Hygiene

10 Cat Litter Alternatives

Check out these cat litter alternatives, including eco-friendly and cheap options, as well as products that will work as an emergency replacement.

Tara Maurer holding cat smiling

Last Updated: June 6, 2024 | 7 min read

Cat sitting next to shredded paper.

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One of the first steps of cat parenthood is setting up a litter box and potty training your kitten. It’s an absolute necessity, but thankfully, most kittens seem to innately know how to use the litter box and require minimal training. While there are an overwhelming number of litter box options, a simple, basic box is all you need.

As a seasoned cat caregiver, you know that not all litters are created equal. (If you think there are too many varieties of litter boxes, just wait until you start shopping for litter.) Some perform well at odor control, while others aid in creating a stinky mess. Some kitty litters work super well but fail when it comes to sustainability, safety, and price.

If you’re looking for cat litter alternatives, you’ve likely decided that the market options aren’t worth the price you’re paying—or maybe you just ran out of litter and need a quick homemade solution. Check out these kitty litter alternatives for your furry friend.

Ground Corn

Corn has become a popular natural litter ingredient, and for good reason. It clumps well, is non-toxic, biodegradable, eco-friendly, and low dust. You can purchase ground corn in bulk at feed or farm supply stores.

Are there any downsides to ground corn? Well, you won’t get the best odor control, and corn is also prone to tracking. Some people also dislike its earthy smell.

ProsCons
ClumpingNatural odor that not everyone enjoys
Low dustVulnerable to spoilage
Eco-friendlyCan be tracked

Horse & Small Animal Bedding

If you want to save on the cost of buying pine pellet cat litter, visit your local farm supply store and pick up generic condensed pine pellets, which are used as bedding for horses and small animals. These pellets are a super cheap cat litter alternative. Confirm the pellets are kiln-dried so they’re safe for your feline friend.

Along the same lines, wood shaving used for animal bedding can also be used as a cat litter substitute. Like wood pellets, wood shaving can mask odor and have a high degree of absorbency.

Save money by purchasing this product in bulk. Ensure the wood shaving you purchase are cat-approved and/or heat treated to avoid toxicity.

Pros Cons
AffordableSome cats might not like the feel on their paws
Good odor controlMust be replaced frequently
Low tracking

Potting Soil

For picky cats, experts recommend sticking to what your feline would naturally seek out in the wild. And since cats love doing their business in the garden, potting soils can work as an adequate cat litter substitute.

While it will make more of a mess than traditional litter, fresh soil is natural, biodegradable, and effective at controlling odors.

ProsCons
Widely available Messy
BiodegradableMay harbor bacteria and fungi
Can be purchased in bulk

Puppy Pee Pads

Puppy pee pads absorb liquid and are easy to maintain. Your cat might already be familiar with them—my mom uses pee pads around her cats’ litter box to catch spills and keep the area tidier.

Just be warned that cats are naturally inclined to bury their poop, so your feline may bunch up the pad in an effort to hide their elimination.

ProsCons
High absorbencyCat may bunch or shred pads in attempt to bury elimination
Widely available
Reusable options available

Rabbit Feed

Manufacturers make rabbit feed pellets by mixing various materials, such as alfalfa, corn, grass, and wheat. These pellets can be very absorbent and clump together for easy cleaning. They also do a decent job of odor control.

On the other hand, your cat may find the smell of this kitty litter alternative enticing enough to give it a taste. This is common among corn, grass, walnut, and wheat litters. While eating a few pellets of rabbit feed isn’t dangerous for your cat, it’s best to avoid this becoming a habit. To ensure the safety and well-being of your cat, consider exploring other cat litter alternatives if your feline tries to eat the rabbit feed.

ProsCons
ClumpingCat may try to eat litter
Good odor controlMay attract pests
Very low dust

Sand

Before commercial cat litter, sand was a popular choice for indoor cats. It clumps reasonably well, is affordable, and is widely available. Plus, your cat will love the feel of this material on their toe beans.

But there’s a reason why kitty litter superseded sand. Sand tracks all over the home and doesn’t offer the same absorption power and odor control as standard litter.

If you want to try it, here are a few tips. First, you shouldn’t scoop sand from outside for the litter pan. This sand will likely contain parasite eggs or other pathogens that can harm your kitty. Try purchasing your sand from a local landscaping company that sells river or beach sand. These are usually sterilized and do not contain silica. Just make sure the product is natural sand. Some manufacturers make sandbox or “play” sands from crystalline silica (crushed quartz), a known carcinogen that can cause respiratory diseases.

Pros Cons
Cost-effectiveMessy
No additivesNo odor control
Might harbor parasites and bacteria

Sawdust

If you can easily access a workshop with free sawdust, you can save a bundle on kitty litter. Sawdust is absorbent, biodegradable, and lightly scented to mask odors.

Just avoid cedar or pine sawdust, which contain phenols that are toxic to cats. If you used pine pellets before, don’t worry—these pellets are kiln-dried, which reduces phenol content.

Pros Cons
Free in many casesMust be frequently changed
BiodegradableNot as absorbent as other options
Naturally scentedLots of tracking

Shredded Paper

While today’s manufacturers sell paper-based litter, the cheaper, homemade version requires a paper shredder and lots of paper.

Keep in mind that cats typically prefer a granule-style litter, but if your cat accepts it, paper is a natural, cost-saving alternative to cat litter. It produces virtually no dust, making it a perfect option for homes with asthmatics.

ProsCons
Eco-friendlyMust be changed frequently
Non-toxicNo odor control
Dust-free

Toilet Training

Toilet training for cats gained popularity in the early 2010s, with potty training being the talk of online forums and how-to videos across YouTube. During this time, various potty training kits hit the market, including the CitiKitty cat toilet, which quickly sold out after its debut on “Shark Tank.” Heck, I remember getting my haircut and having my stylist tell me she had successfully transitioned her cat from litter box to toilet like it was a regular, everyday occurrence.

While kitty toilet training has lost its popularity, mainly due to veterinarians and cat behaviorists advocating against it, this is still a possible complete litter box alternative. Along with CitiKitty, another popular system is the LitterKwitter, which claims to train your cat to use a human toilet in eight weeks or less.

ProsCons
No more litter box Toilet seat can be slippery for cats
Eliminates health monitoring (can’t accurately see changes in urine volume and frequency)
Can release Toxoplasma gondii and other microorganisms into water system*
*Learn more about toxoplasmosis in our article discussing the health and environmental risks of flushing cat poop down the toilet.

Whole Wheat

If you’re in a pinch for homemade cat litter, reach into your cupboard for the whole wheat. Wheat is actually used in natural litter because it is highly absorbent, low in dust, odor-fighting, and eco-friendly.

If your kitty seems to not like the feel of natural wheat under their feet, pop the grain into your blender for a few seconds to get a finer consistency.

ProsCons
Widely availableProne to growing harmful fungus
BiodegradableNeeds frequent changing
Low dust

Our Experience With Cat Litter Alternatives

I’ve owned cats most of my life and have tried a long list of cat litter types. I’ve also tried a few alternatives along the way, some out of necessity and others out of curiosity. As someone who is more experienced in litter box care and maintenance than many, I urge caution against making huge, sudden changes to your cat litter, especially if you are experimenting with litter alternatives like sand, shredded paper, or wood shavings. I have tried all three of these options firsthand. 

Sand is something I would use only in an emergency and if you have no other choice. It is very messy, stinky, and super gross to clean up. While outdoor cats love making sand their litter box, this is not a suitable or very sanitary solution for indoor kitties. If you must use it for a day or two it might be livable, but this is no long-term litter alternative. 

Shredded paper is also something I’ve used in a pinch, although if you want paper litter, I recommend recycled newspaper pellets over shredded paper. The shredded newspaper does the job but has no odor control and little absorbency. You essentially have to start over every time your cat pees. It is a good solution if you need a quick overnight litterbox, but not a setup I would use more than a day or two at a time. 

One of my top litter alternatives is cedar wood shavings made for livestock and other animal bedding. The shavings are soft, smell good, and are very absorbent. They don’t clump, but I usually use pine pellet litter for my cats, so that is no different. It is easy to scoop out the soiled shavings and waste as I do with my regular cat litter. The cedar shavings are chemical-free and made for animal use, so I find them to be a very good alternative if I cannot find my cat’s preferred litter or need an alternative to use. 

Danielle DeGroot, Rescue Cat Owner, Kitty Litter Expert, & Love Your Cat Research & Writing

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about kitty litter and litter boxes. Don’t see yours? Ask us in the comments.

What Can I Use To Substitute Cat Litter?

If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve run out of cat litter, don’t panic. You can use plenty of household items as alternatives to cat litter. Look for granulated items that offer good absorbency. Grains like oatmeal, rice, and barley are excellent options. Even breakfast cereals, pasta, and shredded tortillas can do the trick.

Paper is always a good emergency litter substitute. You can also try shredding up some paper towels. Avoid using a cloth towel as this could encourage elimination in unwanted areas in the future.

What Can I Use As A Litter Box If I Don’t Have One?

Don’t worry if you don’t have a litter box on hand. You can easily create one from items you already have at home. A cardboard box, for instance, can be a great temporary solution. Just add a plastic bag liner to prevent the cardboard from absorbing moisture and odor. Other options include a storage tote, oven tray, or even a plastic laundry basket (with a garbage bag liner).

Cat Litter Odor Eliminators

If you’re using one of these cheap cat litter alternatives, you may need more help controlling foul odors. Try adding a tablespoon of baking soda to your cat’s litter pan to neutralize urine odors. Consider one of these seven best cat litter odor eliminators if you need more support.

Why Trust Love Your Cat?

Tara’s goal at Love Your Cat is to give readers the information they need to raise well-adjusted, happy cats. Tara has 20+ years of experience with felines and spends countless hours researching to provide in-depth detail on every topic. She currently lives with two nine-year-old domestic cats, Luna and Lucy. Tara’s cats have personally tested various litter substrates, including clay, corn, pine, and tofu.

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