Just because something isn’t labeled “cat litter” doesn’t mean it isn’t.
As cat guardians, we’re happy commercially produced cat litter was invented- the wide range of options available to us is awesome. Litter manufacturers are continually innovating and improving their products. New litters claiming more effective odor control, a lighter formula, and eco-friendly sourcing are ceaselessly introduced to the consumer. But what if we’re overlooking an excellent litter option which isn’t labeled for cats at all? Put aside the well polished scientifically developed formulas… and take a closer look at this effective and viable litter solution: wood pellet horse bedding. Think Feline Pine™ litter without the markup that comes with the “cat litter” label.
Disclaimer: We have not used Feline Pine™, and make no claim that it is exactly the same as wood pellet bedding.
I’m all over any innovations in the cat world. If there’s something we can do better for our cats, you’ll find me at the front of the line straining to learn more about it. For the past month at Wildernesscat we’ve gone a little cat litter crazy- researching litter brands, trying to figure out if there’s a “best cat litter” out there, and what that would require.
We’ve got several key criteria for the ideal cat litter.
- Safe for cats. Most litters have a downside, but we don’t want something blatantly dangerous.
- The cats like it. A litter is worthless if the cats refuse to use it, so this is a big one.
- Effective odor control. Cats are awesome, but that “cat pee smell” isn’t.
- Low tracking. Who wants bits of litter all over their house? Ew.
- Dust-free. Not only does that cloud of clay dust make you choke, it can also be a dangerous carcinogen.
- Low maintenance. How much time does it take to keep the litter box clean? Our time is valuable to us.
- Affordable/cost-effective. Hey- who wants to spend a lot of money on their cat’s toilet water? I’d rather buy freeze-dried cat treats and snazzy cat-venture equipment, personally.
How does wood pellet bedding stack up?
What is wood pellet bedding, and is it safe for cats?
Wood pellets are made from compressed wood shavings. These wood shavings are sourced from excess wood, a byproduct of the lumber industry. You’ll be happy to hear that there is no strip mining involved! Wood pellets make a renewably sourced, eco-friendly litter. As a bonus, wood pellets are also biodegradable.
When packaged as horse bedding, some manufacturers don’t detail the wood that has gone into the pellets, simply labeling it as “softwood pellets” (pine, cedar, fir, larch, redwood, etc.).
Though rare, we have heard reports of cats negatively reacting to pine or cedar based litters. Pine and cedar contain plicatic acid within its resin. This acid acts as an irritant, and exposure to pine or cedar dust can irritate your cat’s respiratory system. If your cat has asthma, a pine or cedar based litter may exacerbate symptoms.
While this doesn’t seem to be a popular issue, you should be aware that the risk exists. Unfortunately, clumping clay litters are no safer. They are often dustier and send silica dust (a known carcinogen) into the air you and your cat breathe.
What did the cats think?
Enter our critic: Wessie. Wessie regularly has two litter boxes adjacent to one another, both filled with clumping clay litter. For most of his life he’s used the same litter, or a similarly textured clumping clay.
One of the biggest complaints about the wood pellets is their large size and hard texture, so I was curious to see what Wessie would think of this drastically different litter. He’s not a picky cat but generally does prefer a fine, sandy texture to do his business in. I dumped out the old clay litter from one of the boxes and filled it with fresh wood pellets. The pellets weren’t particularly consistent in length, they ranged from approximately 1/4”-1”.
Wessie still had the option to use his clay litter, and for the first day, I don’t think the pellets were used at all. After a couple of days, I noticed the wood pellets had absorbed some liquid waste and there was light sawdust accumulation. When I actually saw him using the box, I noticed he didn’t enjoy digging in the pellets and preferred to cover his waste by tossing over the clay from the adjacent box.
Wessie continued to use the clay litter for solid waste until we eventually switched both boxes over to the wood pellet litter and he had no other option. Overall, he wasn’t a fan of the new texture but he could live with it. I believe that if we stuck with the pellets, he’d adjust well to them.
If your cat is particularly selective about their litter, I recommend a slow transition and an open mind to rejection. Even if your heart is set on wood pellet litter, your cat just might not like it.
Does it have good odor control?
Wood pellets smell great coming out of the bag.
The odor control was impressive. Usually, there’s a lingering urine odor around the litter box, which has always been a frustrating but accepted part of the cat experience. As long as we scoop, we’re good, right? The wood pellets soaked the urine right up and almost completely absorbed the odor. I could only smell a light piney scent, and I didn’t want to get any closer to try and smell any more. The litter did a decent job with the solid waste as well.
We tested the absorbency and odor control of the pellets with a urine simulation (ammonia and water blend). The pellets instantly soaked up the liquid and expanded into sawdust. The pellets neutralized the ammonia odor within a few seconds.
Does it track all over the house?
Some of the litter did end up outside of the box, possibly due to excess flourish in the litter box. There wasn’t a big difference from the usual clay litter. A few of the smaller, broken up wood pellets did get tracked a few feet away from the box, but nothing extreme- the pellets are too big to get stuck in between kitty toes. Wessie has a short coat, so he’s never had an issue with litter getting stuck in his fur. However, even longer haired cats haven’t reported many problems with wood pellet litter.
Is it dust-free?
I didn’t see (or taste) any dust while pouring the wood pellet litter into the box. It was a pleasant change from the dangerous, almost invisible cloud of clay dust we’ve come to expect even from so-called 99% dust-free clay litters. As the litter breaks down into a fluffy sawdust, there’s a higher chance that wood particles will become airborne during the scooping process, however, I didn’t notice anything. My lungs were happy with the wood pellets.
Is the litter easy to maintain?
The wood pellets quickly absorb moisture and disintegrate into sawdust. If you shake the litter, the sawdust naturally filters down to the bottom of the box, leaving unused pellets at the top. Solid waste is easily separated and scooped out of the litter. Unfortunately, since the pellets don’t clump moisture, you’re left with a pile of sawdust gradually taking over the box. This means that you’ll be dumping out the entire contents of the litter box after only a couple of weeks, rather than once a month as you would with a clumping clay litter. This means you’re going to be wasting some of the unused pellets.
One solution pellet litter users have found is the implementation of a sifting litter box system. In a sifting litter box, the fine sawdust will filter through a screen in the bottom of the box to a level below, which you can easily dump out daily, resulting in almost no wasted pellets. If I were to switch over to the pellets full time, this is the route I would take. Another option is sifting through the pellets every day using a hand litter scooper and shaking the sawdust into the trash. Maybe if litter scooping is your favorite hobby, but I can’t see that working out for the majority of us who already have busy lives.
How much does it cost?
If you’re looking for an affordable cat litter, wood bedding litter is an amazing option. It’s important to note that we use litter by volume, not by weight. Wood pellets are lighter by volume than a clay litter, so the customary 40lb bag of wood pellet bedding is going to go further than the same sized container of clay litter. I purchased a 40lb bag of wood pellet bedding from our feed store for $6.99. That’s $0.17/lb vs. the $0.50/lb we usually spend on our litter.
You should be able to find a couple of options at your local feed or equine store, or if you’d like something more convenient, there’s a good selection of wood pellet bedding on the internet.