It takes a creative mind to find solutions that can make daily life easier or better. When there’s a need, someone can usually find a solution – often times in unlikely ways. Sometimes a creative invention is inspired by dogs and cats.
“Cat Eye” Road Reflectors
On a foggy night in 1933, Percy Shaw was driving home along a dangerous stretch of road with a perilous, sheer drop off on one side. Drivers knew where the edge of the road was when their headlights reflected off of tram tracks, but the tracks had been removed for repairs. As Shaw strained to see through the blackness, his headlights caught the eyes of a cat sitting on a fence. As he pondered the possibility of replicating how a cat’s eyes reflect light, an idea took shape to make dark and dangerous roads safer for drivers. Shaw began manufacturing reflective road markers in 1935. Today reflective “cat eye” road studs are incorporated in roads worldwide.
Biomimicry is science that studies nature to find solutions to problems. The thumbtack was invented in 1903 by Mick Clay, an English inventor. Looking to nature to find a better way to construct the tack, New York design engineer Toshi Fukaya wanted to improve the thumbtack to avoid pricked fingers when pulling one out of the box. His inspiration – the sheath of a cat’s claw. The new innovation in thumbtacks has a hollow silicone sheath that holds the pin inside until it’s pressed into a board, wall or other hard surface. When the tack is removed, the pin withdraws back into the silicone sheath.
Kitty litter is essential for anyone with an indoor cat. But other than deciding what kind to buy and cleaning the litter box regularly, most cat owners probably don’t give it a lot of thought. I’m not like most people, though (a fact I’m well aware of and wouldn’t change if I could!) so I recently decided to find out how this useful invention came about. I was surprised to discover that the first product marketed as “Kitty Litter” was an accidental invention.
Moreover, this invention dramatically changed the nature of the relationship many people had with their cats. How so? Before the original clay litter, people who wanted to keep their cats indoors had some pretty inadequate options for litter box filler. They used sand, sawdust, wood shavings, shredded newspapers or even plain ol’ dirt. Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how all of those options could be considered a giant FAIL in terms of performance, odor and cleanliness.
When an entrepreneurial man named Edward Lowe began marketing oil-absorbing clay as Kitty Litter in 1947, more people began opening their homes and hearts to felines. Although there have been vast improvements in kitty litter in the last few decades, this original clay litter was a huge step up from the options people had at the time. Hence, a better litter box filler meant that it was more convenient – and less messy and odorous – to keep a cat indoors.
The Accidental Invention
After serving in the Navy, 27-year old Ed Lowe returned to Cassopolis, Michigan and began working for his father’s company. The Lowe’s sold ice and coal to the residents of Michigan; they also sold sawdust to neighboring industries, and had recently begun offering oil-absorbent kiln-dried clay as a fireproof alternative to sawdust for sopping up grease spills.
Ed was approached by a neighbor named Mrs. Draper, who wanted some sawdust for her litter box. On a whim, Ed suggested she try a bag of the kiln-dried clay he happened to have in his car. The mineral was highly absorbent after all, and Ed thought it might work just as well for the cat box as it did for the factories. It turns out that Ed’s hunch was correct. Mrs. Draper raved about the clay and wanted to buy more. Because she was so enthusiastic about using the clay in her litter box, Ed wondered if other cat owners might like it too.
While there are many pleasurable aspects of feline companionship, dealing with the litter box is not one of them. Thankfully, there have been vast improvements in kitty litter in the last decade or so. These new types of cat litter are infinitely better at odor control and absorbency than the original non-clumping clay litter developed in the late 40s. Frankly, you couldn’t pay me to use the non-clumping clay litter, which requires dumping the entire litter box contents every week unless you want your house to have that “eau de cat” smell.
Clumping litter, in my opinion, was the best pet invention ever. This type of litter forms solid “clumps” when wet, which can be easily scooped out of the cat box while the rest of the litter stays relatively fresh. You just add more kitty litter to the box a few times a week, and clean the entire litter box once a month or so. The first clumping cat litter came on the market in the 80s; it was made from granulated bentonite clay, and is still used many cat owners today. If you like the clumping aspect but prefer a more natural alternative, there are now clumping cat litters made from corn, wheat, sawdust, newspaper and pine pellets.
So which type of cat litter is the best then? For cat owners, there is no definitive answer to the question. The best cat litter for one person may not be the right choice for another. Cost, absorbency, odor control, biodegradability, tracking and texture all factor into the equation. But the ultimate thing that determines which type of cat litter is the best for your household, is that your cat likes it. Some cats will use virtually any kind of kitty litter you put in the box. Others have definite preferences and will very clearly let you they don’t like their litter, by having “accidents” outside the cat box. If you have a finicky feline, then your choices are a bit more limited. Trust me, if your cat doesn’t like a particular litter, nothing else matters.
I used the clumping clay cat litter for many, many years and was quite happy with it. I switched to a natural cat litter made from finely ground corn, for several reasons. There have been claims that clumping clay cat litter can be harmful to cats if ingested, because it swells up and might cause intestinal blockages. Although there is no confirmed scientific evidence of that happening, I decided to err on the safe side. Clumping clay cat litters also typically contain silica dust, which asthmatic cats (and their human caretakers) should avoid. After I replaced my cats’ open litter box with a covered style (which I absolutely love), I didn’t think it would be good for them to breathe in the dust that’s kicked up when they scratch in the litter.
On the plus side, natural cat litter is safer, biodegradable, chemical free, and better for the environment. However, it does tend to be more expensive than clumping clay litter. The manufacturers of natural cat litter claim that the same size bag lasts longer than clay-based litters, but I haven’t found this to be true with the types I have tried. I personally think the corn-based natural cat litter I’m using offers enough advantages to compensate for the increased cost, but it’s an individual decision that every pet owner needs to make for themselves.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.