Cat litter is the go-to choice for most cat owners. But traditional clay or clumping litter can be expensive, messy, dusty, and full of chemicals. If you’re looking for cheaper, eco-friendly, or natural alternatives for your furry friend’s toilet needs, you have options.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore 13 genius materials to use instead of regular cat litter. From natural clumping litters to homemade DIY solutions, you’ll discover smart and budget-friendly substitutes vetted by cat experts and owners.
Why Consider Cat Litter Alternatives?
Switching from conventional litters to alternative cat toilet substrates offers many potential benefits:
- Save money. Clumping clay litters can cost $15-30 for a large bag. Many litter replacements cost a fraction of the price.
- Reduce waste. Some options like pine pellets or newspaper are biodegradable. Others can be composted.
- Avoid chemicals. Traditional litters contain silica dust, fragrances, and other additives. Greener options are additive-free.
- Improve odor control. Some alternatives like wood pellets help absorb smells better than clay.
- Reduce messes. Pellets, paper, or sand don’t track everywhere like clay dust.
- Promote health. Clay litters can irritate cat’s respiratory systems. Natural litters are gentler options.
Of course, the suitability of each litter substitute depends on your cat’s needs and preferences. But exploring alternatives to regular litter could benefit both you and your feline roommate.
7 Expert-Recommended Cat Litter Alternatives
To discover the best and most practical options to traditional clay cat litter, we analyzed recommendations from vets, cat behaviorists, shelters, and experienced owners.
Here are the top 7 materials proved to work well as cat litter substitutes:
1. Wood Pellets
Wood stove pellets, made from compressed sawdust or wood shavings, are a popular and effective cat litter alternative. The pellets are highly absorbent and help control odors.
The hard wood texture also encourages cats to scratch and bury their waste. Sustainably sourced wood pellets are affordable, biodegradable, and flushable.
Popular wood pellet cat litter brands like Feline Pine and SmartCat All Natural are available at pet stores. Or you can buy cheaper wood stove pellets at hardware stores. Look for pellets made from kiln-dried softwoods like pine, with no added chemicals.
Tip: Start with a small amount of pellets in your cat’s litter box, and mix in some of their old litter to help transition. Slowly increase the ratio of pellets.
2. Pine Sawdust/Shavings
Like wood pellets, pine sawdust or shavings make an effective natural clumping litter. The fine texture absorbs moisture and forms clumps. Pine also helps neutralize odors.
You can buy bags of sterile pine animal bedding from pet stores, livestock feed stores, or online sellers. An even cheaper option is pine shavings from lumber or woodworking stores.
Ensure the sawdust/shavings are pure pine, with no oils, resins, or glues. Kiln-dried pine is safer, to remove mold and sap.
Tip: A mini litter rake helps break up and distribute clumps in pine sawdust litter.
3. Pelleted Newspaper or Paper Litters
Paper-based litters provide a biodegradable, compostable option made from recycled materials. The paper is compressed into hard pellets that absorb liquid and form clumps while controlling odor.
Popular brands like Yesterday’s News are readily available. Or make your own by shredding newspaper into pellets. Use newspaper without glossy print or colored inks.
Soak the pellets first, then squeeze out excess moisture before filling litter boxes. Replace the pellets regularly as they break down.
Tip: Add baking soda to paper litters to help absorb tough urine smells.
4. Ground Corn Cob Bedding
Like wood pellets, corn cob bedding offers an affordable, eco-friendly alternative. The granules absorb odor, allow waste to filter through, and compost well.
Purchase a bag of sterilized, kiln-dried, dust-extracted corn cob bedding from farm stores or online. Avoid cob pieces with mold, pests, or chemical additives.
Start with a thin layer, and add more as your cat gets used to it. Scoop solids and change entirely every 1-2 weeks.
Tip: Put a coffee filter or mesh strainer over the litter box hole to prevent corn cob pieces from getting tracked out.
While not as absorbent as clumping litters, sand makes an alright short-term substitute in a pinch. Use a very fine-grained children’s play sand or builders sand. Ensure it’s not treated with chemicals.
Scoop solids and change the sand completely every few days. Mix in some baking soda to help control odors and clumping.
Don’t use craft or industrial sands, which may contain silica dust. And avoid clumping gelling litters with polymers.
Tip: Put a litter mat under the box to catch scattered sand granules. Vacuum around the box frequently.
6. Litter Box Soil/Potting Mix
For cats that like digging and burying, a shallow litter box filled with soil or potting mix can work. Use all-natural mixes with no chemical fertilizers.
Make sure the soil isn’t too dusty. Add sand for drainage and cat-safe herbs like lemon balm or mint for scent.
Fully replace and refresh the mix every 1-2 uses. Discard soiled mix by composting or burying away from plants or water sources.
Tip: Place pee pads under and around a soil litter box to simplify cleanup of kicked out dirt.
7. Shredded Newspaper
An old standby, shredded newspaper makes a free, readily available litter. Avoid glossy pages or colored inks.
Because newsprint isn’t very absorbent, you’ll need to change it frequently, even daily. Soak up urine puddles with fresh paper.
Tip: Add some baking soda, vinegar, and/or essential oils on the shredded paper to help control odors.
7 More DIY Litter Substitutes to Try
If you want to get really creative or work with materials you already have, consider these 7 homemade cat litter alternatives:
1. Dried Leaves/Grass Clippings
Collect dried leaves from outside and run them through a mulcher or shredder. You can also use dried grass clippings from mowing your lawn (avoid chemically treated lawns).
2. Straw or Hay
The absorbent stalks make a suitable litter, though they may get tracked around. Use organic wheat, oat, or other straw/hay.
3. Shredded Cardboard
Recycle Amazon boxes and paper towel tubes by shredding into litter. Avoid glossy cardboard with dyes.
4. Dry Organic Compost
Screen your finished compost to remove large pieces. Use the fine crumbly compost as litter.
5. Hardwood Pellets or Mulch
More expensive than pine pellets, hardwood also works if sifted into a pellet litter consistency.
6. Peat Moss
Use leftover peat from the garden or buy bags of peat moss to make a dirt-like litter.
7. Shredded Fabric Scraps
Upcycle old clothes, towels, or blankets by shredding into litter material.
Key Tips for Litter Alternatives
Here are some top tips when switching your cat to a new litter substrate:
- Do it slowly. Mix a little of the new litter in with their old litter, and gradually increase the ratio over 2-4 weeks. This allows them to adjust.
- Try various textures. Cats have preferences, so experiment with fine, coarse, or pelleted versions.
- Add attractants. Spray a little catnip oil on the new litter to entice your cat.
- Keep the box clean. Scoop waste and change litter frequently, even more than clay litter.
- Use enough litter. Cats like digging and covering, so fill boxes 2-3 inches deep.
- Offer multiple boxes. Have 1 box per cat, plus an extra one in a different spot.
- Prevent tracking. Place mats around litter boxes and check paws to reduce scattered pieces.
- Watch for issues. If your cat stops using the box, goes elsewhere, or shows signs of stress, reconsider the litter substitute. Health and happiness come first!
The Takeaway on Cat Litter Alternatives
Tired of the cost, waste, chemicals, and mess of traditional clay cat litter? With a little creativity, you can find or make inexpensive, eco-friendly, natural litter substitutes using products you have around the house or can source for free or cheaply.
Of course, your cat’s needs come first, so transition slowly and watch for problems. When done properly though, alternatives like wood pellets, newspaper, sand, soil, or homemade shreds can save money while keeping your cat’s toilet habits happy and healthy.
Your furry friend may not care about using greener, organic products. But testing different cat litter alternatives can benefit both you and the planet, so dip your toes in the many options beyond basic clay litter. Just be ready to scoop and swap it out more frequently for the best results.