Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cat Litter Conundrum - What's an Eco-gal To Do?

I recently received the following plea from a friend via email:

Dear cat-lovers, I'm making temporary home in a small apartment here in here in Washington, and my live-in landlord has a fat white basically-paraplegic cat. Now, I can tolerate a cat being in the house, especially if it's not around very much. But I'm wondering about the cat litter situation. How normal is having cat litter in the kitchen? And what do people normally do with the poo? Do they clear it up each day, dump it somewhere? Scoop it up with some of the litter? I get grossed out by cooking food when I can see or smell poo. Also, occasionally I nearly slip on pee, because the cat's peed on the kitchen floor. Is it normal for a cat to occasionally poo in the bathroom? Maybe I should just make sure the bathroom door is shut. Any thoughts would be welcome, and would be input to my upcoming discussion with my landlord. Your friend in Puget Sound.

Oh my. I am not a veterinarian, nor do I play one on TV. I am simply the person who feeds and takes care of Fionn MacCool, one of the best cats to ever roam this universe. I sent the following reply:

Dear Friend,
I can only tell you what we do here in Milkweed World. It seems fairly straight-forward, as we only have one young, healthy cat. But here is my interpretation of what might be going on, and a few suggestions.

I'm not sure what "basically-paraplegic" means, but please rest assured that “Missy Big Head” is doing the best that she can. Cats do NOT mess on the floor or out of their box unless they are in distress, sick, or simply cannot make it. Has the cat’s routine changed lately? Is her owner gone most of the day, when previously he/she was home a lot? Has the cat box been moved? Has a cat-detesting room mate moved in? All of this could be upsetting to the cat, causing a litter-related reaction.

Cats that are spayed/neutered and kept in the house often get fat. It is not his/her fault. A cat food designed for mature indoor cats would probably be beneficial. And as cats are carnivores, reading the ingredient label on his/her current food might be quite enlightening – I was horrified when I saw that I was feeding poor Fionn corn, corn and more corn. I got rid of the Purina Cat Chow and now feed him Castor & Pollux Organic Food. We also give him a few tablespoons of organic baby squash a couple of times a week. I read somewhere that that will help alleviate fur balls. In the 3 years we have had the very furry Fionn, we have yet to see a fur ball. Coincidence? You be the judge.

As to where to keep a litter box - people seem to keep litter boxes everywhere. We keep our litter box in the bathroom, which seemed to make sense, both odorifically and sanitarily. Moving the box away from its normal spot, while making you happy, may confuse Missy Big Head and actually encourage more accidents.

We use Swheat Scoop cat litter, which is made from wheat. We think it is healthiest for the earth and the cat (the bentonite clay used in most conventional litters is mined). Oh, Lord, Kum by ya. I don’t know about you, but I can’t in good conscience use a product with so much embodied energy when there are more ecological options.

Whatever kind of litter you use, get the CLUMPING kind. It is easier to scoop. We scoop into old plastic bags and then throw them away. DO NOT FLUSH the used litter, especially where you are (in a coastal area). Sea otters are dying from Toxoplasma gondii from cat feces. The following is from the Environmental News Network

"According to Dr. Melissa Miller of the California Department of Fish and Game, cat feces can contain Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that gets into feline systems from the eating of infected rodents, birds or other small animals. When cats later expel these parasites in their droppings—sometimes hundreds of millions at a time—each can survive in soil for over a year and also contaminate drinking water.
Most municipal sewage treatment systems are not designed to filter out Toxoplasma, and so the parasites also get into storm drains and sewage outflows that carry them out to near-shore ocean waters. Here, researchers have found, sea otters prey on mussels, crabs and other filter feeders that can concentrate Toxoplasma. Hundreds of sea otters have been found dead on California beaches in recent years with no obvious external injuries, and Miller and other scientists think that Toxoplasma may be the cause.
So what’s a responsible cat owner to do about dumping the contents of their cat’s litter box? According to Dr. Patricia Conrad, a veterinarian and parasitologist at the University of California at Davis who has studied Toxoplasma contamination in sea otters, cat owners can start by keeping their cats inside, where they are not able to hunt the small animals that can pass Toxoplasma along to them in the first place. (Bird lovers have been requesting this for years.) NOTE: Here at Dancing Rabbit cats must be kept indoors during ground-nesting bird season, usually late spring through July.
Those cat owners unwilling to keep their cats inside should do their part by at least not flushing cat litter or cat feces down the toilet. Cat fecal material should be placed in double plastic bags and included in the household trash. As such it will end up in the landfill where precautions are taken to prevent environmental contamination.”

Most importantly, scoop every day. A messy box will not only smell but will make the cat not want to use it. Add enough new litter to keep the litter at least 3" deep.

We do is add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda to the litter after we scoop out the clumps. Mix the baking soda in with the cleaned litter, stir it about with the scooper. This really works at minimizing the odor. Change out the entire batch of litter every couple of weeks. You’ll know when to do it – the ammonia smell will no longer be able to be absorbed by the baking soda.

Also, there are plastic lids for litter boxes (tall, with a hole at the entrance, making the whole think look kind of like a cave) which would make it so that you would not have to see the contents. An extra-deep litter box might be helpful if your cat tends to scatter litter everywhere.

Lastly, adding cat litter in plastic bags is not an ideal solution. We are hoping to try a home composting system soon – we’ll take the bottom out of a 5-gallon bucket and bury it almost to the top. Our thought is that we can dump the litter box contents into the bucket, cover with some straw or other material, and then put the lid of the bucket back on. Eventually it will all compost. I’ll let you know!

good luck!


Kafeyan Family said...

I have been using the biodegradable BioBags to toss my cat litter - no more plastic bag guilt.

RyanC said...

I thought Swheat Scoop was the best litter available, made from a renewable waste product and it clumps better than any other litter I'd tried. The only draw back was that the dog would eat what ever got kicked out of the litter box and then defecate blood. Have you tried any other litters that you liked? The recycled newspaper one turned to mush and didn't hide the smell at all. The one made from corn waste also turned to mush but had the added bonus of giving me headaches and waves of nausea when ever I entered the room with the litter.

Alline Anderson said...

Hi Ryan. Yep, our dog thought the cat box was filled with tasty treats, too. We were able to block off the entrance to the room in a way that would keep him (he's a golden retriever and pretty big)out but still let the cat in. Once I found Swheat Scoop I stuck with it. Have you tried one of those hoods that goes over the litter box? Or perhaps one with a small entry hole - don't know how big your dog is. Good luck!