Pick of the litter

Ever wonder how the concept of cat litter was developed? We have certainly come a long way from the days of ancient Egypt when cats roamed the grain storerooms and controlled he rodent population.

Ed Lowe

Early in the last century as cats were becoming more commonly kept as pets, it was the norm that they were encouraged to go outside to relieve themselves. A few owners would provide a box with some sand, fireplace ashes, or sawdust, but it took the marketing genius of one Edward Lowe to create the modern day cat litter industry.

Ed was working in his father’s business selling industrial absorbents when in 1947 he was approached by his neighbor who had grown tired of her cat tracking sooty paw prints through her house from the ashes she used for the cat litter box. She wanted sand, but instead Ed gave her some Fuller’s earth, a super absorbent clay product. So useful was this that Ed soon started selling 5 lb bags of the stuff for 69 cents! When he tried convincing the local hardware store to stock it and they refused, he told them to give it away until cat owners were won over and started asking for it. Soon he was on the road himself going to cat shows and cleaning all the litter boxes in exchange for space to market his product. He called his discovery Kitty Litter and it undoubtedly helped pave the way for the domestic cat’s rise to fame as North America’s favorite pet. By the time he sold his company to Ralston Purina in the 1990’s, the business was worth $200 million!!

Recent years have seen the proliferation of many other types of litter as people have struggled for products that reduce smell, are more convenient, or are more environmentally friendly (clay cat litters produce about 100,000 truckloads of waste going to North American landfills each year). Newer products include recycled newsprint, corn, barley, sawdust, and silica gel among others with the most useful addition being the development of the so-called “clumping” litters in the 1980’s.

Another exciting development in recent years has been the small but growing number of dedicated owners who have gone to the trouble of training their cats to use the toilet for their wastes. (And YES they can even be trained to flush the thing although the issue of the seat up or down remains elusive!!!)

Regardless of the type of litter and where you buy it, a huge concern to us as veterinarians is the fact that failure to use the litter box appropriately is a sign of many diseases and also, by far, the most common behaviour problem we see. A few pearls of wisdom for cat owners would seem to be in order:

a) Try to keep a high level of consistency for Kitty – avoid unnecessary changes in the type or brand of litter, as well as the size, location, and shape of litter box.

b) Avoid using detergents, soaps, and disinfectants when cleaning the box – Kitty with her strong sense of smell won’t like the lingering lemony fresh scent!

c) Avoid punishing or administering medications when Kitty is engaged in the box.

d) Provide enough boxes!! I recommend one more litter box than the number of cats in the household.

e) If your cat is not using the box consistently, let us know early on as it will be much easier to treat. The problem may be medical or behavioral, and we can determine the cause as well as a treatment plan. [Dr. Douglas Boeckh]

For more information on cats and litter box problems:

Feline behavior problems: house soiling (Cornell Feline Health Center)

Spraying and soiling indoors (Feline Advisory Bureau)

House soiling in cats (LifeLearn)

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The Cat Hospitals website

Bytown Cat Hospital on Facebook

Merivale Cat Hospital on Facebook


About The Cat Hospitals

Veterinary care exclusively for cats
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