There are few people who truly appreciate cat litter. Though we love our feline friends, the mess and smell of their little lavatories is the least pleasant aspect of what is otherwise a joyful experience. But does anyone ever stop to consider where we would be without this invention?
Prior to 1948, most cats did their business in boxes filled with sand. It was practically free and contained kitty’s leavings well enough, but it did nothing to control odor, and outdoor sand piles had the nasty habit of freezing over in the winter. Desperate for an alternative, Michigan housewife Kay Draper went to her neighbor Henry Lowe to see if he could help. Lowe ran a small business developing and selling industrial absorbents, and he gave her some kiln-dried clay balls he had been unsuccessful in marketing as bedding for farm animals. Clay balls proved to be just the ticket, but “kiln-dried clay balls” was not exactly a name that grabbed people’s attention. Lowe began selling the stuff under the moniker “Kitty Litter,” which, as you probably know, has since become a generic term for the item.
Lowe’s litter quickly became popular, and it changed the way people viewed pet cats. They became much easier to care for (and less smelly), and millions of people invited the furry creatures into their homes to snuggle up in bed for the night. Gone were the days of “remember to put the cat out;” the modern house cat had been born.
Though the name hasn’t changed, kitty litter has come a long way since 1948. Being an entrepreneurial fellow, Lowe knew he’d kick-started an industry which would soon become competitive. He worked tirelessly to develop the perfect litter, adding ingredients to combat odor-causing bacteria, reduce the amount of dust in the cat box, and make the litter perform that “clumping” action we all know and love.
Today, there are countless varieties of litter from which to choose. Conventional litter hasn’t changed much since it was invented, and it’s a little known fact that industrial clay-based oil absorbent is identical and much cheaper. Clumping litter is the most popular type, as it makes daily waste removal much easier, but there is some question of whether it’s harmful to cats if consumed. To be on the safe side, you may want to avoid it if you have kittens, which are at the highest risk for consumption.
Biodegradable litters are also growing in popularity. In addition to being environmentally friendly, these litters are all natural, flushable, and longer lasting than conventional litters. They pose no possible health risks, and are often recommended for asthmatic kitties because they don’t make much dust. Their main drawback is that they can be expensive, but if you have the time, it is cheap and easy to make your own out of readily available things like newspaper, wood shavings, sawdust, and dried orange peel … be creative!
In terms of brands, there are distinct variations between them. According to veterinarian Lisa A. Pierson, “there is no perfect litter…[but] given how incredibly common inappropriate elimination problems are, I will always choose the litter that will be the most inviting to my cats.” This, in her opinion, is clumping litter, because it makes for the most complete removal of solid and liquid wastes. In this vet’s opinion, no cat should have to live with the continuous smell of its own urine where it does its business. Think back to the last time you used a poorly maintained gas station or bar bathroom, and you will understand.
According to Pierson, the best brand of clumping litter is Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat. Other brands favored by vets and consumers include Tidy Cat and Scoop Away Fresh Scent. A newcomer in the field of clumping litter is Arm and Hammer’s Odor Alert; this litter turns blue on contact with urine, and claims to alert you to impending odors before they happen. This certainly sounds appealing, but as it has yet to be thoroughly evaluated by vets and cat owners, the jury is still out.
So the next time you’re muttering to yourself about having to empty that box of feline debris, remember that warm, feeling you get when you see your cat curled up on a blanket purring away, and thank Ed Lowe for making it a reality.