Scented or unscented litter?

Scented or unscented litter?

Whether to use scented or unscented (odorless) litter is a question we know many people have considered. We wanted to cover this issue in our Litter Box Care series because it is in fact an important issue - especially for our cats - who we always think of first when approaching any topic in this series.

First, let’s hear from veterinarian Dr. Lisa Pierson D.V.M. about why this is an important choice (from her blog

“I do whatever I can to provide my cats with the most natural and inviting litter available and that happens to be an UNscented clumping clay litter.” 

She goes on to note “Always use unscented litters and do not add any deodorizers to the litter or around the litter box.  Cats, because of their extremely keen sense of smell, are often put off by scented litters and perfumed environments.”

Your cat's sense of smell is really the key to the decision of whether to use a litter with or without fragrances. A cat's sense of smell is 14 times more attuned than that of a human, and let's face it, the fragrances put in many kitty litters are quite powerful. Given that the real purpose of a litter box is to provide your cat with a "natural" place to do her business, your best chance of creating an inviting litter box environment for your cat is to stick with what will be right for her - an odorless litter.

We do wonder why chemical fragrances are added to cat litters at all - here's a hint - it's not for your cat.  

Many litter companies put all kinds of additives, chemical or otherwise, in litter to mask odors (not to eliminate odors, but rather to overpower them). This is done for humans, not cats. One reason a company may do this is because the litter material they are using is not able to eliminate the natural ammonia odors that result from cat urine in the litter box. They are either using a poor quality (cheaper) material, or another material that is simply not appropriate for effective use as a cat litter. Another reason additives of any sort are added into litter is for marketing purposes. However, from our perspective as cat lovers looking for quality effective and natural cat litter, baking soda, little blue dots, carbon, or special fragrances, are simply not appropriate for use in cat litter. 

We have had the experience of purchasing litter that claims to be "unscented," but when opened we find that it smells strongly of fragrance. We're not sure why this is, but because of this, we always advise anyone who we speak with about this topic to use not just "unscented" litter, but "odorless" litter. We believe litter should not smell at all, and that it should be a high enough quality to do it's job effectively. If it you purchase a high quality odorless litter, it will be able to completely eliminate any ammonia odors that result from normal litter box use without any outside "help." 

If you are using a high quality odorless litter and find that you notice litter box smells, there are a couple things we would suggest trying that may resolve the issue (each topic links to past articles we've written on the subject):

  1. Use the right amount of litter boxes for your cats
  2. Use enough litter in each box  
  3. Scoop out the litter boxes more often
  4. Clean out the entire litter box and sanitize it at least once a month

As always, please send us a note if you have any questions about this topic, we love hearing from concerned fellow cat lovers!


Stay tuned for upcoming articles on kittens and the litter box, and litter box liners. Click "Get our Newsletter" below to receive our emails with articles, cat care tips, and more.


As always we look to ways of keeping cats comfortable, happy, and using the litter box. Following these and other basic rules of litter box care can help avoid problems from coming up if your cat uses the box well, and help to alleviate problems if your cat already has litter box issues. Please note that some litter box behaviors and avoidance can be a sign of medical problems - if your cat has litter box issues or you notice changes in litter box behavior, it is important to take your cat to a good veterinarian. Although Boxiecat brand litter is veterinarian recommended, the writers of the article wish to state that we are not qualified to give medical advice.


Update 7/12/16:

We've done some soul searching since we first wrote this article. While we still agree with the basic premise, we know and understand that for many folks scented litter is a preference. Fragrances can provide pleasure and calm...there is a whole "field" based around this - aromatherapy.

A couple years ago we stood in the litter aisle in a pet store we shop at and noticed just how many scented litters there were. While we had resisted adding any "fragrance" to Boxiecat, we came to the realization that if some of those cats using those other litters were able to use a scented version of Boxiecat it would provide a better experience for those cats (and also their human family). Suddenly we were on a mission! But...we had stipulations. The scent had to: 

  1. Be safe
  2. It couldn't be overpowering to cats sensitive sense of smell
  3. Cats had to like it...and even prefer it to other fragrances
  4. On our wish list we hoped to find ingredients that would have calming properties, like aromatherapy. This last idea seemed wonderful since so many cats have stress issues related to the litter box.

One of our wonderful and long-time veterinarian customers decided she would join Boxiecat and help us in our mission to create a "cat-first" scented litter. Our vet not only uses Boxiecat at home with her cat, but also recommends it to her clients for litter box aversion issues. Her specialty is as an animal behaviorist - specifically for cats, and more specifically for litter box problems. We couldn't believe our luck.

After months of research and testing, we have a wonderful new addition to our liter line - a gently scented cat litter product - veterinarian developed, and cat prefered. It meets all our goals and goes one step further. It's moisture activated - meaning it's extremely gentle when not in use which is wonderful for the cats. Once a cat uses the box it has a "lift" or increase in scent that provides a fresh aroma for those who prefer scented litters.