I didn’t used to think mulch about cat litter

All web developers have at least one cat. Cats are essential because they bug you to get up to take care of something – the dead mouse, food out, food in, and, of course, the cat box. It helps one avoid looking up after the last coffee sip and noticing that it has grown dark outside. So today I’d like to talk about this development-related topic.

I don’t like clay-based cat litter. The cheap variety is dusty and produces an ammonia-cloud whenever the cats paw it.

The more expensive brands have extra chemicals and suspicious little green bits.

For years, I dumped the sodden clay-mass in a pile in our back yard until it developed into a moldy mountain.

Concerned about this environmental time-bomb, I began removing the mountain to our transfer station where the only disposal option was to dump it in with the household trash.

I knew this could not go on much longer.

Then, Petco came to town. It was an eye-opener to see the products there for all the in’s and out’s of our little furry friends.

Besides the usual clay-based litter product, Petco carried litter made from wood, paper, grains, shells, breadfuit, ground-up currency featuring deposed dictators, and something that appeared to be hand-made pencil shavings priced at about the same price-per-pound as sirloin steak.

Alas, paying a higher per-pound-price than I was paying for cat food would not be sustainable.

This gave me the idea that I should try sawdust, or something like it, that might be available for free or low cost. I did get some sawdust, but since I’m not a carpenter, I couldn’t see myself hunting down sawdust on a continual basis.

I noticed that one of the litter products was little pine pellets similar to the pellets used for stoves. I purchased a bag of those, and also borrowed a bag of pellet-stove pellets from a friend. The large bag of fuel pellets was half as expensive as the smaller bag of pine pellets.

I followed the instructions on the pine pellet bag which specified gradually introducing the pellets into the clay cat litter. The verdict on pellets was that, although the pine smelled nicer, the softwood mix fuel pellets did the job just as well.

Then my wife came home with a bag of cedar mulch for the garden. These are big bags that cost $4 each.

The cedar smelled very nice, so I threw in some of that into the cat box. Eventually the mix in the litter was a couple handfuls of pellets and a couple handfuls of mulch.

Tom Stier

Tom Stier

Mulch had the advantage of being less expensive than pellet fuel and not as heavy to work with. And did I mention it smelled nice?

At the same time, I wanted to make sure the cats would remember where they should do their business. I began laying out the used woody mix in the hot sun on a large piece of cardboard, after removing turds and the usual single packed clump of wet material.

This resulted in a sun-dried, fresh-smelling material, with just a hint of that eau de cat. I began adding in varying percentages of the recycled product to their pristine mulch/pellet mix. And sure enough, they never noticed the difference.

It’s been over a year since I began this experiment, and the cats have remained happy and healthy with their sanitary facilities.

The routine, which takes just minutes a day, is to take the litter box to a wooded area off our driveway and fling the mulch-covered turds (which look just like coconut-covered dates!) into the woods. I then drop the pee-patty mulch around flowers in our yard. I don’t use it around edible plants. In any case, a hard rain and hot sun cleanses all.

The remaining dry-to-slightly damp mulch is baked by the sun in good weather and dried in the basement in the winter. The woody aroma is predominant, which makes the whole process a breeze.

At this point, the mix for the box is about 60% new and 40% purified. The odor from the litter box is unnoticeable, even in winter and I feel good about using a completely recyclable and sustainable material for my daily cat dooty.


Since posting this, it has come to my attention that cedar can be toxic to cats. So, first I want to say that I am not advocating the use of cedar and that this post is for entertainment purposes ONLY! Now, here are my conclusions about cedar and cats.

Apparently, there was a natural flea & tick product for cats some years ago which contained CONCENTRATED cedar oil as an ingredient. It was applied to the back of their necks and some cats became ill as it was absorbed into their bloodstream.

In my converting from clay litter my first step was gradually introducing the pine pellet product, then the softwood pellets and then the cedar mulch. The mulch I use does not have any kind of  strong ‘oily’ feel to me and then when it is baked by a day of sun, I doubt it has much oil content at all.

Some online info says that cedar mulch can be used as a deterrent for cats because they don’t like the smell! My cats spend about two five minute sessions a day with their paws in contact with material that is likely only 30% fresh cedar bark.

I appreciate being notified of this potential downside and I am certainly willing to adjust the mix if I see any adverse effects on the cats.

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