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Emergency Cat Litter: 6 Substitutes You Probably Have at Home

by Ben Doyle | Reading Time: 5 minutes

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So, you’ve run out of cat litter and you’re wondering, ‘What can I use instead?’

In this article, we’ll show you 6 emergency cat litter alternatives you might already have at home.

Key Takeaways

You can use the following products as emergency cat litter;

  • Potting soil or compost
  • Sand
  • Rice
  • Shredded paper
  • Sawdust
  • Puppy pads

None are perfect but if you’re stuck, they all work well. The only caveat is if you have a self-cleaning litter box. You need the right litter for those.

Is it a Good Idea to Use Emergency Cat Litter?

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t recommend making drastic changes to your cat’s litter box. This could cause problems and even result in your cat refusing to use their litter box.

Where possible, always keep a stock of your cat’s favourite litter.

That said, we’re talking about an emergency here. Chances are, you don’t have any other choice.

6 Things You Can Use As Emergency Cat Litter (Which You Might Already Have at Home)

There are several products you can use as emergency cat litter. Some are better than others while some are more available, although none are perfect.

Chances are, you’ll have at least one of these at home.

1. Soil Or Compost

soil as cat litter

Soil and dirt have been a cat’s natural toilet as long as they have roamed the earth. It’s very available, it’s in a cat’s nature to use it, and chances are, you’ve got some going spare in the garden.

But as perfect as soil might be for your cat, using it in the house as litter isn’t ideal.

For starters, it can be super messy. If your cat has form for kicking litter out of their litter box, soil will go everywhere. That said, if you have a high-sided litter box, this should be less of a problem.

Soil doesn’t clump or mask odours either. So, not only can it smell, it can be a pain to scoop out when wet.

Also, soil can contain germs and microbes. You could even end up with bugs in the litter tray.

As such, if you have it, use clean potting soil or compost. Soil from the garden OK if you’re stuck, but don’t use it all the time.

2. Sand

sand as cat litter

Sand is also a very good cat litter alternative. If you’ve got any sand lying about, from your kid’s sandpit or anywhere else, try using that.

Like soil, it’s in a cat’s nature to use sand as a toilet.

It’s easy to scoop and clumps when wet, although the clumps crumble back to sand when it dries out. Also, if you scoop the clumps before they disintegrate, odours shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If you leave them though, and your cat pees on wet sand that has dried out, it can start to stink.

Again, if your cat kicks their usual litter everywhere, then sand will also get everywhere. Tacking can also be an issue. It can get stuck your cats’ paws and end up everywhere.

If you have a cat litter mat, make sure you use it.

3. Rice

using rice as cat litter

It might surprise you to see rice on this list. But as you’ll know, rice is fantastic at absorbing liquids and many people buy it in bulk.

You’ll know what to scoop as rice expands when it’s wet. And as the dry stuff is small and hard, it’ll fall through your litter scoop, making it easy to separate the clean from the dirty.

White rice is better than brown or wholewheat rice. It doesn’t have the husk on it so it absorbs liquids much easier.

Don’t use rice for too long though as it doesn’t contain odours very well.

4. Shredded Paper

using shredded paper as cat litter

Before cat litter became a product you could buy, cat owners used old newspapers. 

If you have a paper shredder at home or at work, you can use the shredded paper as an emergency cat litter.

You can either;

  1. Use it as it is, or
  2. Make proper cat litter from it

Using straight-up shredded paper is OK in an emergency. You’ll need quite a lot to soak up any cat wee and you’ll need to replace it often. It doesn’t control odour very well though.

That said, if you make your own cat litter from paper, it does a much better job. Although this takes time.

5. Sawdust

using sawdust as cat litter

Sawdust and/or wood shavings can work well as emergency cat litter. 

It’s eco-friendly, most cats like it and it clumps pretty well when wet so scooping is easy. And you can compost it (minus the poo) when it’s spent.

If you work with wood, know someone that does, or you have other pets that use sawdust as bedding, you should be able to get hold of plenty. 

There are a few things to bear in mind with sawdust though.

First, pee-soaked sawdust can smell of ammonia when left so you’ll want to scoop often.

Second, raw pine sawdust contains phenol which is toxic to cats. Yes, many wood-based cat litters are made from pine, but it’s kiln-dried which makes them safe. So, avoid using pine sawdust.

Third, sawdust is, well, dusty. If your cat has a respiratory condition, it might not be the best choice.

And last, it tracks everywhere!

6. Puppy Pads

using puppy  training pads as cat litter

Used for toilet training puppies, puppy pads do a good job of absorbing their wee. That means they also work well for cats.

If you have a puppy, or puppy pads at home, try putting one in your cat’s litter box.

Not only do they absorb urine well, but they also do a good job of not smelling. And there’s nothing to kick over the side of the litter box.

Use the Old Litter For the Best Chance of Your Cat Using An Emergency Cat Litter

Don’t throw away the old cat litter yet. Instead, try to refresh it;

  • Sift out as much of the mucky stuff as you can.
  • Clean the litter box by giving it a good scrub with soap and water
  • Put the litter back into the litter box
  • Mix in one of the emergency cat litters mentioned above

If you throw out the old cat litter and replace it with something unfamiliar, your cat might refuse to use it.

By mixing in your emergency cat litter with their old litter you and your cat stand a much better chance of using it.

In Conclusion

Running out of cat litter isn’t ideal, especially if your cat is a sensitive soul and doesn’t like change.

That said, there are several things you can use for emergency cat litter. If you can, mix it in with their old litter as this will give you the best odds of your cat using it.

The only caveat is that if you use an automatic litter box. They’re too expensive to put anything other than the right litter in them. So, if you run out of litter, make sure you have a regular litter tray to hand.

Or, you could let your cat go to the toilet outside.

Photo of author

Ben Doyle

Ben Doyle co-owns Pet Checkers with his wife, Vicki. He spends his days looking after all kinds of animals, from dogs to eagles. When he's not taking care of animals, he's writing about them.

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