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cat parent must-knows

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

Flushable cat litter isn’t quite as eco-friendly as you may think. So should you actually be flushing it? We sourced the details to help you choose the most sustainable cat litter — and protect your pipes.

Updated October 1, 2020

Created By

Lori Zaino,
flushable cat litter

It sounds great, but flushable cat litter isn't as eco-friendly as it seems.

The essentials

  • Regular cat litter vs. flushable — One is made of clay, which gets stuck in landfills, while flushable litter is made from biodegradable materials.
  • 🚽 Don’t flush flushable cat litter — Even though it’s made from absorbent, biodegradable materials, it can still clog pipes, contaminate water supply and harm animals/humans.
  • Consider composting it — Composting pet litter can be complicated to do right, but this is actually the best way to deal with flushable cat litter.
  • Swapping cat litter should be done slowly — Cats take time to adjust, so be understanding when trying new litter.

We get that regular litter box maintenance can be a drag (you should be scooping the box daily and cleaning it out once a week), but it’s part of being a responsible cat owner.

Cue flushable litter, a magic substance that allows you to clean up after your cat by simply flushing the stinky litter/droppings down the toilet. Flushable cat litter certainly sounds too good to be true. But is it?

After analyzing the pros and cons, we found that flushable litter isn’t quite as eco-friendly as it’s portrayed. While this substance may seem to alleviate much of the stink and annoyance of a cat litter box, flushable litter can have serious ramifications on the environment — and on your septic system.

What is the difference between regular cat litter and flushable litter?

In order to understand flushable litter’s negative effects on the environment, some background is needed. After all, what exactly is flushable litter? How is it different from regular cat litter?

Regular cat litter is typically made from clay-based products. Sometimes, more expensive litters are made from silica. These products encourage clumping for easier disposal and often contain odor-controlling ingredients. You should never flush regular clumping cat litter, as it can clog your toilet and your pipes. Instead, throw it away — but know these clay-based clumping formulas won’t compost and can have harmful effects on the environment.

Flushable cat litter is made from biodegradable materials such as corn, wheat or wood products. In many cases, it’s non-clumping for ease of flushing. It sounds like a dream come true. After all, it contains ingredients deemed environmentally safe and makes for easy, flushable disposal. But it’s not as eco-friendly as you might think.

Flushable cat litter seems eco-friendly — but is it?

Even though flushable kitty litter itself is made from biodegradable materials, cat poop itself could have certain infectious bugs that can cause harm to human and animal health. The cat excrement that is caught up in the litter residue can seep into sewer lines and contaminate water supplies when flushed.

This can be especially dangerous as some cat excrement has traces of parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii (T-gondii). This parasite found in the feces can spread active spores and oocysts into waterways. Many treatment plants simply aren’t capable of eliminating this particular parasite, and it can end up in our water.

If humans or animals ingest this parasite, it can be dire. Reports show that sea otters have been affected by this parasite found in water, which has caused them to suffer from cardiac disease.

This may explain why Rhode Island’s Department of Health recently released this document advising pet owners of the appropriate way to dispose of their cat litter. It directly states “not to flush cat litter down the toilet.”

California has also taken a stance against flushing cat litter, directly linking sea otter mortality to cat feces and the parasite T-gondii.

  1. gondii can also cause abortions in pregnant women. We recommend that women who are pregnant don’t change the litter box. If they must, they should use gloves and a face mask. Cats who are perfectly healthy can still have T. gondii and shed it in their stool.

It may not be as safe for your pipes, either

Although regular clay litter will most definitely clog your pipes, there’s a chance flushing flushable cat litter may clog them too.

According to a plumber interviewed by Today, most newer, water-saving toilets only produce 1.6 gallons of water per flush. That’s simply not enough to push the kitty litter down. Plus, cat feces can be harder and drier than human feces. After all, kitty litter’s job is to pretty much petrify poop. So, both the actual cat waste excrement and the litter itself can do a number on your septic tank, which could incur a very costly fix.

cat litter backed up

😬 This litter showed back up in the bathtub 📸 by StarManta

How to switch kitty litter (while keeping your cat happy)

Your pet may panic if you switch their litter box, its location, or the litter itself. Just as humans are particular about doing their business, cats are too. 💩

Here are six tips to make the litter change less traumatic for your cat.

  1. Start the transition slowly  — Combine both the litters (new and old), so your cat can get accustomed to the new litter while sensing the familiarity of the old litter.
  2. Work with ratios — Start with ¾ of the old litter and ¼ of the new, slowly changing the ratio over time.
  3. Don’t rush your pet — Each cat moves at their own pace depending on temperament and experience. Don’t rush your pet if they aren’t ready.
  4. Do one change at a time — Don’t change litters, boxes, and location all at the same time. This may be too much for your cat.
  5. Stay chill — Cat owners shouldn’t make a big deal out of litter changes by expressing worry or panic. Cats pick up on your vibes, so stay cool.
  6. Observe your cat — New litter materials can contain allergens. If your kitty begins sneezing, wheezing, itching, or coughing, they may be allergic to the new litter. Head to the vet to see what’s up.

There are pros to flushable cat litter, but they may not come from actually flushing it

At first glance, purchasing biodegradable, flushable cat litter seems like a great idea. You’re avoiding purchasing regular cat litter, which often ends up in landfills, and you won’t need to toss that plastic bag either.

And, since regular cat litter is made from clay, and clay comes from mining, you’re actively choosing not to support mining when you purchase flushable litter. With over two million tons of clay mined each year in the U.S. alone, the environment is suffering from loss of natural habitats, flooding erosion.

But if you really want to do right by the environment, keep your cat happy and your litter box as fresh as possible, consider a pet compost in your yard (a septic-safe alternative). This means, you’d actually be composting biodegradable, flushable cat litter instead of actually flushing it.

However, it’s essential this is done correctly. Your pet compost shouldn’t be anywhere near edible food sources, crops or plants. This is fundamental for avoiding contamination. This compost can also be very stinky, so you’ll want to keep this far away from living or recreational spaces, neighbors, etc. You’ll want to have a bin with a lid, and hot composting is also an option. If you plan to do this, make sure to do it right.

And don’t forget about the litter box itself. Most are made from plastic, but you could consider purchasing a more sustainable one made from recycled plastic or stainless steel. Or, you could consider a self-cleaning litter box.