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

How To Tell If Your Cat Is Allergic To Litter [A Complete Guide]

If you have a cat, you need a litter tray to ensure that your cat’s excrement and urine are dealt with hygienically. While litter trays can be unsightly and smelly, they can also cause litter allergies in cats. An allergic reaction can be serious, leaving your cat feeling sick and uncomfortable.

If you’re using a dusty or fragranced cat litter, this will be what’s behind your cat’s litter allergy. An allergy can lead to sores, rashes, and acne, while other cats may experience eye and respiratory issues. Litter dust occurs when poured into a tray or when a cat digs through its litter to hide its poop and pee.

Figuring out the cause of your cat’s litter allergy is the most important step. Experimenting with different litter types is one of the most effective ways to find out which brand, or ingredient, is causing an allergic response.

Can Cats Be Allergic To Kitty Litter?

Cats can develop litter allergies through direct contact with litter or by inhaling the dust. Not surprisingly, the paws are usually the worst affected area because cats spend time digging around the litter box to hide their waste.

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

Brachycephalic (flat-nosed breeds) are more likely to develop a litter allergy as they’re prone to respiratory conditions. Their flat noses cause respiratory sensitivity because they have no protection against the dust that is kicked around.

What Causes a Litter Allergy?

An oversensitivity to everyday substances will lead to an immune response. The cat’s body will try to flush these substances from the body, leading to an allergic reaction.

Most litter allergies are caused by fragrances or scented chemicals that have been added for odor control. Europe PMC stated that perfumes added to gravel in cat toilets could lead to allergic reactions. In extreme cases, asthma can occur.

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. For example, silica, 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. Scented litter may even encourage your cat to go to the toilet elsewhere, leading to an unwanted cat smell in your home.

can cats be allergic to kitty litter?

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Allergic to Litter?

If your cat has a litter allergy, certain behaviors will alert you that something’s not right:

  • 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. So, spend some time each week checking carefully through your cat’s fur.

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.

Feline acne can show as a series of pimples or blackheads, usually around the chin. In severe cases, a discharge will occur. Dusty litters will often cause cat acne as it blocks the skin’s pores.

What Type of Cat Litter Is Best for Allergies?

The following types of cat litter are available:

Pine Litter

Pine is one of the newer litter types and is popular with owners because of its natural odor control. In addition, it has a pleasing pine scent that can mask the smell of cat waste.

Some cats don’t mind the scent, but others will refuse to use their litter trays. But, rest assured, the pine toxins will have been removed from the litter, making it safe for cats to use.

There are certain brands of pine litter made from pine shavings. They use 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 hard and rough, so some cats will be uncomfortable underfoot. Consequently, this may not be the best litter to use if your cat has sensitive or cracked paw pads.

Walnut Litter

Walnut litter is made from walnut shells that would otherwise go to waste. Many owners use it because it’s sustainable, biodegradable, natural, and better for the environment.

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

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 that, as discussed, struggle to breathe properly.

Corn Litter

Corn is not a good product for cat litter 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 is a breeding ground for aflatoxins. 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. As aflatoxin is poisonous to cats, corn litter should be used with extreme caution.

Corn litter is biodegradable and sustainable and one of the least dusty litters available. This makes it better for cats that 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 aggregate.

If you use corn litter, 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 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.

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 talk you through your options when 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.

rash from cat litter

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 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’s 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 gather 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.