pick of the litter: a new alternative to clay litter

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Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Feb 10 2014


The United States produces a lot of corn; more than 14-billion bushels of the yellow grain were harvested in 2013. Turning all that corn into usable or edible products creates a lot of unusable and inedible waste. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently found an eco-friendly use for leftover corn grains: cat litter.

According to a recent announcement, the USDA has created a 100-percent biodegradable, dust-free, clumping cat litter made from dried distiller’s grains (DDG). DDG’s are a normal byproduct of ethanol (alcohol) production from corn. Corn ethanol is used as a fuel source as well as in alcoholic beverages such as whiskey and vodka. DDG’s are normally discarded or used as an ingredient in cattle feed. The USDA suggests thinking outside the feedlot and into the litterbox. Industry experts predict farmers could fetch a higher price for DDG’s used in cat litter production.

Corn has been used for years as kitty litter, but this is the first time an agricultural waste product has been tapped for use. The USDA treated the DDG’s with glycerol to prevent dust, guar gum for clumping properties, and a tiny bit of copper sulfate for odor control to make their version of a natural cat litter.

The USDA isn’t in the cat litter business. They hope their findings will encourage the private sector to take their research and produce a product that helps farmers as well as cat owners. In 2012, natural and alternative cat litters accounted for 55-percent of all sales in the natural pet care category according to Market Research. Cat owners clearly want better litter options; corn byproduct litter could be such an option.

Cat litter may not be the hottest topic in the veterinary medical world, but it is something every cat deals with every day – multiple times a day. A new ecologically friendly cat litter is something that caught my attention. I’m always on the lookout for alternatives to non-biodegradable clay cat litter. It is estimated that nearly three million tons of clay litter winds up clogging landfills each year. We’ve got to do better.

I’m excited the USDA is looking for ways to solve big problems with simple solutions. Clay cat litter has run its course; we need cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternatives. Think about what you’re scooping next time you clean your litter box. Together we can create a healthier tomorrow for everyone.