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Cat Litter Alternatives: 15 Of The Best Litter Substitutes

Posted in: Cat Litter - Last Updated: October 17, 2023 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Litter 
Last Updated: February 8, 2023  
Author:  Dexter Jones

If you're like most people, you probably know that cat litter is easily one of the more expensive aspects of owning a cat. Arguably even more than kitty food, it's not uncommon to spend hundreds of dollars a month on cat litter based on the number of cats you have in your home. 

cat litter alternatives

My mother has seven now, and all of them need their litter boxes. And considering each litter box takes around $20 to fill weekly or every other week, you can see that the costs can get REALLY high.

The good news is that there are alternatives for cats and kittens out there that are more affordable as well as options that have far fewer chemicals and are more ethical to the environment.

Below, we'll check 10 of the best litter alternative options out there for you to transition over to.

How To Introduce Cat Litter Alternatives 

Before we get into the different litter options, you have to know that cats can be very difficult to please, and are super resistant to change or new environments. 

This goes for the types of cat food you feed them, any new additions to the family, and the type of litter you're giving them. And when some of the alternatives on this list are newspapers or a puppy housetraining pad, you can understand why.

The solution for all of these methods (some more than others) is to slowly and gradually introduce an alternative into their litter experience. 

You want to start with a 10/90 split between new and established cat litter, with each week slowly tweaking it by 5 or 10%. You'll do this until eventually your cat is entirely transitioned over to the new litter option.

It's important that you do this since not doing it can lead to wasting a lot of time and energy trying to get your cat to use a litter that they're just not into. 

Not only that, but it can often lead to some very "unpleasant surprises" found around the house (and even in beds!)

Best Cat Litter Substitutes

cat litter substitutes

1. Newspaper

Old newspapers and junk mail have been a mainstay for most people whenever they're in a pinch. From a key ingredient in paper wrappings for a Halloween costume, newspapers are an inexpensive option that has a ton of uses.

One of the more surprising uses of old newspapers is as a cat litter alternative. To do this, you're going to need a shredder, water, and dish soap (as well as a litter box).

To use newspapers, you're going to shred up the paper before washing it with soap and water. After letting it sit for a few minutes, you're going to drain the mixture, rinse off any remaining soap, then sprinkle some baking soda on it before sending it out in the sun to fully dry and crumble up.

Newspapers as a litter alternative are great due to their cost-effective nature, however, the challenge surrounding it is the fact that the process takes a lot of steps to complete and can still take a fair bit of coaxing before your kitty decides to try it out. 

Still, if you've got a ton of newspapers lying around (or any useless paper for that matter), this is a fairly inexpensive method to try out. 

Also, while the smell isn't going to be completely gone, it doesn't track nearly as much as others on this list, with the small pieces that do being easily swept away without causing any stains or other problems.

2. Potting Soil

Second, on the list is potting soil, and if you have an indoor/outdoor cat, you know why this is on the list. It doesn't matter how long a cat has been raised indoors, the second they're exposed to a garden or some dirt, expect to see them doing their business. 

As such, it only makes sense that potting soil is a perfect litter alternative for your furry feline.

Well, maybe not perfect. One of the big selling points of cat litter is that it's great for clumping and sucking out the moisture from the cat's pee and poop. 

The same isn't necessarily true for potting soil. Not only can potting soil be potentially messy, but it can cling to a cat's paws considerably easier, tracking across the carpet and floor of your house.

To best use potting soil, consider making sure your litter box is in a separate part of the house, like the garage, backyard porch, or laundry room. It should be as far as possible from the rest of the rooms especially if you have a lot of carpeting. 

The good news is that it does a fairly decent job of covering the smell and can be purchased pretty inexpensively when bought in bulk.

3. Wood Pellets

Wood pellets have been known to have a lot of different uses, one of which is a surprisingly effective alternative to cat litter. In fact we have tested many wood pellet cat litters and found them to be excellent, but you can make do with wood pellets made for other purposes.

As these pellets are made from ground-up wood, they're very soft while also being lightweight. Also, because they are wood, they are very absorbent, while also being quite affordable. 

They also have a natural pine smell that can help mask some of the more unpleasant smells from urine and feces.

The downside to wood pellets is primarily that it can be a bit difficult to transition your cats over to wood pellets, especially if they've been using standard cat litter for a few years. 

You also want to make sure you aren't using any chemically treated wood pellets, as it's not uncommon for cats to sniff and nibble on them when first introduced.

alternative litter

4. Sawdust

Sawdust is collected as the excess remnants from woodworking. As the name implies, when cutting lumber and wood, sawdust is the dusty remains that come from the sharp and fast edge of the saw blade.

This sawdust rarely has any real purpose outside of smothering flames or covering smelly things; two useful functions when it comes to finding an alternative to cat litter.

When in large amounts, sawdust is absorbent and offers great odor control to mask the 'natural scent'  that can come from your pet's dirty business. You want to opt for sawdust that has a coarse consistency rather than the more common "dusty" one.

The big problem with sawdust is that, while the "dusty" option is super prevalent, it can take some time to find more coarse sawdust. Just as well, both options will leave some tracks if you aren't careful.

The biggest issue, however, by far, is the fact that sawdust has been noted to be a carcinogen for humans. This means the dangers this can pose to your cats are potentially much greater and should be considered strongly before deciding to use.

Honestly, the only good thing going for sawdust is the affordability aspect. Sawdust is quite inexpensive and a great alternative to cat litter from a financial perspective. Outside of that, however, there's not a lot to swear by.

For the health risks alone, I can't recommend sawdust as a viable option for people. On top of that, there aren't a lot of ways to reduce any tracks you might deal with. Wood shavings are another option on this list and they are a much safer and more effective option.

5. Sand

Sand is another easy alternative to cat litter. This is primarily because, for cats, it's pretty much the same in terms of texture for their paws as well as simulating their "digging" mentality. And by adding in a bit of baking soda, you can handle any errant smells that may sneak their way out.

The challenge with sand is primarily due to the fact that it's sand. As with potting soil, sand can be very messy and can easily track throughout the house if you're not careful. We've all been to the beach and found sand on us even after showering, and this is no different. Also, while sand is a cheap accessible litter alternative, it's not nearly as effective for handling smells as the others on this list. Even with the baking soda option, you shouldn't be surprised to find your house having a distinct urine smell (or worse).

To help mitigate these issues, you want to look into investing in a rubber cat mat that will sit under your cat's litter box. This won't resolve the issue entirely, but rather reduce some of the effects of sandy pawprints. 

You'll also want to consider checking out some useful pet stain removal sprays to handle any stains that might show up around the litter box as well as from the sand that gets tracked around the house.

All in all, while this option is fairly affordable when bought in bulk, there aren't a ton of upsides here compared to many of the others on this list.

poultry feed alternative cat litter

6. Poultry Feed

One of the more unique litter substitites on this list, poultry feed isn't what most people think of when they think of effective cat litter alternatives. 

That, however, is where you'd be wrong. As it turns out, poultry feed (or chicken feed) is not only very absorbent, but it's also inexpensive and comes in a pellet form that is similar to wood pellets or even the designated cat litter pellets.

The downside to poultry feed is the fact that it's, well, feed. That means it's liable to attract insects as well as mice and other rodents when left on its own. In fact, your cat may be more inclined to nibble on the pellets rather than use them for their waste.

The best way to use poultry feed is to both implement baking soda as an odor-fighting component while also opting to put the litter box outside.

While you can certainly put it in some of your standard litterbox spaces, the issue with insects and rodents is still a problem and may just result in them finding their way into your house as opposed to staying outside. Still, if you're good on your household upkeep, you can throw it in the standard spaces. Just be on the lookout for any extra bugs running around your laundry room.

7. Housetraining Puppy Pads

You saw the title right? That's not a mistake. Housetraining puppy pads may be a great option for young pups to learn how to use the toilet, it's also an interesting option for young cats and kitties that may not like the litter box at all. You're simply going to put a couple of pads out on the floor and encourage them to handle their business there rather than any other place.

The good news is that many of these pads either simulate grass or have a specific type of texture that feels relaxing to the paws.

The biggest challenge is just going to be getting them to use the pads themselves. And while they are fairly absorbent, they aren't all that odor-blocking. And because they are meant to be somewhat disposable, you can find yourself spending a pretty penny staying well stocked.

The good news is that, because they are so disposable, these pads require very little cleanup, and are able to be thrown in the trash almost immediately after they've done their dirt.

8. Small Animal Bedding

Another great litter alternative, small animal bedding shares many similarities with other alternatives on this list. They are made primarily made from aspen shavings which have been specially processed to not have any dust or wood debris. It's very absorbent and actively blocks out and eliminates the smell of urine and poop.

The only downside to this option is the fact that animal bedding can be a bit more difficult to get compared to cat litter itself or many of the other alternatives on this list. Similarly, it may be a bit more difficult to convince your cat to use it immediately out of the gate.

The optimal way to use this is to slowly and progressively introduce this into your current litter options until eventually, you've transitioned entirely to the bedding. You also want to make sure you're getting the chemical-free option for your cats to make sure they don't run into any health issues.

The good news is that this doesn't track on the floor and is comparable in price to standard kitty litter.

litter substitutes

9. Wood Shavings

As with sawdust, wood shavings are a super inexpensive alternative for cat litter, with some places (lumber companies) even giving it away for free!

As with other wood-based litter alternatives, wood shavings are fairly absorbent while having a woody scent that can help hide some of the smell from the cat's most recent visit. It is a safer alternative to sawdust while also being less likely to track. 

The only downside here is the fact that wood shavings may be an initially tough sell for cats to transition to.

That said, they are much easier if you do a 70/30 split between wood shavings and a more sandy litter option, with the shavings being on the bottom. You can do this for a while until the cat is used to the shavings making up the entire box.

10. Wheat

Wheat litter, often made from secondary wheat which isn't suitable for human consumption, has a similar texture to traditional clay litter. However, it can cling to the walls of the litter box, making cleaning a bit challenging. 

On the plus side, wheat litter is environmentally friendly and biodegradable which is why you often find it as the ingredient in eco friendly cat litter. In addition to being eco-friendly and biodegradable, wheat litter has some other benefits for cat owners. Wheat litter is highly absorbent, making it effective in controlling odors. 

It is also low dust and hypoallergenic, which is important for cat owners who suffer from allergies or have cats with respiratory problems.

Additionally, wheat litter is often more economical than traditional clay litter, making it a budget-friendly option

11. Coconut Litter

Coconut litter, made from coconut shells, is known for being odorless and hypoallergenic. It is also a virtually waste-free product as it can be used in flowerbeds and yards. However, one drawback of coconut litter is its inability to clump effectively due to the fine texture of the pellets. 

In terms of sustainability, coconut litter is a good option as it is made from a renewable resource and is biodegradable. However, it is important to check the packaging and labeling to make sure that the coconut litter you purchase has been sustainably sourced and produced.

In conclusion, coconut litter can be a good choice for cat owners who are looking for a hypoallergenic, sustainable, and virtually waste-free option for their cat's litter box. 

However, it's important to consider the texture preference of your cat and the clumping ability of the litter before making a decision.

12. Walnut Cat Litter

Another litter sustitute to test out is walnut litter or walnut shells for your cat's litter box. Made from the shells of the nutritious nut, this litter is environmentally friendly and has a grainy texture that is appealing to cats.

Walnut litter has good clumping abilities, making cleaning up simple. However, it may break apart more easily compared to traditional clumping litter

It provides effective odor control and has similar levels of tracking and dust as store-bought clumping litter.

For the best results, opt for the finest granules available. Not only will they clump better, but they will also make cleanup a breeze.

13. Horse Bedding Pellets

Horse bedding pellets are a great option for cat owners. Made from compressed wood materials, they are similar to traditional wood pellets but are safe to use around cats.

Horse owners use these pellets to maintain a moisture-free environment in their stalls and to control odors. The pellets are economical, low in dust, and easy to clean.

In addition, horse bedding pellets are environmentally friendly, compostable, and can be purchased in bulk, making them ideal for households with multiple cats.

It's important to ensure that the pellets have not been treated with any chemicals and have undergone kiln-drying to remove phenols.

Pine phenols are toxic to cats and can cause various symptoms, so it's crucial to choose a safe product.

14. Corn-Based Litters

Corn litter, made from 100% whole-kernel corn formulas, is a safe option for kittens due to its large pellets. However, its texture may not be as comfortable for cats and may cause them to avoid using the litter box. 

Despite this, the tight clumps it forms make it a low-mess option for pet owners. The scent of corn litter can be different from traditional clay litter, and some may not like it. It also produces dust, so it may not be suitable for cats with asthma

Before flushing, check the brand's website as some corn-based litters are flushable.

cat litter alternative toilet

15. Human Toilet

Last but not least, we have the human toilet. This is one of the options we've all heard about for cats but never really believed was possible. As it turns out, not only is it possible, but it's actually easier than you may have first thought.

While it does require a bit of patience in the beginning, there are a plethora of online training courses as well as physical cat toilet training kits that are available to make the transition that much easier.

Cat toilet training kits are kitty trays that are shaped like toilet seats and filled with flushable litter. You start by placing the tray on the rim of the toilet under the seat and filling it with flushable litter.

From there, you show the cat where they'll be doing their business, using the litter as a good transitioning phase.

After that, progressively move through its different trays as they sit lower and lower in the toilet until eventually your cat is used to doing their business in the toilet.

This process, while very good with a lot of upsides, does take a bit of upfront cost with the training litter trays. Not only that but there is a patience factor in play that isn't otherwise present with any of the other litter alternatives.

Still, the upsides include never having to pay for litter or a litter box again, which can be upwards of hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars of savings over a year alone.

Cat Litter Alternatives: The Verdict

Whether you're looking for a more affordable or ethically sustainable alternative to cat litter, the truth is that there are options available to choose from and many of them are just as effective as the standard go-to cat litter. 

All of these options have their strengths and weaknesses, and it's up to you to weigh them out and decide which one you want to go by.

While I like many on this list, the one with the most upsides all around is the last one, where you teach your cat to just use the toilet.

The truth is that all of these options are weighed against having one or two cats. If you have more than that, however, costs are going to go up no matter what option you choose (except the free ones). 

By teaching your cat how to use the toilet, you remove the need for getting litter again, dealing with cat tracks again, smelly laundry rooms again, and daily scooping

Simply put, it's just the best option, with only the usual transition time being a setback.

Regardless of which you choose, however, I wish you good luck and happy hunting for an option that makes both you and your pretty kitty happy.

About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.