can cats be allergic to litter dust?
Cat Health and Wellness

How To Tell If Your Cat Is Allergic To Litter

If you have a kitten or an indoor cat, you’ll likely need to use a little tray to keep your house clean and your cat’s excrement dealt with hygienically. While they can sometimes be unsightly and a little bit smelly, they can also be the source of a litter allergy. This problem can be serious and can leave your cat feeling uncomfortable if left untreated.

A cat litter allergy can manifest in many different ways, depending on the severity of the allergy. Some cats develop sores, rashes, or acne, while others may suffer from eye and respiratory issues. This is most commonly caused by litter dust, which is a side effect from litter being poured into a tray or a cat digging through its litter to hide excrement.

Getting to the bottom of your cat’s litter allergy is the most important step to treating it. Trying lots of different litter types is one of the most effective ways to distinguish which one is making your cat sick, but it’s not always an experiment you want to attempt in the first place.

Can Cats Be Allergic To Kitty Litter?

A cat can be allergic to its litter. While fairly uncommon, it can cause discomfort and, in the most severe cases, can be painful. Cats can develop litter allergies through direct contact with litter or by inhaling the dust.

Paws are usually the worse area affected. This is because cats usually spend a bit of time after they’ve gone to the toilet digging around the litter box to hide their waste. Cats bury their feces for two reasons:

  • Keep their presence unknown from possible predators in the wild.
  • Show dominant cats that they are not challenging them. It’s an instinct that’s been passed on from their life in the wild.

A healthy cat is less prone to litter allergies than a kitten, senior cat, or cats with a compromised immune system. If your cat already has an allergy, it may be more likely to develop an allergy to litter.

Brachycephalic or flat-nosed breeds are also more likely to develop a litter allergy, particularly if they suffer from respiratory conditions already. Their flat noses make them more susceptible to respiratory sensitivity. The problem with litter is that when they’re using their litter tray, they have no protection against the dust that is kicked around.

What Causes a Litter Allergy?

An allergy is usually caused by an oversensitivity to everyday substances, which a cat’s immune system will identify as being dangerous. A cat’s body will try to flush these substances out from the body, causing a reaction that will display several different symptoms.

Most litter allergies are caused by fragrances or scented chemicals that have been added for odor control. Europe PMC says that when perfumes are added to gravel in cat toilets, toxic and allergic reactions can occur. In extreme cases, asthma can occur on account of irritation.

The European Respiratory Journal also argues that cat litter is a possible trigger for sarcoidosis. This is a disease involving a series of inflammatory cells that form granulomas, which are lumps. Silica, which is a component found in cat litter, can initiate inflammation and cause a reaction.

Scented litter only really benefits humans, so it’s best to avoid this kind of litter altogether to keep your cat as healthy as possible. Scented litter may even encourage your cat to go to the toilet elsewhere, who will soil areas of your house instead.

can cats be allergic to kitty litter?

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Allergic to Litter?

If your cat is suffering from a litter allergy, there are certain behaviors that it will display to alert you that something’s not quite right. This includes:

  • Excessive licking or grooming. In some cases, this may lead to bald patches where your cat has tried to find relief
  • Scratching around the ears. You may also find hair loss in the surrounding area
  • Increased chewing, scratching, or biting
  • Frequent soiling outside of the litter box. This is an indication that your cat is trying to avoid using its litter tray

Rash from Cat Litter

If your cat is allergic to litter, it may start to develop a rash. Rashes can be hard to spot, especially if your cat has long hair. Spend some time each week checking through your cat’s fur for any signs of a rash. This is even more important if you already suspect your cat has an allergy.

Allergic contact dermatitis is a skin condition caused by contact with a substance your cat is allergic to. It presents itself as painful, itchy sores. Your cat will often scratch them and is likely to be left with bald patches as a result. Scratching will also make the wound worse, so it can be difficult to get under control.

If your cat is excessively scratching at one particular part of its body, check the area thoroughly for any signs of irritation or redness. If you find anything, head to your veterinarian to get the appropriate treatment. You may also need to change your cat’s litter and wash your cat with an anti-allergy shampoo to soothe its skin.

Cat acne is another symptom of a litter allergy. It can manifest itself as a series of pimples or blackheads – usually around the chin. In severe cases, discharge will occur. Dusty litters will often cause cat acne. The dust settles into pores and traps dirt. This leads to inflammation, which can be incredibly painful, particularly if left untreated.

What Type of Cat Litter is Best for Allergies?

The following types of cat litter could be a good option for cats that suffer from an allergy. Like anything, there are pros and cons to each one.

Pine Litter

Pine is a wood that can cause an allergy in cats that have a sensitivity to it. It’s one of the newer litter types on the market and is popular with cat owners because of its natural odor control. It has a pleasing pine scent that can mask the smell of cat waste.

Some cats don’t mind the scent. Others will refuse to use their litter tray because of it. You won’t know with your cat until you give it a try but be rest assured that pine toxins will have been removed from the litter before it goes on sale, making it safe for cats to use.

When it comes to litter allergies, the good news is that there are certain brands of pine litter that are made from pine shavings. They include mineral oil to minimize dust and extract the clumping agent from plants. This means that there are no irritating chemicals that can cause an allergic reaction.

However, pine litter pellets can be a bit hard and rough. This means that some cats won’t like standing on it as it can feel uncomfortable underfoot. If your cat has sensitive paws, this may not be the best litter to use.

Walnut Litter

Walnut litter is made from walnut shells and is a by-product of the food industry, which would otherwise go to waste. Many cat owners use it because it’s sustainable, biodegradable, natural, and better for the environment.

Cats can develop and be born with a walnut allergy. Nut allergies are one of the most common causes of itchiness in cats. Even the smallest exposure to a walnut could result in an allergic reaction; the symptoms of which include vomiting, excessive itching, and a skin rash.

The severity of symptoms will vary depending on your cat’s allergy, but prolonged exposure will only make it worse. If your cat uses its litter tray daily, the allergy won’t get better over time. Instead, your cat will become more allergic and the reaction will become more uncomfortable and painful.

If your cat isn’t allergic to walnuts, walnut litter is low on dust particles and contains no added perfumes. This is good for brachycephalic or flat-nosed cats who struggle to breathe properly. Many walnut litter brands can also be flushed – but it’s always best to exercise caution, as the last thing you will want is a blocked cistern.

Corn Litter

While corn is a wonderful crop for human consumption, it’s not such a good product for cat litter. This is because corn can develop aflatoxin. This is a mold that produces poisonous carcinogens and mutagens.

Aflatoxins usually occur when exposed to moisture and heat for prolonged periods. A cat litter box meets this criteria and is a breeding ground for these toxic chemicals. This fertile environment can make your cat very sick. And even after corn has been dried and turned into cat litter, aflatoxin mold can still be dangerous.

In the worst cases, aflatoxin can cause jaundice, anemia, gastrointestinal issues, and cancer. Aflatoxin is incredibly poisonous to cats, so corn litter should be used with extreme caution.

Corn litter can also attract bugs. While they’re not usually harmful to cats, they can lead to an infestation in your home. This would be unpleasant for both you and your pet. Regular cleaning is the best way to prevent bugs.

Corn litter isn’t all bad, though. It’s biodegradable and sustainable. It’s also one of the least dusty litters available. This makes it better for cats who suffer because of the dust that is produced by litter. Corn litter tends to be fine and lightweight, too. If your cat has sensitive paws, it might get on well with this kind of aggregate.

If you choose to use corn litter, make sure you always store it in a cool, dry place. Don’t store it anywhere where humidity can occur as this will make it more susceptible to moisture and therefore toxins.

Cats Allergic to Litter Dust

If your cat uses a dusty litter (like clay), airborne particles can be inhaled. This can cause an irritation or allergic reaction. In some cases, litter dust can even cause an asthma attack. The dust may even stick to your cat’s paws or fur, so it can cause an allergic even once the dust has settled. This can be incredibly tricky for pet owners to manage as bathing a cat each time it has used the litter tray is not realistic.

Another issue with litter dust is that it usually settles on furniture and the area around the litter tray. While you probably can’t see it, it’s still there causing havoc with your cat’s health.

Since most cats bury their excrement after they have gone to the loo, one of the only ways to prevent this type of allergy is to switch to a dust-free litter. There are many types available that have been specifically designed to minimize painful reactions.

If your cat is allergic to litter, it may begin to exhibit several symptoms of discomfort. Some symptoms may be very subtle, while others may get worse over time. A tell-tale sign that your cat is uncomfortable and in possible pain is if it stops using its litter tray or begins to have accidents around the house.

As well as excessive scratching, your cat may develop irritated paws from digging through the litter to bury its waste. Its paws could appear red and sore, or your cat may begin to chew them to try and get relief.

rash from cat litter

Your cat might start snoring too. While this doesn’t seem like a symptom of a litter allergy, it can indicate that your cat has a sore throat from where it’s ingested the litter. Keep an eye on this as your cat sleeps and if it starts to snore, seek advice. Other symptoms may include:

  • Red, itchy, sore skin
  • Hair loss
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Sneezing
  • Facial swelling
  • Sore or watery eyes
  • Acne
  • Runny nose

If you notice any symptoms, especially when your cat has just used the litter tray, consult your veterinarian as soon as you can. They can recommend the best treatment and can talk you through your options when it comes to switching litter.

How to Prevent a Litter Allergy?

While a litter allergy is hard to treat, there are some things you can do to make life more comfortable for your cat to try and prevent a reaction.

Choose a Hypoallergenic Litter

The problem with traditional, non-clumping litter is that it’s extremely dusty. Pouring it into a litter tray can trigger airborne particles that create respiratory problems in cats. The same thing happens when cats dig their litter to hide their excrement.

Traditional litter can also contain additives or fragrances that can irritate a cat’s sensitive skin. Sodium bentonite is a chemical often found in clay clumping litter. It can cause asthma and other lung problems when inhaled.

Change Your Cat’s Litter Gradually

If you change it too quickly, your cat may become confused or stressed by the change. Cats tend to exhibit a preference for certain litters. Once trained to use one litter, a cat may reject another, even if offering improvements.

To prevent this, spend a few days swapping to a hypoallergenic litter, then be patient. It can sometimes take a few weeks to see a difference, so use this time to monitor the situation.

Clean out the Litter Daily

Even odor-free litters need regular cleaning. Cats like to go to the toilet in a clean environment. If the litter is dirty and smelly, there’s every chance they’ll find a clean spot to relieve themselves.

Excrement that’s left unscooped in the little tray can quickly become unhygienic, causing further health issues. It’s also important to wash out the litter tray each time you replace the litter.

Warm, soapy water is fine. But if you prefer to use a spray, make sure it’s specially designed for cats and free from toxic chemicals. Never use anything that contains bleach.

Regularly Inspect Your Cat

If you can, check your cat’s fur and paws each time it has used the litter tray for any bits of litter or dust that can irritate its skin. If you have a long-haired cat, be sure to give it a regular bath – maybe once a week – to get any dust particles out of its fur.

Keep the Litter Tray Clutter-Free

Keep your cat’s litter tray away from any toys or bedding your cats use regularly. This will stop the dust particles from landing on them. Or if you live in a small flat or apartment, use a litter mat. These will trap litter and dust and prevent your cat from walking around the house. Hoover regularly to pick up the dust particles.

Trying a few different types of litter is the best way to find the one that works best for your cat. Keeping a close eye on your cat’s skin, paws, and overall health is the most effective way of managing your cat’s litter allergy.