A link to an interesting article by Jacqueline C. Neilson, DVM, DACVB showed up in my inbox the other day. Here is a quote.

Litter preferences probably originated with the domestic cat’s evolutionary predecessor, Felis silvestris lybica, the African wildcat. A desert-dwelling creature, the African wildcat used the desert sand as its toilet, establishing a substrate preference that has apparently persisted throughout the domestication process.

In theory, this makes perfect sense. Cats evolved in a sandy desert, so they’ll generally prefer sandy litters to those made from clay, paper, corn, or synthetic materials. It’s a fine theory.

But, as Homer Simpson pointed out, communism works in theory. So, whenever I catch wind of a theory stating that cats evolved to use sandy litter, or dogs and cats evolved to eat raw food, my reply to the theorizer is put your money where your mouth is. Prove it.

I have little patience for those who throw out these sorts theories without bothering to prove them. Because proving these sorts of theories is very simple to do. In the case of feline litter preferences, all one needs to do is gather a group of cats that will yield statistically significant results, control for confounding factors, and quantitatively measure litter use.

Dr. Neilson has enough letters after her name that I would expect her to back up such a theory with hard evidence. And, of course, she does.

The article reports on several studies in which different types of litter were pitted against each other. Cats would have access to litter boxes that were identical except for the aspect under study. And then:

Excrement deposited in the boxes was collected every two hours during the daytime and in the morning, and the excrement was then counted, weighed, and recorded.

The results: cats generally prefer sandy, clumping litters. They generally prefer litters with less dust. For odor control, they generally prefer activated carbon over sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

I have two final points to make. First, although the article provides information about cats’ general preferences, individual cats may have markedly different preferences. When choosing a litter, pick one that works best for your cat in your circumstances.

Second, next time you meet someone who says he is a research scientist, be sure to wonder to yourself whether his job involves “counting, weighing, and recording” cat feces.

Photo: Hershey analyzes his choices.