If poor Johnny sneezes every time he goes near the litter box, dust from his silica litter may be bothering him. Silica litter dust on its own doesn't usually cause problems, but if Johnny already has respiratory issues, he may be abnormally sensitive to his litter.
Much like you, your feline family member can suffer from asthma, viral or bacterial infections, bronchitis and even pneumonia. These conditions can scar his fragile lungs, leading to chronic breathing problems. If Johnny is constantly coughing, breathes with his mouth open or snores when he sleeps, it might be time to take him to the veterinarian for a thorough checkup.
Effects of Silica Dust
One of the perks of silica kitty litter is that it is generally less dusty than traditional clay litters. However, if Johnny already has respiratory issues, even the slightest bit of dust from silica litter can bother him. Silica dust acts as an airway irritant, possibly making it difficult for your furry family member to breathe. Even though silica dust might affect Johnny, it probably isn't the only cause of his breathing problems, rather it just makes them worse.
What the Research Says
In a 2001 study published in the "Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association," researchers looked into the effects of silica dust on felines. The study explains that inhaling silica dust leads to lung cancer and chronic lung problems in humans and many other species. Researchers evaluated six kitties with respiratory issues and six healthy kitties and compared the results. They found that the felines who already had respiratory problems had far more silica dust in their system than the healthy cats. This study confirms that silica dust from litter does indeed have a positive association with respiratory issues, but researchers weren't sure if the dust contributes to respiratory issues all by itself or if silica dust particles simply build up because the felines already have lung problems. Either way, silica dust leads to problems in some felines.
Unfortunately, nearly all types of cat litter cause at least a small amount of dust. If your feline has chronic breathing issues, talk with your vet about which types of litter are best for him. Many cat litters use ingredients that are not clay- or silica-based. Ground corn, wheat and even newspaper are alternative kitty litter ingredients that are often less dusty. If all else fails, you might have to resort to using shredded newspaper or a litter box simply lined with an absorbent disposable potty pad.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.