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Most of you reading this are probably seasoned cat owners. Whether this is your first cat or your 10th, cat litter has probably been a regular part of your day-to-day life for many years now. I’m guessing, however, most of you have been using the same cat litter for your cats for many years. There’s a lot of discourse around the right cat litter for kittens, and that makes sense as there is some danger involved in kittens ingesting litter. Clumping litter has long been discouraged for kittens because if they swallow some, it can clump up in their tiny intestines and potentially cause a blockage. As someone involved in the online cat community, I see arguments about this a lot.
I see fewer discussions about the types of litter older cats should be using though. Just because you’ve been using the same litter for most of your cat’s life, doesn’t mean that is the best litter for senior cats. How do you know if you’re currently using the best litter for your older cat, and what are the best litters you could be using?
Why switch your senior cat’s litter?
Have you noticed your cat has stopped using the litter box? Maybe they’re using the bathroom just outside of the box, or maybe they’re even going to the bathroom on your bed or some place they know you will notice it. If you’re noticing this issue, your cat is probably trying to tell you something. There are a number of reasons why your cat might need a change, but the following are a few reasons. As I always say, talk to your vet if you have any suspicions in regards to your cat’s health. You can use this information as a guide, but don’t try and diagnose and treat your cat yourself.
Cat litter allergy
While some cats are born with allergies, allergies can also develop over time. Maybe your cat had no issues with that lavender-scented cat litter when they were younger, but now they’ve developed an allergy to it. If you notice the following symptoms, as well as litter box aversion, a litter allergy could be a possibility:
- Sneezing while using the litter box
- Watery eyes, especially after using the litter box
- Facial swelling
- Runny nose
- Itchy skin
- Scratching themselves, sometimes to the point of drawing blood
- Overgrooming, which may cause hair loss
- Using the bathroom outside of the litter box
If you suspect a litter box allergy contact your vet with your concerns. When you bring your cat to the appointment, bring a baggy of clean litter with you so it can be used in testing. Make sure to note the name and brand of the litter, and look up an ingredient list online (or if it has a removable label take it off and bring it with you).
Common causes of cat litter allergies in senior cats are fragrance, bentonite, silica dust, clay, or dust in general.
I’ve talked about cats with arthritis several times before. Feline arthritis is a common ailment in senior cats, and likely something your cat will experience from one degree or another. Imagine your knees were really really sore. Now imagine you had really sore knees and had to walk on sand. NOW imagine you had really sore knees, had to walk on sand, AND you had to make this walk every time you needed to use the bathroom. That’s what your arthritic cat is going through every time they need to use the litter box. No wonder many of them start going outside of the box, it must be very painful.
Other signs of feline arthritis are the following:
- Limping. You might notice your kitty cat has begun to limp after getting up from a nap, but as the day goes on they start walking normally again.
- Not being able to jump as easily. A cat that might have slept with you every night might start sleeping in their cat bed.
- Loss of energy. All aging cats start to lose energy, but a loss of energy in addition to joints that are clearly achy is a big sign of arthrtis.
- Crankiness. Being in pain all day would make anyone crabby! If you senior cat seems to have a bad attitude all of a sudden, a medical issue like arthritis could be to blame.
- Biting, chewing or licking themselves repeatedly. Cats have an instinct to groom areas of the body that are painful. If your cat is licking their paws a lot, such as after using the litter box, they might be experiencing pain.
- Muscle loss. Arthritic cats move less, meaning they lose muscle mass.
- Clumsiness. Arthritis causes stiff, painful joints, so it’s harder for your cat to move. You might notice your kitty misses when she tries to jump up, or might stumble after standing from the laying down position.
Arthritis is common and treatable, so get your cat to a vet if you suspect that could be the cause of your cat’s problems.
It’s not uncommon for senior cats to develop paw sensitivities. Most mammals, as they get older, start developing more sensitive skin. Maybe your cat, as previously mentioned, has arthritis. Perhaps your cat was declawed when it was younger and is now experiencing declawing complications. Those would add additional pain and discomfort to your cat’s already sensitive tootsies.
On the other side of the spectrum, diabetic senior cats can experience diabetic neuropathy, which causes them to lose feeling in their feet. This means that your cat could potentially hurt themselves and not realize it. To be safe, I recommend swapping your diabetic cat to a sensitive paw cat litter, just to make sure they don’t accidentally hurt their feet while they’re using the litter box.
If your cat seems to be experiencing paw sensitivity, first you’ll want to take them to a vet to ensure there are no underlying health problems causing the pain. For example, Feline Plasma Cell Pododermatitis is a condition that can develop suddenly in cats of all ages, and can be treated with steroids. If you can cure or medically treat the ailment, that would be your first step. Once your cat has been seen by a vet though, your next step will be buying softer cat litters.
Fragrance or Texture Sensitivity
It’s not uncommon for older cats to become a bit crankier, and things that didn’t bother them enough to complain in the past will suddenly become big events. Maybe your cat didn’t mind fragrance or larger pieces of cat litter, but now they suddenly don’t like it. As long as you’ve ruled out medical issues with your vet, there’s nothing weird or concerns about your cat’s preferences changing. You might need to do a little bit of experimentation to find the right litter that works for both of you, however.
Best types of cat litter for senior cats
Clumping clay litters
Clay litter has been the most popular cat litter for generations; it’s cheap, easy to clean, and made from all-natural ingredients. However, some cats have trouble with clay litters. Cats with sensitive paws or who are prone to urinary tract infections often do better with non-clumping clay litters. Clay litters can also be tough for cats with asthma as they tend to produce a lot of dust. However, if your cat is generally healthy with no lung issues or paw issues, clumping clay litter is most likely your best bet. It’s soft on your cat’s paws, easy to clean, and it’s usually the cheapest type of litter out there. My favorite clumping clay litter is Dr. Elsey’s Premium Clumping Cat Litter. I’ve personally used this litter for about 7 years and I love it. It’s great value for your money, it’s fragrance-free (perfect for cats with fragrance sensitivity or allergies), and it doesn’t kick up tons of dust.
The downside of clay litter is that while it clumps, it doesn’t completely dry. I recommend cleaning clay litter boxes every day to prevent UTIs and urine scalding. Clay litters can also be uncomfortable for cats with paw sensitivity, who are declawed, or who have other paw issues.
Silica gel litter
Silica gel litters are a recent innovation. These types of litters are made from natural ingredients but have a more fine, silky texture. Silica gel litters work much better for cats with sensitive paws than other litters. They absorb moisture quickly, so your cat won’t be walking around on damp litter which can irritate their skin. Since the litter pieces don’t stay wet for long, they’re also far less likely than other litters to stick to your cat’s paws or fur when they’re exiting the litter box. Senior cats are almost twice as likely as younger cats to develop urinary tract infections (UTIs), and grime from things like sticky cat litter is a breeding ground for the bacteria that can cause bacterial UTIs. A highly absorbent litter like silica gel litter is perfect for senior cats prone to UTIs.
Since silica gel is softer than most other litters, lots of cats enjoy the texture of it. Dr. Elsey says that many cats who have been avoiding the litter box due to foot pain or texture sensitivity will start using the litter box again with silica gel litter. Based on the reviews popular silica litters like PetSafe ScoopFree Premium Crystal Non-Clumping Cat Litter is getting on sites like Amazon, that definitely seems to be the case.
While I hate that I still have to talk about it, if you have a cat who is declawed, whether they are a senior or not, silica gel cat litter is a great solution for declawed cats. As declawed cats get older, their feet tend to become more painful. Declawed cats are 15% more likely to stop using the litter box than non-declawed cats, and this is purely due to pain trying to use the litter box. If your cat is in that category, try a silica gel litter.
With sustainability being a hot topic for the past several years, many have been looking for more sustainable cat litter solutions for their cats. Paper pellet cat litter is not only sustainable but for sensitive senior cats, paper cat litter can be a solution to a lot of problems. If you have a cat that is sensitive to chemicals and fragrances, paper cat litter generally has none of that. On top of that, since it’s just paper, it’s 100% dust-free. If your cat has lung issues, eye sensitivity, or other issues that can flare up due to dust, paper might be the best solution for you.
Does your cat have paw pain or has he recently had some sort of surgery? Vets often recommend paper cat litter for senior cats who have recently had a medical procedure done, since it’s soft and there’s no fear of litter getting stuck on wounds or surgery sites.
The biggest downside of paper cat litter is the clean-up. On the human side of things, paper cat litter is a bit gross. We all know how wet paper turns to mush and falls apart, well that’s exactly what will be happening in your cat’s litter box. That means you’ll probably need to clean the litter box more often than you would with traditional clay or silica gel cat litter. You’ll probably want to use a litter box liner with paper cat litter. The good news is paper litter does an excellent job of absorbing urine, so you won’t be stuck with a stinky pool at the bottom of your litter box.
When it comes to paper cat litters, the undisputed champion is absolutely Purina’s Yesterday’s News. This litter is available online and in most pet stores, and has received acclaim from pet owners and experts alike.
What about litter boxes for senior cats?
Cat litter is all well and good, but what if the litter isn’t the problem. As cats age, it can be more difficult for them to navigate things like getting into the litter box. If you’re concerned that your senior cat might be having issues getting into their litter box, I recommend switching to a low-sided uncovered litter box.
I highly recommend the KittyGoHere Litter Box Senior Cat Litter Box. This box has a shorter opening so your cat doesn’t have to lift their feet as high to get into the litter box. It’s also wider than a traditional litter box, giving your cats ample space to walk around and spread their legs to get into a more comfortable potty stance.
Switching cat litters without drama
So you decided on a new cat litter, you can just dump it in their litter box and go about your life, right? WRONG. As you probably won’t be shocked to hear, cats can be really finicky when you make changes to their environment and lifestyle, and that includes swapping their litter. I mean, if you’d used the same toilet paper for 30 years and then I suddenly swapped it for something different, you’d probably be thrown a bit too, right? Cats are creatures of habit, and switching their litter out of nowhere might cause stress, and even cause litterbox aversion for a bit, and that’s the last thing we want.
The following steps will ensure a smooth transition to your new litter.
- In a clean litter box, put a layer of the new litter on the bottom, and top with the old litter. It should be about 1/3 new litter, 2/3 old. As your cat uses the box, they’ll mix it with the old litter, getting them used to the new litter slowly.
- Maybe a week later, do the same thing, but make the mixture 1/2 new litter and 1/2 old litter.
- If your cat seems fine with the new litter, try using just the new litter on the next litter box change. If that seems like it’s too much for them, add back some of the old litter.
Be patient with your cat if they seem turned off by the new litter at first. They’re sensitive creatures, and this is a pretty major lifestyle change for a lot of cats.