. Nothing worse than getting kicked out kitty litter on the bottom of your feet after a shower, no matter how much you sweet! With pretty litter though, No more of this! Plus can I tell you that I love the fact that the urine evaporates!! Oh this stuff is the best!

Florence Jensen
Florence Jensen

July 13, 2018

My first pkg of Pretty litter made me a happy cat owner. First because it was so much .lighter in weight. It had become a major chore changing the litter box contents as it was so heavy but Pretty litter was light weight. This would have been enough to make me buy it again, but thee were other pluses. The cat box odor was way less and as a plus the color change if there is a health issue saves a trip to the Vet, just because I thought she needed a check-up. Oh yes, I still keep up with he needed shots I am sold on Pretty littler!

Pat
Pat

July 13, 2018

How do I keep the cats from throwing the litter all over the place when they try to arrange it for use?

Jerry Franklin Queen
Jerry Franklin Queen

July 13, 2018

This is the best cat litter that we have ever used. My cat loves it and what I like most is there are absolutely no smells at all which as astounding. Also, I can check for the coloration which will tell me if my cat has ay kidney problems. Great product. The article was very well written and was very informative. Thank you Rai Corrnell

Martha Williams
Martha Williams

July 13, 2018

I am currently on my second month with pretty litter. Things went very well the first month, then it started turning blue. As my cats are old, I was concerned but had a couple questions. Because of a miscalculation on my part my first batch had to go over. I wondered if that had anything to do with the change. Also, I was not feeling well myself, and when I ran out of their usual food (Meow Mix Indoor complete) I got a small bag of Purina Beyond locally to tide us over. I wondered if that had any affect. When my new supply of kitty litter came, they had been back on Meow Mix x 1 week. And ….no blue. The urine was again yellow. I think the problem was probably the dietary change. They are both very picky eaters, and the Beyond is the only food other than the meow Mix they will accept .About a year ago, I tried giving them the Blue Buffalo ( I think that was the name, Blue, anyway) and was I in trouble! Mini absolutely refused to eat any of it, and Jake would scowl at me, grudgingly munching about 3-4 pieces a day. After 3 days of them essentially not eating, I went back to Meow Mix. If you’d like a chuckle, I have a book about them available on Amazon – “Stop, Jake, Stop!!”.

Carol Weikel
Carol Weikel

July 13, 2018

I decided to try Pretty Litter because it claims to be both dust free and would reduce bacteria (odors). I am so unbelievably happy to state that these claims are absolutely true. I have 4 cats and even though I would love to state that my house does not ever smell like a litter box… with 4 cats, I could not say that until now! As long as the litter boxes are scooped to remove any poop daily, there is virtually no smell… Even after over 3 weeks!!! I thought that would be the best part of having Pretty Litter… but no. The fact that the litter changes color if any urine contains unusual bacteria or blood is the true benefit! Cats are good at hiding the fact that they are not feeling well, so when there was suddenly blue litter in the box I knew something was wrong. It took taking two cats to the vet ( I could not tell which cat was causing the blue litter), but we discovered I had one really sick cat. Thanks to Pretty Litter, she is now on antibiotics and well on the road to recovery! I cannot give Pretty Litter a high enough recommendation. You should give it a try. You will absolutely never regret it!

Cinda Daniel
Cinda Daniel

July 13, 2018

I thought Silica was harmful?

Geoff Berner
Geoff Berner

July 13, 2018

There are two kind of cats that use a litter box. Those that do not cover and those that do cover. Of those that cover there are two kinds , those that pull to cover and those that kick wildly in the general direction of where they went. With Pretty Litter, Dorie no longer gets a three foot plum across the floor, most of the week, none leaves any of the liter boxes that he uses.

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