Perhaps there is more to fear from kitty litter than just the unpleasantness of the daily clean out. The most common cat litters contain ingredients proven to be harmful when exposed to humans and animals. The use of sodium bentonite clay and silica gel in litters coupled with the threat of alfatoxins in grain based cat litters calls for discretion when purchasing this common household item.
Not to be confused with beneficial calcium bentonite clay - non-biodegradable sodium bentonite clay can be harmful if ingested. Sodium bentonite clay contains high levels of sodium ions which have a higher hydration sphere than calcium ions. Sodium bentonite therefore absorbs moisture much better than its calcium counterpart and when wet swells approximately 15 times its original volume. It is because of this factor (and the cheapness of strip-mining the clay) that 50 percent of the litter sold in the U.S. is of the clumping variety and typically made with sodium bentonite clay. The ingestion of super-absorbent sodium bentonite clay by your pets can lead to an accumulation of insoluble masses inside the body causing bowel blockages, kidney problems, dehydration, an inability to absorb nutrients and if left untreated can quickly lead to death.
As an added absorption and deodorizing benefit, many kitty litter companies also use silica gel in their formulations. Silica gel is a porous form of silicon dioxide and is made synthetically from a compound called sodium silicate. Silica gel is most commonly found in desiccant packets in newly purchased shoes, electronics or vitamins where excess moisture would encourage the growth of mold or spoilage. Silica gel crystals work as drying agents in kitty litter by trapping cat urine in their small pores while allowing the excess water to evaporate. In 1997, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified silica as a human carcinogen yet it is estimated that roughly 95 percent of U.S. cat litter is a form of silica.
Odor isn't the only thing permeating from the litter box
Prolonged exposure to silica dust can pose severe health risks to both animals and humans. Inhalation of silica dust (such as when your pet is frequenting the bathroom or during daily litter box cleanings) can cause irritation and in some cases, permanent damage of the mucous membranes of the lungs and upper respiratory tract as well as leading to silicosis and lung cancer. As previously mentioned, your pet's natural grooming practices leave them susceptible to ingesting litter and dust that has accumulated over time on their paws and in their hair. Often, kitty litter companies add toxic cobalt(III) chloride to the silica gel when a visible indication of absorption is needed. The cobalt(III) chloride changes from blue to pink when wet and has been directly linked to cancer. Not the best addition to your pet's diet.
So you ditch the toxic soup of clumping silica-based cat litters and opt for a more natural ingredient choice - unfortunately you aren't out of the woods yet. Kitty litter made from grains such as corn or wheat is susceptible to contamination by aflatoxin producing Aspergillus. Grains are particularly susceptible to infection if stored in warm temperatures and moist environments - exactly like your cat litter box. Aflatoxin exposure predominately attacks the liver and can lead to a whole host of serious illnesses.
Protect the health of yourself and your pets by opting for non-clumping and non-toxic kitty litters. Even better, train your cat to use the toilet and forever abolish the need for costly litter, disgusting clean ups and toxin exposure. Not to mention - a cat using a toilet is always a good conversation starter.