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Flushable cat litter: A biodegradable, odor-control solution or a danger to the environment?

The essentials

  • Flushable cat litter shouldn’t be flushed — The litter can damage your septic system and release parasites into public waterways.
  • Flushable litter can still be an eco-friendly alternative — While it’s not recommended you flush it, the biodegradable material is more sustainable than traditional clay-based litter.
  • Cats may have allergic reactions to flushable litter — The ingredients in flushable cat litter can consist of corn, wheat, and wood, all of which can trigger cat allergies.

Let’s face it: Dealing with a litter box is an undisputed downside of being a cat owner. They smell, they’re a pain to clean, and they can be a bit of an eyesore. So naturally, cat owners have taken an interest in flushable litter ever since it came on the market

It claims to be an eco-friendly, odor-free alternative to most litters as it can be simply flushed down the toilet along with your cat’s feces. However, it certainly sounds too good to be true. While flushable litter is biodegradable, the practice isn’t quite as environmentally friendly as it’s portrayed. Cat feces may contain bacteria and parasites that can have serious ramifications on the environment — as well as your home’s septic system. 

So why, then, do so many people reach for the flushable cat litter? Here’s what you need to know.

What is flushable cat litter?

Typical cat litters are made from clumped clay or, in the case of more expensive litters, silica. Clay expands when moisture is added, which subsequently takes up more space in landfills.

Flushable cat litter, on the other hand, is made from a variety of biodegradable materials, including:

  • Corn. While common cat litters contain artificial ingredients to eliminate odor, corn can do it naturally.
  • Wheat. The enzymes in wheat can control odor while mimicking the texture of the typical clay-based litter.
  • Wood. Another natural deodorizer is wood, particularly shavings from pine or cedar.
  • Paper. Post-consumer paper products are sometimes used to create a softer texture for cats to squat on.

The pros and cons of flushable cat litter

The biggest problem with flushable cat litter is the word “flushable” in its name. Looking at it as just a litter, it has some surprising benefits compared to clay-based alternatives. Let’s take a quick look at some of the pros and cons of this divisive product:

✔️Natural odor control ❌Releases parasites into waterways
✔️Biodegradable ❌Messy to clean
✔️Sustainably sourced ❌Contains allergens
❌Damages pipes

Before you decide whether or not the pros outweigh the cons, it’s important to understand the full context of the controversy behind flushable litter. Let’s take a deeper look at why it isn’t recommended you use this product as it is marketed.

Why flushing “flushable cat litter” is a bad idea

While it may seem like a good idea on paper, flushable cat litter can have damaging effects on your septic system that counteract its benefits. It’s marketed as an eco-friendly solution for cat waste, but it isn’t as “clean” as you’d think. Here’s why flushing this so-called “flushable litter” is ill-advised:

1. It can damage your pipes

The issue with flushable cat litter starts in the home. Septic systems in particular are not equipped to break down this litter, leading to clogs. Modern plumbing can also be damaged by this product because it uses less water to be sustainable. Because of this, you’ll need to flush multiple times to clear the litter out of your pipes — wasting water.

2. It can add parasites to wastewater

If you are particularly environmentally conscious, then the alleged ecological benefits of flushable cat litter may seem worth the risk of a potential plumbing disaster to you. However, this litter can have an environmental toll as well, especially when it comes to infectious bacteria that your cat’s feces may contain. Once flushed, these pathogens can seep into sewer lines and contaminate water supplies, causing harm to the ecosystem.

One particularly dangerous parasite found in cat excrement is Toxoplasma gondii. Many treatment plants simply aren’t capable of eliminating this parasite, so it can easily spread active spores and oocysts into waterways if flushed down the toilet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it can survive for several months and, once ingested, can infect humans and animals alike. The disease toxoplasmosis can lead to brain damage, vision loss, premature birth, and even death.

3. It can cause allergens

While the materials like corn and wheat that are included in flushable cat litter are biodegradable, they are also allergens for some cats — as well as for other animals and humans.  Those sensitive to forest environments with pine and cedar will likely react to the wood-based flushable litter.

“Some cats have serious pulmonary problems with allergens from many sources,” says veterinarian Dr. Bruce Armstrong. “Litters as this and those with perfumes and additives can cause dramatic changes in the micro-environment of the litter box made worse by the cat digging and stirring up dust and small particles that can be easily inhaled.”

👉 Keep in mind that clay and silica found in regular kitty litters can also trigger allergies in your pets or family, so it’s best to consult your veterinarian on the best litter for your particular household.

4. It can create dirty surroundings

Flushable cat litter doesn’t clump together the way that clay does, making disposing of it a lot messier. Instead of just scooping out solids at the end of each day, you’ll be dealing with looser materials that have been soiled by urine and feces.

As mentioned, flushable litter can do a number on your pipes and get backed up. This will also leave you with a mess on your hands when all that clogged litter comes back up.

Benefits of flushable cat litter

When it comes to flushable cat litter, the benefits derive from the litter itself, not the act of flushing it down a toilet. If you remove the word “flushable” from the packaging, the product still has several advantages. 

Let’s take a look at how owners can make use of flushable litter without harming the environment or their homes.

1. It provides good odor control

Perhaps one of the biggest flaws in the concept of cat litter boxes is the smell. It’s hard to mask the scent of feces sitting out in your home, which is among the reasons why it’s good to regularly clean out the box. 

That said, the ingredients like corn, wheat, and wood used for flushable litter work well as deodorizers. While typical clay-based litter will use artificial fragrances to offset the smell of excrement, the materials in natural cat litter can do so organically. This is healthier for both you and your feline friend to breathe in.

2. It is biodegradable

While biodegradable doesn’t necessarily mean “good for toilets,” it is typically good for the planet. Clay, on the other hand, does not decompose. This means all the clay litter accumulating in landfills is there to stay, whereas natural litter derived from organic materials like those seen in flushable brands will gradually break down over time.

That said, consumers should be mindful of the fact that the term “biodegradable” is used relatively loosely in marketing, and some materials can take decades (and even centuries) to decompose. Still, anything biodegradable is a better alternative to clay.

If you want to take advantage of the biodegradable material in flushable litter to dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way, consider composting instead of flushing it. To avoid contamination, make sure your pet compost isn’t anywhere near food sources, crops, or plants

🚨Because of the smell, you’ll want to make sure your compost bin has a secure lid to avoid attracting rodents or upsetting your neighbors. You can also consider hot composting, which is a method of rapidly decomposing organic waste at high temperatures.

3. It is produced sustainably

Another drawback of clay-based litter is where the material comes from. Most litters use sodium bentonite clay, which is obtained from strip mining 40 feet below ground. This uses up a lot of energy and causes mass pollution. 

On the flip side, the corn and wheat used in some flushable litter is a renewable crop. In the case of wood-based litter, it typically consists of sawdust and shavings. Paper litter also makes a point of using post-consumer material like newspapers or packaging.

How to change your cat’s litter

If you’re thinking of switching to a new cat litter, it’s important not to do it abruptly. Similar to how you trained your cat to use their litter box in the first place, you’re going to need to train them all over again for the new box.

  • Make one change at a time. Don’t swap out their litter box and move the location all at the same time. This may be too much too soon for your cat. Move slowly so they have time to process each new adjustment.
  • Transition slowly. Combine the new and old litter so your cat can get accustomed to the new litter while sensing the familiarity of the old litter. You can start with ¾ of the old litter and ¼ of the new, then gradually change the ratio over time.
  • Observe your cat. New litter materials can contain allergens. If your kitty begins sneezing, coughing, or itching, they may be allergic to the new litter and should be brought in to the vet. Also, keep an eye on any body language changes that occur.

While flushable litter may seem like the perfect solution to the wastefulness of traditional litter, it, unfortunately, has similar environmental repercussions. That said, the product itself can still be an eco-friendly alternative to typical clay-based litter if disposed of properly. Consider asking your veterinarian about which option would work best for you and your furry friend.

Frequently asked questions

Is it okay to flush cat poop down a toilet?

Before flushing cat excrement down a toilet, also have to consider whether your home’s plumbing can handle it. Remember that cat feces don’t go directly into the water like human waste does. By the time you get around to cleaning out the litter box, the droppings can become hard and dry. As with any solid item, flushing it can be a hazard to your pipes and incur a very costly fix.

How should I dispose of flushable cat litter?

The best way to dispose of flushable cat litter is by composting it. The materials are all biodegradable and can decompose over time. Be sure to use a secure lid on your compost bin to avoid attracting rodents with any foul smells; and avoid using plastic bags or other wasteful products that don’t biodegrade.

Is flushable cat litter good for the environment?

Flushing flushable cat litter in the toilet is bad for the environment because cat feces may contain bacteria that can contaminate waterways. That said, flushable litter itself is more sustainable than the traditional clay-based litters on the market, and can be better for the environment if composted instead of flushed.

What are the benefits of flushable cat litter?

The benefit of flushable cat litter is in the material of the litter itself. The natural ingredients include corn, wheat, wood, and paper. These materials decompose over time, as opposed to clay which is what’s traditionally used for litter.

Can a cat be allergic to flushable litter?

The natural materials found in flushable cat litter like corn, wheat, and wood dust are all possible allergens for pets and their owners. If your cat or anyone else in your household is having an allergic reaction to the litter, consult your vet on a litter suitable for your specific household.