Is Your Cat Allergic to Its Litter?
The most common allergens in cat litter are dust and fragrance, but it is also possible for your pal to be allergic to plastic. Even if your cat is fine, it's a good idea to choose natural, chemical-free and dustless litter. Avoid corn and wheat-based litters as they can develop deadly mold.
The popular cat litter options like bentonite and silica, albeit cheap, come at the high cost of respiratory issues for both you and your pet. While some dust might not sound like a big deal now, consider that cats nowadays live for as long as 20 years. If you scoop out litter three times a day, this comes at 22 000 dust-producing scoops.
Symptoms of Litter Allergies in Cats
To determine whether it is your cat’s litter that is causing the following symptoms, pay attention to when they occur. If you notice that visiting the toilet is triggering such problems, then it's likely that the culprit is your cat’s litter. Visit your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis refers to a skin irritation caused by contact with allergenic substances. It causes painful and itchy sores on the skin, which get worse as the cat excessively scratches them. The condition might further lead to fur loss and deep wounds.
Is your cat excessively scratching herself? Have you noticed scabs on her skin? One possible cause is her litter. If that’s the case, change it with a non-allergenic one and wash your cat with an anti-allergy shampoo.
Cat acne manifests itself in pimples and enlarged clogged pores (blackheads) occurring mainly around the chin. You’ll notice red bumps on the skin with or without discharge coming out of them depending on the severity of the condition.
Cat acne can be caused by a myriad of factors including litter. The dusty types such as bentonite and silica are especially comedogenic as the dust settles into the pores and traps dirt which leads to inflammation.
Runny, Swollen Eyes and Nose
Runny, swollen eyes and nose mean that something has entered them that is not supposed to be there. The harmful “guests” might be dust or small particles from your cat’s litter. Another possible cause is fragranced litter, as it is an allergen and an irritant.
In any case, there are certain symptoms that something is irritating your cat’s sight or air passage. Her face might’ve come in contact with some litter (if she sniffed it for example) so wash your cat's face with water to get rid of fine particles that might linger and cause continuous sensitivity.
Coughing and Sneezing
Coughing and persistent sneezing might be signs of airway irritation. If they occur after your cat visits his toilet, then it is likely that they are caused by irritants.
The most common culprits are dust and fragrance. They can stick to the nose, throat, and lungs. Prolonged exposure to these substances leads to detrimental long-term effects, so you need to opt for dust-free, fragrance-free cat litter.
Avoidance of Litterbox
These are two behavioral symptoms that despite popular belief are not caused by having a “bad” cat but due to an illness or external circumstances. If your pal is not using his toilet and is eliminating outside of it, it’s because he associates it with something unpleasant.
Such behavior might be due to a urinary tract disease or because the litter causes your cat allergies. After your vet rules out illness as the cause for your cat’s inappropriate elimination try changing his litter.
Which Litters Cause Allergies?
The cat litter market is abundant in various forms of products. You get to choose from plenty of materials - bentonite, silica, corn, pine, coconut, some with perks such as clumping and scented litter. Yet, the most common bought cat litters are also the most allergenic. Here are the five types of litter that are most likely to trigger allergies in your cat or even you.
The earliest brands of manufactured cat litter were made from clay. This material has an odor and moisture absorbent properties. In the past, it was a viable choice for the newly adopted practice of keeping pet cats indoors.
The problem with clay litter is that it is not clumping, making it hard to scoop it out. Plus, clay litter is quite dusty, and even though it was a breakthrough innovation, it didn’t stick for long making way for an enhanced form of clay litter called bentonite.
Bentonite litter is dirt cheap (it is dirt after all) and comes in clumping form which makes it a favorite among cat owners. The binding properties of bentonite come from something similar to cement. Once it comes in contact with water, it creates a solid block which can be easily scooped.
The convenience, however, comes at the cost of lots of silica dust that sticks to the lungs. Silica dust causes allergies, irritation and possibly cancer. There are “dust-free” formulas which, however, are more like “less dusty” with a substantial amount of particles still finding their way within the air passages.
Silica cat litter is another popular option. This form of litter is made of silica beads similar to the ones found in shoes. The benefit of silica litter is its high absorbency of moisture and aromas. Unless an additive has been added silica cat litter is non-clumping.
While silica litter is less dusty than bentonite, there are still silica particles jumping through the air especially while your cat is burying his business and when you are scooping it out. Another issue with silica is that the material itself is an allergen. The plastic beads can also be irritating causing your cat irritation dermatitis and other skin conditions.
Corn has become a dividing issue all over the world. While this crop has been saving people from starvation for centuries, things such as GMO and illnesses caused by improper storage have given some lousy name to corn.
We have reiterated many times over that corn has no place in cat food, and you should be cautious with using it as cat litter as well. Corn is among the crops that are prone to developing aflatoxin - a type of mold that is a vicious allergen and carcinogen. Aflatoxins grow when the plant has been in prolonged contact with moisture and heat, and cat litter boxes are perfect qualifiers.
Perfumes used in cat litter are allergens and possible carcinogens. On top of that, cats might find the aroma too strong and refuse to use their litter. A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times stronger than humans’, so if you can smell the fragrance from cat litter, your cat will be drowning in it.
While litters with added perfumes might help with they are harmful to you and your pet. If you practice proper litterbox hygiene as in scooping excrements ASAP, odor shouldn’t be a huge problem anyway.
Non-Allergenic Cat Litter
Now that you know what to avoid when choosing allergy-free cat litter let’s look at some suggestions of what to buy. We followed our advice to the T and have only included formulas that are:
Free of chemicals.
Free of artificial fragrances.
Made from natural materials without clay or silica.
Dustless. Note that no litter will be 100% dustless, no matter what manufacturer says.
Here are our top 5 picks:
We’ve written about ökocat before. This natural cat litter is made of fallen and leftover timber, so it doesn’t contribute to deforestation. The formulas are chemical-free and come in convenient biodegradable boxes. The ökocat line comes in six options - clumping, super soft clumping, lightweight clumping, for long-haired cats and a dust-free one made from recycled paper.
The Feline Pine litter brand is owned by Arm & Hammer. The litter is made from pine shavings and comes in a clumping and non-clumping option. The clumping agent is extracted from plants meaning there are no irritating chemicals in the formula which also includes mineral oil to minimize dust. As an added benefit, the pine timber gives the litter natural aroma.
The Only Natural formula is manufactured from GMO-free grass seeds. This litter is highly absorbent, clumps quickly and is dust-free. The brand also has a formula made from pine shavings. This one, too, is clumping and has the added benefit of natural aroma. Both options are environmentally-conscious, made from sustainable sources.
Coconut is among the most versatile organic products on Earth. The litter is made from shredded coconut shells making this litter 100% natural and organic. The formula is soft and dust-free, with natural coconut aroma. The company also offers a subscription service so you can have a bag of litter delivered to your door every month.Cedarific Soft Cat Litter
The natural Cedarific cat litter is made from cedar trees. The formula is dust-free, lightweight and naturally scented. It comes in two options - the Cedarific Soft Cat litter and the newer Easy Earth formula. The latter is made from recycled wood, and the clumping action comes from natural ingredients, so no chemicals there.
Other Allergy-Free Cat Litter Products
Cat litter is not the only possible allergen when it comes to your cat’s toilet habits. The litterbox itself might be causing problems if it’s made from a low-quality, allergenic material. Other items such as litter mats can also cause allergies. Here are some alternatives.
Litter tracking can be a problem especially if you own a long-haired cat. When litter gets stuck in fur and on your furry friend's paws, the whole house gets covered in the stuff.
One way to battle with the problem is to place a mat in front of the litter box. But many of them are made of artificial materials some of which might cause allergies. Thus, it's a good idea to choose a mat made from natural materials like this bamboo one from Pet Cool Mat.Kitty's Wonderbox Disposable Litter Box
While higher-end litter boxes are made of higher quality BPA-free plastic that minimizes allergies and adverse reactions, plastic is an oleophilic material (attracts oils). If your pal rubs any part of his body against the litter box, he's leaving oily marks which later get transferred on his skin in the form of oxidized oil. This causes acne breakouts.
Kitty's Wonderbox is one solution to the problem as this is a disposable litter box made from recycled paper. No scooping and you just throw it out when it comes time to replace the litter.
If you want something more sturdy, iPrimio's stainless steel litter box is another viable option. It's made of stainless steel which too is oleophilic, but unlike with plastic, the oils can be easily wiped. Another advantage of having a stainless steel litter box over paper one is that your cat (hopefully) can't chew through it.
Do you travel a lot? Even if it only happens once a year, it behooves you to keep a stock of at least one Litter One litter box. This is a full cat toilet set that includes a litter box, scoop, and litter all made of recycled paper.
Litter One is a convenient and environmentally-conscious choice if you’d rather not bring a bulky litter box when you travel with your pal. If you need such a box on a regular basis, the company offers a subscription option.
Let's Sum Up
If your cat is showing worrisome behavior after toilet use such as respiratory problems or has developed skin problems, it might be due to litter allergies. Ditto for inappropriate elimination. In any of these cases go to the vet.
As of dos and don'ts of cat litter:
No to chemicals.
No to corn/wheat.
No to bentonite/silica.
No to artificial fragrances.
Yes to natural materials - cedar, pine, coconut.