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What Is the History of Cat Litter?

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

ginger cat near litter box

It’s been found that our feline friends have likely been around for at least 9,500 years1. The evidence that points to this is a mummified cat that was buried with their human companion in the Mediterranean, and that burial is estimated by researchers to be about 9,500 years old.

It’s safe to say that cat litter wasn’t invented thousands of years ago, though. Most people let their cats out of the house regularly or kept them from the house altogether, so the animals would naturally relieve themselves outdoors. However, as time went on and people started keeping cats indoors more often, the need to figure out a “bathroom” solution arose. So, kitty litter was created. The first litter was marketed about 75 years ago2. Here’s what you should know about the history of cat litter:

Life for Humans and Cats Before Cat Litter

Before kitty litter was invented, humans had to keep a box full of sand, ash, or dirt in the house for their cats to utilize when they had to relieve themselves, or they had to force their cats to live outdoors where they could use the land as their “restroom.” Cat litter boxes were convenient but far from clean. Therefore, people were always looking for better ways to deal with their indoor cat’s bathroom needs.

cat litter box on a wooden floor
Image Credit: Grzegorz Petrykowski, Shutterstock

Edward Lowe Is Credited With Inventing Absorbent Clay Cat Litter

Edward Lowe was part of a family that ran a business selling various items, including ice, sand, sawdust, coal, and clay. One day, his neighbor asked him for sand to utilize as cat litter because she was tired of using ash because the cat would track it all around the house and make a mess. Instead of giving her sand, Edward decided to provide his neighbor with absorbent clay.

This clay could absorb its weight in water, but neither person thought it would work better than sand or ash as cat litter. To his and the neighbor’s surprise, the clay worked extremely well, and an accidental invention was born. He went on to package the clay and brand it as kitty litter before selling it to pet stores and directly to consumers. Eventually, he created the Tidy Cat brand and became the top producer and seller of cat litter on the market.

cat in a litter box
Image Credit: Lilia Solonari, shutterstock

The Revolution of Cat Litter Over the Years

Cat litter has evolved over the years, and there are further inventions that should be noted. For example, biochemist Thomas Nelson got tired of having to clean his clay cat litter out so often. So, in the 1980s, he decided to investigate alternative options. He came across a type of clay that would absorb moisture and clump, making it easy to scoop dirty litter out of the box and leave clean litter behind so the entire litter box didn’t have to be replaced during a cleaning.

Today, about 60% of the cat litter market is made up of clumping clay varieties. The rest of the market is made up of non-clay litters. These litters appeal to cat owners who want a sustainable option that works just as well as clay. These include paper, pellets, and clumping sand. Some alternative options work better than others. Ones like paper can work well for a single-cat household. Options like pellets can accommodate multi-cat households.

litter box with scoop
Image credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

How to Choose the Right Litter for Your Cat

The type of cat litter that you choose for your feline family member depends on your preferences and your cat’s bathroom habits. If your kitty tends to clean the litter box themselves by moving soiled litter to one area of the box, sustainable paper litter might be a good choice. Pellets work well for cats that spend time outdoors, so their only relief spot isn’t inside. If your cat spends most of their time indoors, isn’t tidy in the litter box, or shares the box with one or more feline companions, absorbent clay litter is probably your best option.

In Conclusion

Cat litter has a long history, but not as long as history without litter. We should be thankful for all the cat litter options available on the market today. With so many to choose from, you shouldn’t have a problem finding something that works for your household overall. Take the time to try out a few different options before settling on one!


Featured Image Credit: Yuliya Alekseeva, Shutterstock

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