Is Silica Cat Litter Safe?

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Your cat's safety should always be your priority when buying cat litter. But, unfortunately, if you're wondering, "Is silica cat litter safe?" the answer is complicated. There are two types of silica-based litter: Crystalline silica and amorphous silica gel. Some low-quality clay cat litters use crystalline silica, which may have cancer-causing agents1 and is a dust that can cause harm when ingested or inhaled. Meanwhile, amorphous silica gel cat litter, also known as crystal litter, is safe for pets and humans. 

Amorphous silica gel cat litter doesn't contain carcinogens. It is non-toxic if ingested or inhaled—although it may cause GI issues like vomiting and diarrhea— because it doesn't contain crystalline silica. Of course, if you're unsure whether a product contains amorphous or crystalline silica, you should always read the ingredients on the packaging to prevent misunderstandings. 

Silica is a desiccant that absorbs and holds water vapor

What Is Silica Gel?

Silica gel is a desiccant (a substance that maintains dryness) and absorbs and holds water vapor.2 You can find silica gel packets almost anywhere, including new shoes, electronics, dog treats, and even human foods, because it limits moisture and prevents mold and food spoilage. While silica gel packets usually warn not to eat them, they're generally harmless. Silica is found in quartz, and the gel contains pores that absorb and hold moisture.2 

Silica Cat Litter Pros & Cons

Again, crystal cat litter is not the same as crystalline silica, although some clay litters may use crystalline silica in their products. Instead, crystal cat litter is made from amorphous silica gel. All types of cat litter have pros and cons, and silica cat litter is no different. 

Pros

Many cats and pet parents prefer silica for many reasons, including the following: 

  • Absorbent: Silica litter for cats is absorbent because it's porous, allowing it to capture moisture to dry out feces and absorb urine. 
  • Minimizes odor: Because silica cat litter is incredibly absorbent, it can control odor by drying out feces and absorbing urine. Silica gel absorbs liquid waste to prevent evaporation, trapping odors in its pores. 
  • Fewer refills needed: Silica gel cat litter requires fewer refills because it's long-lasting. Some products can last up to a month because of silica gel's ability to absorb moisture. 
  • Easy to clean: With fewer refills, cat parents can reduce how often they clean litter boxes. Instead of cleaning the litter box daily, they can scoop poop and stir the litter to keep it relatively clean with less effort. Of course, you'll still need to change the litter every month, but there should be fewer clumps, making cleaning easier. 
  • Reduced dust: Crystal litter contains some dust but much less than dust in clay litter. Of course, the dust will depend on the brand you use, with higher quality litter containing less overall. Still, the dust found in cat litter with silica gel is not the same type of hazardous dust found in clay litter. 
  • Lightweight: Silica cat litter is lightweight because it's porous, so you can find it in small bags that suit your needs. 
  • Lasts longer: Because silica gel cat litter is so absorbent, it's less likely to become moldy when introduced to moisture. It's an inorganic material that doesn't go bad and can keep your cat's litter box clean and dry. 
  • Safe: Is silica cat litter safe? Ultimately, it depends on which type of silica you're referring to. Clay litters containing crystalline silica are unsafe because crystalline silica is toxic and creates dust that can cause breathing problems when inhaled. However, crystal cat litters contain amorphous silica, which is non-toxic to humans and pets. 

Pros and cons of silica cat litter

Cons

  • GI Issues: If your cat consumes silica gel cat litter, they may experience GI upset with symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting.3 However, they're unlikely to experience severe side effects because amorphous silica gel is relatively safe, even though gel packets warn against ingestion. Remember, silica gel crystal cat litter doesn't contain the crystalline silica found in some clay litters. The crystalline silica is the type more likely to cause serious harm. 
  • Messy: Your cat can easily make a mess when walking in and out of their litter box. Of course, how much the litter is tracked depends on its size, with smaller sand resulting in more tracking. However, the smaller sand can be more comfortable for cats to walk on. 
  • Expensive: Silica litter for cats is more expensive than clay cat litter. However, it's considered much safer, so the extra cost can provide pet parents peace of mind. 
  • Not environmentally-friendly: Unfortunately, silica cat litter isn't biodegradable because its inorganic sand manufacturer guidelines suggest throwing your cat litter in the garbage instead of flushing it down the toilet, which means it will end up in landfills. 
  • Unpleasant texture: As we've mentioned, the smaller grains are more comfortable on cat paws, even though they may make more of a mess. Larger sands will make less of a mess, but they're less comfortable on cat paws and can potentially cause your cat to avoid using the litter box altogether. 
  • Potential for obstructions: While crystal cat litter is relatively safe when a small amount is inhaled or ingested, it can cause obstructions when eaten in large quantities. 

Types of cat litter

Choosing The Right Litter For Your Cat

Is Silica cat litter safe? Technically speaking, silica gel litter is safe for cats, but there are pros and cons to each type of cat litter on the market. Your options when choosing a cat litter include the following: 

  • Silica gel (crystal): We've already discussed silica gel, but it's important to note that it's less dusty than clay, traps urine, and offers odor control, making it preferred over many other types of litter. 
  • Clay: Clay litter is the most affordable option for pet parents. However, it's not the safest because it contains more dust, which can cause respiratory issues in cats. You can find low-dust or dust-free options and clumping and non-clumping clay litter. Clumping is usually the preferred choice for cat owners because it streamlines the cleaning and scooping process. However, it generally has more dust than other options, so cats can easily track the litter around the house. 
  • Pine: Pine litter is another popular option because it has a natural ability to control odors and is more sustainable than other types of litter. Pine litter is made from pine trees and is low dust, absorbent, and softer than clay. 
  • Wheat: Wheat litter is another environmentally-friendly option. Made from processed wheat, it clumps, controls odors, and is flushable. 
  • Corn: Corn litter is another natural option for pet parents because it's biodegradable and clumps when it absorbs urine. Unfortunately, corn litter is susceptible to mold growth that can be toxic to pets. 
  • Grass: Grass litter is less popular because it's less available than other natural litter. It resembles corn litter and is a dried, eco-friendly grass that clumps to make cleanup easy. 
  • Walnut shell: Walnut shell cat litter is a natural option made from ground-up walnut shells with high absorbency to provide odor control. Walnut litter clumps and has low dust. 
  • Paper: Paper litter is another popular choice, especially for cats with paw injuries or skin irritation who need a softer material. Paper litter is processed, recycled paper, or shredded newspaper with little dust or irritation concerns. It's much softer than clay litter and absorbent. However, there's no odor control or clumping, so they're typically only used when cats have injuries. 

Finding the right cat litter can be difficult. Most cats have preferences for the type of litter they like, so you might have to experiment to find one that keeps them happy and prevents them from eliminating outside the litter box

A few factors to consider for finding the right cat litter include the following:

  • Clumping vs. non-clumping: Clumping cat litter clumps when liquid, such as urine, is applied to it, making it easier to scoop the litter box daily. Meanwhile, non-clumping litter only allows pet parents to scoop feces, so the only way to keep the litter box clean is by changing all of the litter at least once a week. 
  • Safety: Now that you have the answer to your question, "is silica cat litter safe?" you might wonder if all cat litter is safe. Unfortunately, some are safe while others aren't. Talk with your vet to determine what type of litter is safest for your individual pet. 
  • Odor control: Odor control is crucial for cat litter. However, pet parents should avoid scented cat litter because it can be too overwhelming for cats. Additionally, it only masks the smell; it doesn't eliminate it. Therefore, you should choose a litter that absorbs odor because it won't overwhelm your cat's sense of smell. 
  • Environmentally-friendly: If you're environmentally conscious, look for an eco-friendly cat litter you can flush down the toilet. Some cat litter is plant-based and can be composted, while others must be dumped in the garbage. 
  • Price: While your cat's preferences may not always align with your budget, you should consider the price of your cat's litter. Some litter is longer lasting, which could help you save more in the long run. 

FAQs

Is silica cat litter safe to breathe?

Silica cat litter can accumulate in your cat's lungs, causing respiratory problems. However, silica gel cat litter contains less dust than clay litter. In addition, while clay litter contains crystalline silica, silica gel contains amorphous silica, which is much safer for cats and humans. 

What is the best dust-free cat litter?

Many cat litter brands have created low or no-dust formulas to make it easy to find one that fits your cat's preferences. Dust-free cat litters come from sand, pellets, and clumping clay. However, there is no single best dust-free cat litter because the suitable litter for your cat depends on their preferences. For example, some cats won't use pellets and prefer softer sand. 

What cat litter do vets recommend?

The type of cat litter best for your feline friend depends on your pet. However, your vet can give you recommendations to help you find the right one. 

Silica cat litter box in front of blue background

Final Notes

Finding the right cat litter for your feline friend is crucial during litter box training and throughout their lives. If your cat doesn't like their litter, they're more likely to have undesirable urination outside the litter box. Luckily, you have options, but finding a suitable litter may take some trial and error. 

Silica gel cat litter is a popular option because it's less messy and contains less dust, making it a safer alternative to many clay litters. But is silica cat litter safe? Silica gel litter is non-toxic. However, you should always read the ingredients in the litter to ensure it doesn't contain crystalline silica, which can be harmful to pets. 

Shopping for litter for your cat can be a challenge. Dutch is here to help. Our licensed vets can help you find the right litter for your household and cat to prevent accidents, mess, and odors. Try Dutch telemedicine for pets today. 

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References

  1. “Crystalline Silica - Cancer-Causing Substances.” National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/crystalline-silica.

  2. “What Is Silica Gel and Why Do I Find Little Packets of It in Everything I Buy?” HowStuffWorks, 24 Aug. 2022, https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/science-questions/question206.htm.

  3. “Learn More about Silica Gel, a Common Pet Toxin.” ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/news/learn-more-about-silica-gel-common-pet-toxin.

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