I’m the lucky owner of two cats with urinary issues. So, when I saw a new kitty litter — the delightfully named Pretty Litter — advertised on Facebook, I was interested. After rushing our male cat to the vet in the middle of the night years ago to remove a very large stone, I would do anything to avoid a repeat of that experience.
Pretty Litter bills itself as, “the best kitty litter ever.” And with benefits like less scooping, dust and mess — plus a bag that’s 80 percent lighter, lasts one month and is delivered straight to your door — it’s easy to see why. Ad as if all that weren’t enough, using this litter can help you monitor your cat’s health. All you have to do is keep an eye out for color changes in the litter.
“We don’t want cat owners turning into doctors,” Pretty Litter CEO Daniel Rotman told Oregon Live. “We want to empower them to know that something might be wrong so they can take their pet to the vet.”
So what health issues can Pretty Litter tip cat owners off to?
Common Urinary Issues In Cats
Anne Harrell, D.V.M., who works at a San Jose area animal hospital*, took me through some of the typical urinary issues vets see in cats. The most common is stress-related or sterile cystitis, which is often seen in male cats. For female cats, it’s bladder infections. Less common are bladder cancer and polyps in older cats, which can cause blood in the urine.
Pretty Litter changes to green or blue to indicate alkaline urine, which can be a sign of a urinary tract infection. This can also lead to the formation of crystals and stones due to the high pH level. Yellow and orange indicate acidity. Some acidity is normal, which is why yellow is the typical color you’ll see in the litter. If you see orange, it can be a sign of acidosis, and low urinary pH can create calcium oxalate stones.
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Cat Behaviors To Look Out For
Cats are notorious for being discreet about what’s going on with them. Luckily, there are behaviors you can look out for.
In addition to color changes in the litter, Harrell recommends watching for these other key signs: frequent urination, blood in the urine, straining to urinate, urinating outside of the litter box and vocalizing in the litter box. If you observe your male cat behaving that way, especially straining, call your vet. “Male cats have a smaller urethra and blockage can require emergency surgery,” said Harrell.
You should also call the vet for your female cat, but as long as she’s producing some urine, it’s not quite as urgent.
What Does The Vet Look For?
Bringing your cat in for a possible urinary issue? According to Harrell, “We do a full body exam for dehydration, and look for a full or uncomfortable bladder. We typically get a urine sample with a needle in the bladder, or a non-absorbent litter if the cat seems like it will go.”
The most important step is urinalysis. “If we see signs of crystals, we may do an X-ray or ultrasound to see if there is a stone in the bladder, kidney or urethra,” says Harrell. “Ultrasound offers more fine detail to see stones. We also look at the bladder wall for masses and polyps.”
Treatment For Crystals And Stones
Crystals are precursors to stones. They can clump together and form a blockage in the urethra in the form of a stone. A urethra stone necessitates emergency surgery, especially if your cat is male, as they usually aren’t able to pass it. Depending on the size of the stone, some specialized diets can break it up; otherwise, it’s removed surgically.
Kidney stones aren’t usually removed unless they create a blockage. Luckily, they don’t usually cause a problem in cats. You may just need to get your cat to drink more and be more active.
Cats with crystals or small bladder stones are typically put on a specialized acidifying diet that dissolves crystals. Depending on how much the food acidifies their urine, the diet can last for a month, or become a long-term dietary change. Struvite crystals can be dissolved with diet. Calicum oxalate crystals, can be preventable with diet, but will not usually dissolve. Struvite are more common in general, and either male or female cats can get either one.
What To Keep In Mind When Using Pretty Litter
Based on my conversation with Harrell, and my own experience with Pretty Litter, there are a few things to keep in mind when using it.
Most cats who do have urinary issues urinate a lot. “The prescription food that treats urinary issues in cats causes them to pee more. Each food is a little bit different, but some have increased salt content. This makes cats drink more to flush out their system and prevent crystal build-up,” says Harrell.
I found this out the hard way when using Pretty Litter. My female cat is on a urinary health diet, and is a little overweight. Her urine volume was far too much for the litter, even when cleaning and turning it daily. After two and half weeks, it became blue and slushy and my prissy kitty started to poop on the floor.
The folks at Pretty Litter say the “blue slush” is a sign of over-saturation, or that the litter is at the end of its life cycle. They seemed to realize that the 4-pound bag might not be enough. When I complained about the short life cycle, I was sent a six-pound bag. We’re on our second week, and it seems to be working better.
Also, because Pretty Litter absorbs the urine rather than clumping, it may be harder for you to keep track of the total amount of urine the cat is producing. Urinating a small amount can mean they’re working on an obstruction. Not something you want to miss, especially with male cats.
Other Benefits to Consider
If your kitty is small to medium in size, isn’t already on a urinary diet or doesn’t urinate a ton, a predictive litter like Pretty Litter could be right for you. It’s a great way to get a little nudge that you should pay close attention. This may be helpful if you’re away from home a lot and not as aware of litter box habits.
On top of that, the bag is amazingly light, and I did not miss lugging a heavy box to my car. It creates less mess and masks smells better (except when saturated). The lack of dust is noticeable, which is great for humans, but also good for cats who are prone to asthma. Dusty litter can cause upper respiratory irritation and asthma attacks in sensitive kitties.
For older cats, who may be more susceptible to cancers, it could be easier to detect blood because of its light color and fine texture.
Don’t Forget The Vet
Overall, make sure you’re paying attention to your cat’s behavior, not just litter color.
“If the cat is acting completely normal otherwise, and you’re just seeing a color change, it may not be an issue,” says Harrell. “Just be sure to look at the cat and its habits as a whole.”
Also, remember that some cats are very particular about litter types, so changing litter can cause stress and improper urination. Make sure to mix in a bit of the previous litter to help acclimate your furry friend. And as always, if you’re unsure about anything your cat or your litter are telling you, consult with your vet.
*Note: Dr. Harrell does not have firsthand experience with Pretty Litter.