About Pet Litter

The Story behind Cat Litters in NZ

Pet Litter, animal Litter, cat Litter, kitty litter….no matter what you call it one has to admit it’s not that exciting a topic…. so why would anyone get motivated by it, let alone write about it? Well, believe it or not, there is science in it, technology issues, and it has to please a fickle end-user, the cat (who, after all, rules the house)


Till the late 1940’s there was no cat litter. Cats lived outdoors and whenever necessary to be indoor, it was sand, dirt, ashes, in a crude box. That was until in the 1940’s US clay miner Ed Lowe had an ah hah moment and bagged some dried clay chips in bags and offered it in the local grocer for free to cat owners. It worked, and caught on with the market wanting this stuff; he started selling it, and had to build a plant to meet demand and by the way, became exceedingly wealthy.

In 1980 a volcanic rock with the mineral zeolite became available, and as zeolite is an amazing natural odour adsorber which can deal with cat urine smells, zeolite rock litters became popular. In the 1990’s synthetic silica litters emerged with high absorbencies and matching prices. Clumping litters dominated in early 2000’s; these are special clays that co-aggulate into lumps when hit by urine and are easily removed thereby prolonging the life of the litter. Now ten years on there is a move to eco-awareness and environmental responsibility and paper or fibre based products hit the market-place and these are now making inroads into litter sales figures. This tallies with societal moves toward high density city living where there are no outdoor cat playgrounds in which to poop and indoor solutions are essential

Here is NZ we imported all our litter until in 1991 some enterprising geologists including the author sought and found a zeolite resource near Rotorua. Within six months the land was purchased, a quarry licence issued, a factory set up and out rolled an all new ‘Billie Peach Kitty Litter’ marketed by Yates; NZ’s first home grown animal litter.

The author went on to work on zeolite for years and in 2003 stumbled on a way to make broken down waste paper fibre combine with fine particles of the mineral zeolite to form new materials called composites….and these proved ideal for as a cat litter. But, it took a further 12 years, off and on, to get the method, the recipe and machinery to enable manufacture of a product that ticked the boxes. It was a long gestation but in 2014-2015 PAWS pet litter was born.

To succeed as a litter a material must be very urine absorbent, active in dealing with the bad smells (generally from bacterial action) be safe to cats, with low or no dust, be easy to handle without the need for weight training first, readily and responsibly disposable, have a reasonable tray life, and most of all be appealing the end-user, the ruling cat. Experience showed however that a large number of litter purchasers buy on price not kitty’s wellbeing or waste eliminating experience. But hang on, would you buy cheap packaging paper as your toilet tissues just based on low price? Come on, a cat has rights too! We resolved that any litter we made would have the welfare of cat or kitten foremost in our sights.

We made PAWS to tick those boxes with an emphasis on safety and comfort to the user (the cat) whilst behaving in harmony with our environment so as not to make our world any worse that we have made it already. We have incorporate the best of all litters: natural zeolite to take up the bad smell, to suck in any toxins and rattle the cages of common bacteria, with fibre an impressive natural absorbent here drawn from a waste stream of newspaper and reused.

Because both the mineral zeolite, and the fibre are finely milled and also because we do not use heavy binders, the litter will disperse into a fine cloud in lots of water. As a result it is flushable in sewage or septic systems, whilst at the same time remaining intact in the litter tray when it has to.

Production started after intensive testing and trials. It began in a garage with home built plant. The basic ingredients are milled recycled newspaper and milled quarry rock with high zeolite content from south of Rotorua. A few natural but propriety additive are added to improve output properties and the litter is made using an industrial mixer, a pellet press and a low temperature rack oven to dry the pellets. Lavender is added in very small amounts (harmless at those levels to cats) just to add a certain nuance to the litter.

Paws has cat/kitten welfare as a high priority. The raw materials are heat sterilized during production which kills bacteria. It does not contain harmful terpene-oils as is the case of sawdust litter and has as little dust as possible to avert dangerous asthmatic conditions in kittens. It does not dangerously dry the stomach tract if swallowed as is the case with some clay and most zeolite litters.

The litter is mildly antibacterial by virtue of the zeolite which when activated is a known antibacterial agent, however as with all litters the threat of toxoplasmosis must to consider. The disease is carried by a parasite which can occur in the gut of cats. Therefore please don’t handle the faeces but discard these with care, not into the garden.