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I Have A Litter Secret To Share (Cleaning Tips For Wood Pellet Cat Litter)

I love most of the non-clay litters on the market these days. So many people who think that cat litter boxes are stinky base that on the smell of the perfumed, clay litter. My favorites are S’wheat Scoop (wheat) and World’s Best (corn). They clump really well and I think both of them smell like freshly baked cookies. (Note: I do not accept payment for mentions or reviews of products and services that I write about on this site.)

Several of my clients use wood pellet litters. This is the least expensive kitty litter option. It’s even cheaper than the icky clay litter if you buy it in bulk from suppliers of wood stove pellets.

Wood pellet litters (often made of pine) are my least favorite to clean because it takes so much time to scoop out the waste. Plus, until I learned the “panning for gold” technique, it annoyed me to throw away so many pellets that were still usable.

Thanks to a client who has a house full of cats and who volunteers with Feline Friends, I’ve learned this technique for quickly separating the wood dust of  used litter from the pellets that can be left in the box. This technique also works really well with “Lift n Sift” style litter boxes.

Below is a 54 second video showing how I do this.

If you have other tips for cleaning boxes of wood pellet litter, please share it with us in the comments area of this post.

If this article is helpful & you’re able, please consider sending a thank-you tip/donation. Even small donations will help me keep my business running during the travel industry slump that has brought pet sitting to a screeching halt. Thank you! (FYI, for a sliding scale fee starting at $30, I offer consultations to help people solve their specific cat-related issues. Let me know what I can help you with.)

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25 comments to I Have A Litter Secret To Share (Cleaning Tips For Wood Pellet Cat Litter)

  • caroline

    i use pine pellet litter for my 2 cats and i clean it frequently but i have noticed a lingering poop smell. any answers as to why this is happening to me?

    • Hi, Caroline. I’d be happy to help you with this!

      My quick response is that healthy poop from healthy digestive systems digesting healthy food does not smell icky. (That’s as true for cats as it is for humans.) Most nutrition-literate veterinarians would recommend a change in diet and/or a probiotic supplement. They might also run some tests to see whether there’s an underlying health issue. Contact me privately if you want a more thorough consultation*.

      Working with thousands of cats in hundreds of families, I can tell you that my veterinarians (and my MD) are very good at helping people understand the basics. We can often smell a cats feces and know (just from the smell) whether the cause of the stinky problem is the food a cat is eating (some individuals’ digestive systems do not do well with certain proteins & grains), whether a kitty needs a probiotic, or even whether a cat has liver or kidney issues.

      If your veterinarian can’t figure out why your cats’ poop smells yucky, switch vets. Look for someone who understands nutrition. (Note: most vets in North America have very limited training in nutrition. Most take only 1 nutrition class in med school & that class is usually taught by a sales rep for Purina or Hills pet food companies. (Most vet med schools don’t have nutrtion-literate faculty on staff, so they use a free teacher who provides free textbooks for the med students. That teacher is a sales rep from a grocery brand pet food company & that same company writes its own textbook about nutrition. They use this book & this sales person to “teach” vet med students about nutrition. Sadly, *that* is the extent to which most North American veterinarians understand nutrition. I am fortunate to live in an area were there are *lots* of advanced training opportunities for vets that are taught by nutritionists & scientists who are not paid by pet food companies to tell doctors that grocery brands are good enough for everyone. These well-trained vets have a lot more success at treating a wide range of conditions that baffle other doctors. And when it comes to finding the “right” diet for each individual cat, only doctors who truly understand the science of nutrition will be able to help.)

      * I have a sliding scale fee ($30-$50) for consultations. For info about how to send payment, visit https://www.karikells.com/Petsitter/services/consultations/#fees . (I realize this might seem like a question that I can answer quickly. However, this year I have been flooded with “quick questions” from people I don’t know. One week I spent 29 hours offering free support, yet my income that that whole month was $0. Nada. Nothing. I simply can’t survive if I continue offering free advice, so I am now charging for consultations.)

  • Joann scavacini

    Hello,

    I cannot see the video for some reason. I need to transition to the pine pellets because the clay little is so messy and I know it isn’t as healthy for them. I have three cats, two are kittens under 1 and they came to me knowing how to use the pine pellets. I need a clever way to clean the boxes though. I currently have one pine and 3 clay and I think we can transition to pine just fine. I just want to be efficient with my cleaning.

    Thank you!

  • Linda

    I’ve been using pine pellets for my three cats the last few months and love it. I’m wondering if there is a use for the sawdust left behind. I know it has pee in it, but I have a dumping pile of it outside, so it gets rained on. I’m wondering if it can be used in gardens, not food gardens. Hmmmm…. Your thoughts?

  • Do you have an issue with fece smell when using wood pellets, works great with no urine smell and clean up is easy. What can I use to help with fece odor.

    • I haven’t noticed this as a consistent issue among my clients’ houses who use wood pellet litter. Have you talked with your veterinarian about the feces smell? Generally, that tends to point to dietary issues. Each individual cat has an ideal diet and it’s highly individual. What is best for one cat might not be best for another. Some cats need supplements, others don’t. Finding the right diet tends to eliminate the stinky waste smells. Unfortunately, in the US very *few* veterinarians understand nutrution. Some vet schools offer 1 class about nutrition that is taught using a textbook written by one of the major pet food manufacturers. (Worse, these classes are often taught by “adjuct faculty members” who happen to be employees of that same pet food manufacturer.) That is: the class skews information so doctors really don’t learn how important nutrition is in terms of wellness and healing. So… You might have to search a bit to find a doctor who really understands even very basic nutritional facts. But that is what you’ll want to do when searching for the ideal diet for your little ones.

    • nate

      Yea… clean it when it happens if you are home. If you arent home, it probably wont smell by the time you are back. Dont be lazy and leave it there or else it will obviously smell. I just put on a rubber glove and throw the poo in the toilet, problem solved.

      • That still doesn’t really solve the problem – the root cause – of stinky poo. The only sure-fire way to get rid of poopy odor is to make sure cats are on the right diets for them as individuals. Healthy poop from healthy digestive systems that are digesting healthy food does *not* smell at all. That’s as true of cats as it is of humans.

        Working with thousands of cats in hundreds of families, I can tell you that my veterinarians (and my MD) are correct when they explain this to people. We can often smell a cats feces and know (just from the smell) whether the cause of the stinky problem is the type of protein a cat is eating (some individuals’ digestive systems do not do well with certain proteins) or whether a kitty needs a probiotic or even whether a cat has liver or kidney issues.

        If your veterinarian can’t figure out why your cats’ poop smells yucky, switch vets. Look for someone who understands nutrition. (Note: most vets have very limited training in nutrition. Most take only one nutrition class in med school and most schools don’t have their own faculty teach the class. Instead, they use a free teacher who provides free textbooks for the med students – offered by a certain grocery brand pet food company. Yes, that’s right. A pet food company writes its own book about nutrition & then sends its sales people out to “teach classes” about nutrition and *that* is all your average vet knows about nutrition. I am fortunate to live in an area were there are *lots* of advanced training opportunities for veterinarians that are taught by nutritionists and scientists who are not on the staff of pet food companies. Those vets have a lot more success at treating a wide range of conditions that baffle other doctors. And when it comes to finding the “right” diet for each individual cat, only doctors who truly understand the science of nutrition will be able to help.)

  • Susan

    I use a colander. I, myself prefer the wood pellets. To me doesn’t take as long as scooping other litters (I have 4 cats) and virtually no smell. I don’t sift right after the cats use the box but I do sift several times a day. I have yet to find running residue. I have never found a clay litter that isn’t full of dust. One of my cats suffers severe allergies and this was a huge factor in switching. I switched to Worlds Best but the price was ridiculous and I still had to scoop a nasty mess. I had watched a number of videos about the pine pellets. Tractor Supply sells them and these are safe for cats. Seven dollars a bag. (I don’t receive anything for promoting products either.) My landlord stopped by a couple of weeks ago and he asked about the litter. He said he couldn’t tell I had cats cause he could smell nothing. He even put his nose right over the used pine pellets and still couldn’t smell anything. After I sift, sometimes the dust may be damp, but mostly not. Damp or dry, it comes right out and it never smells like urine. I cant believe it. I would rather scoop several times or take a bit longer than have a nasty, smelly, icky mess. Now the poo smell is no different than in regular litter and it needs scooped right away, but a few unused pellets compared to all the regular litter that turns into a clump or gets stuck to covered poo is still far less in my own opinion, which is all this is, is my opinion. Everyone will have their preference but I am so pleased with the pine that I just wanted everyone to know the positives. Thank you for letting me share.
    I found this article while looking to see if there were extra large sifting cat litter boxes. One of my cats is a Maine Coon and his brother, though not a Maine Coon, is quite large. I currently use a large sifting cat pan and a 30 gallon tote (which is why I use a colander – makes sifting a bit faster) as a litter box.

  • Jennie Lee

    Looks like nowadays litter scoop holes have gotten bigger. Most likely catering to clumping litters. But the best scoop I’ve ever used with narrower slots that wasn’t made for small animals (rabbits/reptiles) was from Family Dollar. So if anyone is trying to sift pellets from the saw dust try the dollar stores

  • Chris

    Hi Kari, I am using the Lift n Sift style litter box with wood pellets and found that pee didn’t get absorb completely by the pellet and it seeps through the sifting pan. a small amount of pee was accumulated in the bottom pan. Do you have this problem? Any suggestion on what can be done?

    • Great question! I love sharing life hacks that I pick up along the way. What seems to work best is placing a pee pad (aka incontinence pads, puppy training pads) in the bottom of the clean tray. It’ll absorb the urine and the plastic backing will keep the bottom tray dry. If you buy disposable pee pads, most will be too large to fit perfectly, so you’ll have to cut them to size. Or check to see if the small pads designed for the Purina Tidy Cats Breeze system will fit your pan. (Note: the Breeze pads are very expensive compared to other pads. But they’re also way more absorbent. Many of my clients use the Breeze system with wood pellets instead of the ceramic pellets.)

  • Mary Smith

    I tried for eight years to use the “natural” alternatives such as corn, or wheat. But NONE of them seem to clump well and I end up with kitty litter tracks, AND wet kitty litter on the kitty’s paws which he then transfers onto our furniture. NO THANK YOU. I am switching to the heavy clay, no dust, no scent kind.

    • I hear ya. Wood pellet litter is my least favorite. Most non-clay alternatives have disadvantages. I’ve finally found a non-clay litter that is BETTER than clay. I never thought that could happen, but I’ve found it. (Too bad I won’t get kick-backs for promoting it, but…) I’d encourage anybody to try SmartCat All Natural Clumping litter: https://smile.amazon.com/SmartCat-Natural-Clumping-Litter-20-Pound/dp/B00P0H6836/. It clumps even better than clay! (All other non-clay litters are terrible at clumping, if you ask me.) It’s lighter, dust-free, and doesn’t stick to the kitt’s paws. I’m crazy about it. I wish I could give everyone a coupon for 1 free bag. Once you try it, you won’t ever want to use a different litter. (I’m tellin’ ya, I wish I got something for promoting it. Dozens of my clients have switched over to it.) Seriously! Make it the one final non-clay litter you try. Don’t give up on alternatives until you try this SmartCat litter.

      • Didi

        The Smartcat litter was suggested recently by the vet for my cat which was diagnosed with feline asthma. I just can’t believe how expensive it is. I have 2 cats and had to change the litter in all litter boxes. The bag is 20 Lbs. but won’t last for more than 2-3 weeks top. I’m looking for alternatives. I used to use the wood pellets, but as far as I remember I had trouble cleaning it. I went back to clay litter, but I need dustless litter. Any suggestions? Thanks!

        • I hear ya. Yes, it’s expensive. One thing I love about the SmartCat litter is that it lasts longer than clay litters. With 3 cats, I could go 5-6 weeks before dumping it all, washing out the box, then replacing it all. I had been doing that weekly with clay litter. (So it lasts 5-6 times longer for me.) Looking at it from that perspective, it’s not much more expensive than clay litters. That said…

          Dustless litters? Of all the litters I’ve encountered, SmartCat is the least dusty. The multicat formula of World’s Best (corn-based) litter is my second favorite in terms of dust. Their other formulas are pretty dusty. (Black kitties step out of a box of World’s Best looking like they’re wearing white evening gloves. Ha!) But it could be that wood pellet litter is a good way for you to go? It’s a big adjustment for most of us.

          Have you ever tried using just plain ol’ shredded newspapers? I don’t mean the manufactured pellet litter that uses recycled newspaper, I mean actually buying newspapers and shredding them (or tearing into strips) and putting those in the box? My family did that when I was growing up and my sister’s family still does that. For some reason, printed newspapers work much better than buying unprinted newsprint on rolls. But, I’ll tell you, it’s very good at controlling odors. And there is no dust whatsoever. NONE AT ALL! This can be costly, given the price of newspapers these days. But if you contact stores that simply toss out unused papers, you might be able to take the “waste” off their hands for them and get some free litter that way. I’d encourage you to at least try this to see whether it’s a feasable option for you. You’ll probably have to experiment a little bit with the size of the strips/shreds. (My sister’s pile of unused paper strips look like paper mache supplies, such as https://www.crafts-for-all-seasons.com/images/paper-mache-pumpkins-11.jpg .) But you might end up really loving this option.paper mache

          Transitioning cats to using strips of newspaper can take some time. Cats prefer something sandy or dirt-like to do their business. You might have to start off by adding a few strips of paper to the top of their litter, then adding a couple more pieces each week? It’ll take a while for them to associate the feel of paper with potty activities. It feels quite different on their paws. But if it’s the route you want to take, just go slow with the transition so you don’t end up with someone deciding to go outside the box.

        • Condo commando

          Didi – there are 2 other litters that are just like Smartcat. One is the Chewy’s brand – Frisco grass cat litter. The other one is the Petco brand – SoPhresh grass cat litter. Make sure you get the unscented version so it’s exactly the same as Smartcat. I’ve tried all 3 and I can’t tell them apart.

          One more thing – you don’t need to throw out unused litter. When it’s time to clean the box, I transfer the leftover litter to another litter box and keep going. Wash the litter box that was being used like you normally would. The 20 lb bag should last you 5-6 weeks.

          • I agree, those 2 knock-offs are close to being as good as SmartCat. They’re a little different & I don’t like them as much. I can’t put my finger on the difference though. They’re a little more dusty & something about their texture is just different… I second the suggestion to avoid the unscented version of SoPhresh!

            The knock-offs are still far more expensive than clay litters, though. The only non-clay option that is as low-cost as clay is the shredded newspaper.

  • Laura

    Thank you SO MUCH for this!
    I’ve been thinking there must be a separate scoop just for these litters but you’re so creative I’ve just been doing it wrong. we’re going to save to much money – thank you!
    Laura (Archimedes and Juno)

    • You’re welcome, Laura. Also… Did you see other comments about the scoops that work best when using the “panning for gold” technique? The DuraScoop is the best and makes this go faster.

  • Great question, Michelle! First, I think the best scoop for this “panning for gold” method is the DuraScoop made by Duranimals. (http://amzn.com/B001DCAAP4). Expensive but well worth it if you use wood pellet litter. It really is the PERFECT scoop for this. (I don’t like it as much when used with other types of litter.) Plus they’re sturdy and last forever, so that will be the last $12 (or whatever) that you spend on a litter scoop.

    The large plastic one used in the video is also great, but there is no brand name on it. (Argh!) If I could remember which local store carried it I could ask them the brand. But my memory fails me.

  • Michelle Luck

    PLEASE, please, please, please…tell me what brand litter scoop you use in the video! It looks like the perfect scoop for pine pellet litter and I’ve spent a small fortune on a variety of scoops that ultimately do not work to save the whole pellets! Thank you.

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