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The Evolution of Cat Litter: From Clay to Silica Cat Litter

Cat Litter Evolution

Like chocolate chip cookies, Play-Doh, and the pacemaker, cat litter was an accidental invention.

And we’re thrilled for the mishap because without cat litter we’re not sure how we’d be able to live with our lovable, furry friends under one roof.

But kitty litter didn’t always look the way it does today. And the first version certainly didn’t have the lifesaving health alert benefits of modern silica cat litter.

Here’s a look at how cat litter has evolved over time and a side-by-side comparison of the best options available to you today.

Demand Sparks Ingenuity

Cats have been living with us through the entire modern age -and long before then, too. But before the 1940s, cat parents resorted to letting their furry friends outside a few times per day or filled a makeshift cat box with anything they had on hand. Things like sawdust, shredded newspaper, sand, and dirt were common cat box fillers that had very little odor control.

In 1947, a man by the name of Ed Lowe was working at his father’s ice, coal, and sawdust factory. The business also produced kiln-dried clay, which was used as a safe, fire-retardant way to soak up grease spills.

One day, Mr. Lowe’s neighbor, Mrs. Draper, asked Ed for some of the sawdust from his factory for her cat’s box. Without any on hand, Ed gave her a bag of the kiln-dried clay instead. After trying it out in her cat’s box, Mrs. Draper was ecstatic! The clay filler worked far better than any sawdust or sand she had ever used before.

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Shortly thereafter, Mr. Lowe began marketing the clay as “kitty litter” and sold it in pet stores for $0.65 per bag. Cat parents were overjoyed with the new invention of cat litter and were willing to pay for Ed’s kitty litter rather than get another filler for free from their backyards.

In 1964, Ed officially created Tidy Cats and began marketing his product for sale in grocery stores. In 1990, Ed sold his company, Tidy Cats, and lived out the rest of his life as a happy millionaire until he died at the age of 75 in 1995.

Modern Options

Sadly, Ed didn’t know thatclay cat litter can be extremely hazardous to cats. Not only can the dust from clay litter cause severe respiratory problems or even cat allergies, but also the material offers the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.

Today, cat owners have far more cat litter options than Mrs. Draper did back in 1947.  

Improved Clay

Clay Cat Litter

Clay kitty litter manufacturers have taken notice of the warnings from the veterinary science community and have tried to make a better cat litter box product. That’s why you’ll see clay cat litter advertised as “low dust” or as containing antibacterial elements.

However, clay cat litter is still a dangerous option for your cat’s litter box as it can also cause blockages in your cat’s digestive system and in other pets who get into the cat's litter box. It also makes it easy fortoxoplasmosis to be spread to you and members of your family.

Natural Media

Pine Pellet Cat Litter

Before the invention of silica cat litter, many health-conscious pet parents turned to natural media litter for filling the litter box. This Natural litter includes options like pine pellets, corn, beet pulp, wheat, and recycled paper materials. Each of these causes far less dust and are usually harmless if accidentally ingested by a pet.

However, the trouble with natural litter is it can still be a breeding ground for bacteria and it offers nothing in the way of odor control.

Silica Cat Litter

silica cat litter

In the 1990s, silica cat litter was invented. Silica microcrystals - like those that make up PrettyLitter - are highly absorbent. This allows the tiny granules to trap odor and bacteria. However, the silica crystals also allow moisture to evaporate, so all the bacteria and odor stay trapped while the litter dries.

Silica crystals are also an entirely dust-free material, which means it can be kicked around, sifted, and poured without causing any irritation to you or your precious cat.

As an added bonus, silica microcrystals are easy to combine with other vital additives. PrettyLitter combines the engineering genius of silica with health indicators that alert you by changing color if your cat’s urine is an abnormal pH or contains blood.

Tell us about your cat litter experience (good or bad) in the comments below!


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