9 Practical Emergency Cat Litter Options

Reader's Question:

Last week, I was in a bind when I noticed I was out of cat litter. I was in a panic thinking about the mess. It was late, but fortunately the store was open. I need a backup plan in case it happens again. What household items can double as cat litter in a pinch? Your suggestions would be a big relief!

Rachel M., San Antonio, Texas

I understand your concern, and it's a common one among pet owners. Being caught without cat litter is no small issue when you have a cat counting on you. The good news is that many items you might have around your house can serve as an emergency cat litter substitute.

From sand and soil, which can be less messy and are natural for cats, to shredded paper or baking soda for odor control. Each has its own set of pros and cons, but they'll do the job temporarily.

Quick And Handy Emergency Cat Litter Solutions

Here are some easy-to-find alternatives that could do the trick temporarily:

Potting Soil

When you're in a bind, potting soil can fill in as an emergency cat litter. Many indoor cats might find it quite natural, similar to what they might use outdoors.

A Flower Pot with Potting Soil: Emergency Cat Litter

Be mindful, though—it's not as tidy as traditional litter and doesn't clump as effectively.

To reduce tracking, place a mat under the litter box. Opt for fresh, unused potting soil to prevent introducing any unwanted pathogens into your home.


If you've got access to clean sand, perhaps from a child's sandbox, it can be a useful stand-in for cat litter.

sand on a child's sandbox: Emergency Cat Litter

Sand clumps decently and is quite good at odor control. Like with potting soil, a mat can help manage any sand that gets kicked out of the box.

If you're considering sand as an alternative, you may find my complete guide on using sand instead of cat litter helpful for detailed insights and tips.


Sawdust can be a smart choice if readily available from a woodshop. Its natural scent can help conceal odors, and it clumps when wet.


Just make sure it's from untreated wood to avoid any health risks to your cat. Sawdust can be dusty, so it might not be ideal for those with respiratory sensitivities.


You might be surprised to see rice on this list. Rice is a great absorber. However, it is messy and will not mask the smell of ammonia caused by cat urine.

white rice

Don’t overfill the litter box because the rice granules will expand when wet.


Whether you have wheat berries or finely ground wheat, you can use either of these options as an emergency cat litter option.

Sprouted Wheat Berries

You may notice that the grains around blended smoothly, the better it will clump while wet. Your pet may have less of an aversion to a fine consistency as well.

Paper Towel

Paper towels can come to the rescue if you've run out of all other options. Stack them in the litter pan, and they'll do the job for a short time.

However, they won't absorb odors or clump, but they are still a viable option.

Shredded Newspaper

Lastly, shredded newspaper can be fashioned into a DIY cat litter. It's a great use for all that readily available newspaper and junk mail.

You'll need a good amount of paper to make this DIY cat litter. Here's what you need: shredded newspaper, water, and baking soda.

It can be a bit messy to prepare, but my post on cat litter substitutes provides a step-by-step guide to help you out.

Unlikely Lifesavers

These options might seem out of the box, but they can be lifesavers in certain situations.

If you live on a farm or a ranch, or if your local shop ran out of cat litter but still has livestock materials, these alternatives could be ideal.

Always check the ingredients for any added chemicals that might be harmful to your pet.

Chicken Feed

Chicken feed, often made of corn, can be an excellent cat litter substitute. It masks urine odors effectively and is quite affordable.

But make sure the feed is fresh. Old, moldy feed could potentially make your cat sick if ingested.

Chicken Feed

Horse Bedding Pellets

Horse bedding pellets are absorbent, and their pine scent does a great job of masking pet odors.

However, when wet, these sawdust-made pellets can disintegrate and create dust. This might not be the best option for anyone with allergies.

Emergency Litter Solutions - Straight From Your Home

Well, there you have it, some handy emergency cat litter solutions right from your own home! I know it can be super stressful when you suddenly run out of litter - believe me, I've been there. But with a little creativity, you can whip up a temporary fix to keep your furball happy until you can restock.

Just remember, introduce any new litter gently and maybe mix it with some leftover regular litter if you have any, so kitty doesn't get too freaked out. Change is hard! But you got this.

The next time you're out shopping, do yourself a favor and stock up on litter so you've got a nice backup supply. Your future self will thank you, trust me. And your cat definitely will, too—no more emergency litter panic.

What Can You Use as Emergency Cat Litter?

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