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pick of the litter: a new alternative to clay litter

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.   

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Posted by Joseph Watson
on May 01 2014 04:57

This alternative seems to be working well for absorbing cat litter. keeping a clean environment helps everyone to stay healthy. It is necessary to provide better equipments for maintaining good hygienic conditions of your pets

Posted by Barbara Duffy
on March 03 2014 18:38

even if litter is biodegradable, unless it is composted it will not degrade if tossed in the trash....

Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward
on February 11 2014 15:55

Great question! First of all, while this is technically referred to as "an agricultural waste product," it's actually a common feed for cows! Secondly, as I understand, the processing as proposed by the USDA would destroy any alfatoxins that somehow snuck through several layers of USDA inspection. Besides, alfatoxins would need to be eaten to cause harm; thankfully few cats eat their litter. So, this is biodegradable (unlike clay litter), used as cattle feed (remember this is from the manufacture of alcohol), and we produce tons of it each year that go to waste -- I think the USDA may be on to something! Almost every feline and environmental group I know of is increasingly concerned about cat litter wastes clogging up our landfills, sewer systems, and polluting our environment. I think we need to be looking for safe, environmentally-friendly alternatives. I hope you agree. Finally, as I stated in the column, this is only a scientific research study. There is no product available today. Any product would be thoroughly tested and inspected before it would end up in my cat's litterbox! Hope that answers your question and thanks for reading! Wags and purrs, Dr. Ernie Ward

Posted by Lori Genstein
on February 10 2014 19:59

Hello, Dr. Ward! Thanks for taking my question… will utilizing corn for litter become a concern due to aflatoxin? I must say, I'm not comfortable with using "an agricultural waste product" in my kitty's box, nor would I recommend this for my clients' kitties! Please help me understand this. Most appreciated, Dr. Ward! Lori, Owner/Principal Pet Care Provider - I've Got the 'Scoop'!, LLC,

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