What to do when a cat becomes a hermit

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We got our 3-year-old female cat from the pound almost two years ago. At our house, she acted like a normal cat — running around the house, playing with toys, etc. However, within a year or so, she started finding secluded places in the house or cellar and staying in them for a week or so, coming out only to eat and drink. She may go outside, but only for a little while. Since she became a hermit, she doesn't use the kitty litter — a bath tub or tile floor or a laundry tub will suffice. What do you suggest?

This sounds like a unique situation, and it raises a lot of questions. When cats become withdrawn, there are many factors that could be the cause.

The first thing that you should rule out is a medical problem. Cats are masters at hiding the fact that they are sick; many times, a change in behavior is the only clue they give. The amount of time you describe that she spends hiding, coupled with the idea that she isn't using her litter box, are red flags that something could be physically wrong.

If medical issues are ruled out, I'd move on to environmental causes for her hiding behavior. Cats are creatures of habit, and some are very sensitive to changes in their home life. Did any new people or animals move in around the time she began to hide? Cats are also very sensitive to noises that we often tune out. Try to look through your cat's eyes and see if there is anything that she could perceive as a threat.

To help her abandon her hermit lifestyle, I'd also work slowly at gaining her trust. Since she's a cat that doesn't like to be held, I'd start with toys that don't require you to touch her. Interactive toys, like a feather on a fishing pole style, are great for getting shy cats to come out of their shells. Food can also be a powerful tool.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to let her come to you.