Hazards of Ammonia from Cat Litter

Cat Litter - Travelcase


Air is something we do not see and take so very much for granted. 

It seems that as long as we’re able to breathe, we don’t pay much attention to the quality of the air we breathe, unless an offensive smell is present.


However, offensive smells – or even pleasant smells – (which are caused by various chemicals, particulates or bacteria in the air) are often not noticed.  This could be as a result of some form of olfactory impairment due to injury or some disease process or, if the smell has been present for a long time, those living with it have grown used to the smell and no longer notice it.

Poor air quality can be caused by cigarette smoke, burning food, air fresheners, candles, incense, not regularly cleaning a humidifier or kitchen range hood, and can worsen or even cause asthma, allergies and other health conditions.  Many of these problems are easy to fix or avoid.

However, there are some other causes of poor air quality that are far more dangerous and, over time, can cause serious health issues.

One of these is ammonia from cat urine.

If cat litter boxes are not regularly cleaned, the urine and feces accumulate and ammonia fumes build up.  Ammonia is a toxic gas made from a combination of nitrogen and hydrogen.  Living in an atmosphere filled with these ammonia fumes can cause a great deal of respiratory discomfort and problems.  These fumes cause irritation of the bronchial membranes of the lungs, leading to an increased production of phlegm, coughing and difficulty breathing.

When a person is exposed to ammonia fumes over an extended period of time, they may experience an increase in injuries to the soft tissues of the trachea and lungs as well as respiratory infections.  In fact, it has been found that the longer a person is exposed to ammonia from cat urine, the greater the amount of risk to their health.

Minor symptoms from exposure for short periods include queasiness, lightheadedness and headaches.  Severe symptoms, from longer periods of exposure, include bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory distress and damage to the lining of the respiratory tract and lungs.

Many owners use odor absorbent cat litter.  However, this kind of cat litter is only able to contain the ammonia fumes if the litter boxes are kept clean.  When urine and feces are allowed to accumulate, ammonia is released into the atmosphere and can begin to cause minor ailments, especially in vulnerable people, i.e. the elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems.  This, then, is the key to avoiding ammonia exposure.

Keep your cat litter boxes clean.  It is also important to change the litter frequently.  Under ideal circumstances, it is also better to have only one litter box per cat in your household.

Clumping litter needs to be removed daily, if possible, and replaced with fresh litter.  Other absorbent, non-clumping litters (like crystals, corn, pine, cedar, newspaper and wheat-grass) are able to hold some urine and ammonia.  However, after seven to ten days, they can no longer absorb any more liquid and consequently, the ammonia gas and odor is released.

At least monthly, if not weekly, litter boxes should be cleaned with soap, water, and diluted bleach solution.  Once the litter box is rinsed and dried completely, a few inches of clean litter should be placed in the litter box.  Please don’t forget to use gloves to protect your skin, a mask to avoid inhaling the fumes and even goggles to protect your eyes.

If  you or your family member is receiving Home Care or Cleaning Services, be sure to include this in your personalized care plan.


eHow contributor, Natasha Gilani

eHow contributor, Edie Smith