Silicosis and Lung Cancer News: Silica Cat Litters

What are the health effects of clumping cat litter on humans? Are there any negative side effects from breathing the actual litter?

–Andy and Taeja Klukas, Maple Grove, MN

Clay-based cat litters contain crystalline silica, the main component in sand, rock and mineral ores. A possible health threat from clay-based litters is posed by silica dust, which can be kicked up and breathed in by both cats and humans. Prolonged exposure to silica dust causes silicosis, a non-cancerous but sometimes fatal lung disease. Crystalline silica dust is also a suspected carcinogen, associated with bronchitis and tuberculosis. Although exposure to this dust is of great concern to those working in mines or on construction sites, the effects on cat owners exposed while cleaning their cat’s litter box are virtually unknown.

However, respiration problems are not the only thing to consider when purchasing litter for your cat. All cats clean their fur and paws, which can be coated with clay litter from using the litter box. Clumping litters in particular can be harmful to your pet because, once ingested, the litter expands and absorbs moisture in the intestines, causing blockages and dehydration, and preventing the absorption of nutrients. For this reason, the ASPCA recommends not using clumping litter for kittens.

Aware of the possible risks of silica dust and other side effects from clay litters, many cat owners are opting for healthier, more environmentally-sound alternatives. Dust-free litters like Feline Pine or Swheat Scoop are biodegradable, less harmful if ingested by pets, and produce no dangerous respirable dusts. They both contain no chemical additives, fragrances or dyes, are completely flushable, and can even be used as compost or mulch.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30333
Tel. (404) 639-3311 

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7 Responses to “Silicosis and Lung Cancer News: Silica Cat Litters”

  1. Peggy Hendricks Says:

    My sister just recently past away at the age of 56. She has always had cats. Her diagnosis, Respitory Failure, Interstitial Lung Disease, COPD.
    She had cat litter boxes for her cats always. One of the items listed on the probable cause of the Interstitial Lung Disease (no Autopsy was performs at the request of her daughters) was Silica Gel.

    Could this have been a factor in her death?

  2. petguru Says:

    Hello Peggy,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. It’s stories like yours/hers that we’re working for to help get the message out about harmful pet products. I’m no actual doctor so I shouldn’t speculate, but if she always had lots of household cats there’s a good chance that the silica litter wasn’t helping matters.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Ricardo Says:

    Thanks for posting this useful informations.

    I’m going to change the sand type of my cat litter.


  4. Tiffany Says:

    My step c hildren go to their mothers 3 days a week and every other week 4. she lives with her mom who has always had a lot of cats. I recently found out from my eight year old step daughter that there is a littler box in every room including their bedroom. I got very concerned about this and decided to google it and came up with this site. which i am very glad that i did. Should i be concerned?

  5. cre8tivesoul Says:

    Thank you so much for getting the word across to cat lovers. I started to suspect there might be a “link” between certain cat litters and cancer, albeit too late. My cat has recently been diagnosed with a tumour in her left lung and the vet is 80% sure it is cancerous. I am appalled and enraged by the callous disregard of those companies that manufacture and sell such products, knowing full well of the dangers they can present to both humans and animals alike.

  6. dgreatblog Says:

    This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last week.
    thanks & regards – mesothelioma resource

  7. kate austin Says:

    Having read that clay litters are bad, I’ve used Swheat Scoop for years, but it turns out to be BAD NEWS. I’ve always noticed that our cat’s head would be covered with dust whenever he used the box, and the dust fills the air whenever we add more litter to the box. We’ve just spent $2000 having our cat’s fever/illness diagnosed and treated– xrays show pneumonia and chronic lung disease, presumably caused by all the dust from the “organic” Swheat Scoop. Will not use it again!

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