How Toxic Are Cat Litter Crystals?

Although most cat litter crystals are labeled non-toxic, some cat owners may still be concerned about their pets’ safety around this type of litter. Let's look at what litter crystals are made of and what concerns (if any) cat owners should have.

What Comprises Litter Crystals

The silica gel that's found in most cat litter crystals is made up of silica dioxide sand, oxygen and water. It’s most commonly used in moisture-absorbing packets that accompany medications, shoes, cameras and other items that moisture could damage. Since 2004, silica gel’s absorbent properties have been used successfully in cat litter boxes.

Clumping Litters May Cause Health Problems

Sometimes the absorbent silica gel crystals are combined with the super-adhering powers of sodium bentonite to create a crystal litter that clumps. Cat owners remove any solid waste and solid clumps from the litter box daily and stir the crystals to ensure they are still absorbing the liquids.

Potential health concerns for cats may arise when sodium bentonite enters the litter box. Some cat owners believe their cats have suffered a variety of health problems, including diarrhea, urinary discomfort, constipation and coughing, after clumping litters were added to their litter boxes. Clumping litters are not recommended for use around kittens to protect them from potential health issues that may arise from them eating the clumping litter.

Special Concerns for Kittens

Although litter crystals offer many benefits for cats and their owners, they also have a few drawbacks. The biggest potential hazard that your cat may eat some of the crystals during her grooming and cleaning regimen. Under normal circumstances, the litter should pass through her system without incident.

Kittens are particularly likely to eat litter crystals while exploring their surroundings. Their natural curiosity and playful natures can lead them into taste-testing the litter. Your kitten will likely stop after a few bites, but if she doesn’t, she needs to visit the veterinarian to rule out medical causes for her behavior.

Kittens aren't the only ones who might try to eat litter crystals. Older cats that eat cat litter may have feline pica, which is a health condition that causes a cat to eat otherwise inedible things. Possible causes of pica include mineral deficiencies, psychological disorders or an otherwise undetected medical condition. If your adult cat makes a habit out of eating her litter, she needs to be evaluated by your veterinarian.

Crystal Litter Health Benefits

Cat litter crystals offer cats and their owners some health benefits, most notably the lack of dust that’s created by traditional clay litters. Cat owners with asthma or dust allergies may want to use the less-dusty litter crystals. The litter crystals are also less likely to lead to the growth of bacteria and molds, which can help keep pets and their owners healthier.