Pick of the (Cat) Litter

A growing number of cat owners are looking for natural litter products that are sustainably sourced and free of harmful ingredients.


The cat litter category has come a long way since clay-based products were introduced in the 1940s. The litter aisle has expanded to include a variety of ingredients that are responsibly sourced from nature, such as corn, wheat and wood. This, combined with increasing cat ownership, is driving growth in the category, which now represents $1.8 billion in annual sales, according to a recent Nielsen survey conducted by Harris Poll.

But it is not just the market for litter that is growing; the accessories that facilitate collection and disposal of waste are also big business. In fact, annual spending on litter box supplies has grown to $136.3 million, according to the Nielsen study. As manufacturers continue to develop natural litters that retain the practicality of traditional products and also assist shelters with reducing cat surrenders due to inappropriate elimination, this nearly $2 billion-a-year segment of the pet trade will continue to grow.

Heck No GMOs
Pioneer Pet, manufacturer of SmartCat, was founded on the principle of developing humane solutions to misunderstood feline behaviors. Starting in the late 1990s, with a handmade scratching post, the Cedarburg, Wis.-based manufacturer has since grown to include a number of corrective cat behavioral products. Yet, some of its most recent offerings are actually correcting the modern agricultural practices of humans.

“With our SmartCat All Natural Clumping Litter, [pet parents] are truly using an all-natural product made 100 percent from non-GMO grass,” says Shannon Supanich, media and public relations manager for Pioneer Pet Products. “We use non-GMO grasses farmed right around here in the Midwest. We also create and package our litter right here in Cedarburg.”

Historically, non-clay litters were often passed over by consumers due in large part to these products perceived inability to properly clump. Supanich emphasizes that SmartCat All Natural Clumping Litter was in development for more than two years to ensure a natural, clumping product that combines one of the best features of traditional litter with a fresh, natural formula.

Waste Solutions in Wood
Using recycled and scrap wood, Japan’s Next Gen Pet has produced a natural line of litter that clumps and is also flushable. The decision to use wood that is destined for the trash—and in some cases, green tea leaves—is not only a sustainable practice, but also scientific, according to director of marketing, Janice Yamamoto.

“Innately, both wood and green tea suppress bacteria growth,” she explains. “When bacteria is prevented from multiplying, you naturally limit the odors that are usually associated with litter boxes. Our litters are environmentally conscious from start to finish, and we think that’s a unique feature in the litter market.”

Tapping into the local resources of Japan, the company also uses the wood of the mold-resistant, anti-bacterial Hinoki cypress in its Cypress Fresh and Forest Fresh products. Next Gen Pet’s Green Tea Leaves Litter boasts naturally antimicrobial properties of the tree, producing an odor-controlling, super-absorbent product that produces only a small amount of dust.

Sustainable Litter, Healthy Cat
Sustainable practices have been central to Ferndale, Wash.-based litter manufacturer Healthy Pet’s mission since it was founded 30 years ago. Produced using reclaimed materials, its most recent natural cat litter, ökocat, is available in five formulas: natural wood clumping, soft step clumping, long-hair breed, natural pine and natural dust-free paper.

Healthy Pet has remained at the forefront of the shift toward natural products in every aspect of pet care, and the company is a known proponent of sustainable manufacturing, supporting initiatives such as the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition (PISC) and Sustainable Connections. While demand for natural litter is increasing, Jane Wasley, brand manager for ökocat, says consumers still want the convenience of traditional products.

“Clumping litters are important for the customer and account for about 70 percent of the category,” she says. “Natural litter options that perform well are also in demand. Many consumers want a ‘green’ litter, but they have high expectations for it to perform as well as a traditional option. ökocat is naturally lightweight, so we can check both the ‘high performance natural’ box and the ‘lightweight’ box.”

The low-dust, natural wood fibers of ökocat allow the litter to absorb 500 times its weight, enabling cat parents to use less, thereby making this an environmentally friendly, yet also economical, waste management decision.

Straight from the Heartland
Since 1996, Kent Pet Group has sought to produce clumping cat litter that performs better than other products on the market yet were also sourced from natural ingredients. Today, the Muscatine, Iowa-based company’s World’s Best Cat Litter uses an ingredient that is even more American than apple pie—corn. Offering its Original Series, which targets odor control, and Advanced Natural line, for efficient cleanup, the operation’s litters comprise natural and renewable ingredients. Though the company’s scented litters—Forested and Lavender—are not corn based, they are produced using natural wood fibers and lavender oil.

While World’s Best Cat Litter might be regarded as a leading 100-percent natural product, relying on renewable ingredients that are sewer and septic safe, the company is also in a constant state of evolution. “We are engaging with cat owners on a regular basis, listening to what they have to say, explains Jean Broders, brand manager. “No one wants to spend time cleaning the litter box, so we continue to explore how to make cleaning the litter box less time consuming.”

Kent Pet Group not only produces natural cat litter, but also advocates on behalf of homeless felines. Through the Give Litter Initiative, partner shelters are provided with World’s Best Cat Litter. “As a company employing many pet owners, we know how important shelters are to communities and pet lovers,” says Broders. “We partner with shelters that have similar goals as ours: keeping pets safe, healthy and active.

Waste-Management Mission
Dr. Bruce Elsey, founder of Englewood, Colo.-based Precious Cat, has been practicing feline veterinary care for more than 35 years. Since the mid-1980s he has been creating litter solutions to address urinary issues, with his main concerns focusing on the large number of cats that are surrendered to shelters and euthanized for inappropriate elimination. Most recently, he developed Health Monitor Litter, which reveals feline kidney function, diabetes and hyperthyroidism.

However, his most influential project remains Cat Attract, a training product released 15 years ago. Using a blend of natural herbs to lure felines toward the box, Cat Attract was designed to appeal to the animals using a texture and particle size that is most comfortable for cats.  Gina Zaro, marketing director for Precious Cat reveals, “It contains no catnip, but a blend of natural herbs cats like. Cats smell it, and the texture is important. Dr. Elsey tested it in a number of cat shelters. Cats are texture driven, so  the product was developed so they would feel it under their paws and be able to cover waste with a product they prefer.”

With each Cat Attract purchase, pet parents receive an information guide regarding how to best address inappropriate elimination. Precious Cat guarantees Cat Attract by offering a full refund if the product does not work.

The company’ passion for this project is so great, it launched its Cat’s Shelter Partners Program, through which Precious Cat Shelter Kits are donated to feline shelters and rescue groups. The kits include a cat litter additive sample, coupons and the “Litterbox Solutions” booklet. By providing kits to shelters, Precious Cat’s goal is to help persuade pet parents that surrendering cats to shelters for inappropriate elimination is not the answer. Through explaining the problem and providing a solution, Precious Cat’s kits can greatly reduce feline shelter surrenders and save cat lives.


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