Written by Mary Anne Miller
First of all, what is Kitty Litter? If you have a cat or two, you are well acquainted with kitty litter; a substance you deal with on a daily basis. You wrestle the boxes or bags home from the grocery store, you pour the mixture into your litter pan(s) and then in the days that follow, you diligently scoop and scoop, and discard soiled litter placing new in the pan every time.
But what exactly is it made of? Where did it come from? Why does some kitty litter clump and others do not? How many different kinds of kitty litter are there? Is kitty litter really safe?
Starting from Scratch...
In 1947 a neighbor asked a gentleman, by the name of Edward Lowe, for something to use for her cat's elimination needs. Currently using ashes and dirt, she explained her husband was upset over the odor and had told her that if she couldn't find something else, the cat had to go!
Lowe operated a small business out of his home, where he sold clay to garage owners to soak up oil spills and cover gasoline leaks. He suggested his clay as an alternate means for his neighbor's problem. Lowe went into his garage and came back with a cardboard box full of his clay product and presented it to his neighbor. The next morning, the neighbor elatedly reported that the clay litter was a wonderful alternative for her.
Upon hearing this, Edward decided to take a big chance. He rented a large semi-trailer and truck, and coined the phrase "kitty litter" by painting a sign for the sides of the truck. Then he began to truck his kitty litter across the United States. He stopped at cat shows and trade shows to give away his product.
The gamble paid off. The idea was so well received by grateful cat owners, and the litter industry was born. In 1991 Edward Lowe sold the rights to the kitty litter filler from his then multi-million multi-national company.
The Inside Scoop
The conventional kitty litter consists of filler made from clay and/or sometimes silica. You know what silica is. Silica comes in those really small envelopes inside new aspirin bottles, shoeboxes and beef jerky. Silica's purpose; too maintain freshness.
The clay litter comes as Bentonite or Attapulgite/Montmorillonite. Bentonite known also as the "performance mineral," can be found in a wide variety of products ranging from environmental products to hazardous waste control. Bentonite is dug out of the earth and processed in special manufacturing plants. Bentonite attracts water to its negative face and magnetically holds the water firmly in place. Bentonite can absorb up to 7-10 times its own weight.
Transported to a special facility in large trucks, then loaded into long cylinder rotary dryers, the clay has approximately 15-20% of its moisture removed. The finished product contains a moisture content of between 7-10%. The bentonite then becomes processed into either a fine powder or granulated into small flakes, packaged for commercial use, the mixture becomes something cat owners now utilize; Scoopable Kitty Litter.
What A Waste
If it comes from the earth, then it must be environmentally safe, right? According to the Bureau of Waste Management, approximately 8 billion pounds of kitty litter is dumped into landfills every year! That is over twice the amount of disposable diapers! Also within the clay litter there lays an inherent risk factor. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, silicon particles which can be found in clay litter are a known human carcinogen. Breathing in these particles can cause respiratory illness.
When your cat goes to cover her waste, this dust is kicked up and introduced into the room. Distributed on the floor and anywhere else it chooses to settle, the dust becomes an invasive intruder. Research has shown that silicon particles do indeed cause cancer-like symptoms in lab rats, but so far, there is no data available to say if it does the same in cats. Although there exists evidence that silicon particles cause problems in humans, case studies available only show that cats with respiratory illnesses have six times the amount of silica in their lungs than healthy cats do. But the studies are greatly overshadowed by the needs of cat owners, and the availability and ease of using clay litter.
Another fact that immerged as this article was being researched included numerous reports that clumping litter and kittens do not mix. Kittens are quite curious and some of them taste the litter, or lay down in the pan. Because the litter performs when it meets moisture and swells, and kittens routinely lick themselves clean after using the litter pan, if clumping litter gets inside of their system problems can result. Vomiting, frothing at the mouth, and intestinal blockages are only some of the symptoms that can occur. Always err on the side of caution with kittens and use an alternative litter until they are grown and not so apt to sample kitty litter. Green litters are a good choice for the kitten’s needs.
Cat Litter Goes Green
Although Green Litters are slowly making their appearance and steadily gaining in popularity, it will be quite some time before they actually corner the market and take away the potential sales that clay litter now holds so firm. Green litters are made out of everything from crushed walnut shells, to compressed sawdust, recycled paper, wheat, pine, alfalfa, and even corn. The Green Movement Group claims their litter is safe, biodegradable, even scoopable and/ or flushable, as well as super absorbent. One company boasts that not only does their litter weigh less, but you use less, for the litter goes a long way before needing to be replaced.
Plastic trays to hold the litter have made headway into technological advances, and now you have your choice between computerized litter pans that remove the waste after the cat exists the pan, or a litter robot (an ingenious device that rotates and removes the waste material in timed intervals after your cat exits the robot). There are companies that design litter containment furniture, litter air filtration devices, and even a kit where you can train your cat to use your toilet instead of the litter pan.
The litter industry has traveled a long way since 1947 when Edward Lowe displayed his burst of generosity, trucking his product to give it away to all the cat lovers across the United States. Today the Litter Industry rakes in over 700 million dollars a year! It's a competitive business, but someone has to help make it cleaner, and smell fresher. There are a lot of companies trying and succeeding, because with careful research, and cautious investing, they are finding the needs of cat owners are paramount. If they can come up with the right formula to stop the odor, and cut down on the waste, they can become a success in the kitty litter industry today. They can really clean up!
Mary Anne Miller is a free-lance writer, and member of the Cat Writers' Association. She is a web copy writer, and passionate about feral cats/kittens and bottle babies. You can read more by Mary Anne at her Feral Cat Behavior Blog.
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