Yes, cats can be great emotional support animals! This is also true of any other pet that helps you with a mental health disability or mental health related challenge. While dogs are primarily considered service animals, an emotional support animal can be many different kinds of animals. An emotional support animal (ESA) doesn’t require any specific training – they simply need to provide emotional support for an emotional or mental disability by virtue of their companionship.
The presence of a cat can be calming and help reduce anxiety. Simply having an animal to care for can help life feel more meaningful. Cats can make excellent emotional support animals because of their usually calm demeanor. An emotional support dog can also greatly benefit a person's life, but sometimes dogs are excitable and can cause stress in a person's life.
If you have a pet cat, it may be worth finding out if they qualify to become your emotional support animal.
So what are emotional support animals in the first place?
What are Emotional Support Animals?
Emotional support animals are any pet that positively affects a symptom of an individual's mental health disability. An emotional support cat or other ESA animal can be extraordinarily impactful in improving mental health and well-being. An emotional support animal does not have to be specifically trained to help its owner. Just the presence of a support animal offers comfort and feelings of stress relief.
An emotional support animal can positively impact mental health issues or a mental health disability by providing companionship, unconditional love, and serving as an object of focus for the pet owner.
What Animals Can Be Emotional Support Animals?
Any animal that you’re legally allowed to own as a pet can serve as an emotional support animal. Most commonly, you see emotional support dogs or an emotional support cat, but any pet that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner can be considered an ESA. Mental health professionals recognize the benefits of animals in a person's life, so ESAs aren't limited to only animals like cats and dogs.
Benefits of Having an Emotional Support Cat
An emotional support cat can have a dramatic impact on a range of mental illnesses. Here’s how.
Anxiety can be extremely challenging, and emotional support cats go a long way towards reducing feelings of anxiety.
An emotional support cat can have a big impact on anxiety simply because you now have something that depends on you. Focusing on something other than yourself can be hugely impactful for anxiety because it moves your thinking away from excessive rumination and going over and over the things driving your anxiety and changes focus towards caring for and loving your emotional support animal.
Relieve Stress and Depressive Symptoms
Other mental and emotional wellness issues that an emotional support cat helps with include depression and stress. Many people credit their emotional support animal as providing critical help that got them through periods of intense depression or stress.
Emotional support cats relieve depression by giving their owners a sense of purpose and meaning, which can go a long way towards combating depression symptoms. Simply having the responsibility of caring for an emotional support animal and ensuring they thrive can go a long way towards meaningfully reducing depression symptoms. Petting your ESA cat also releases feel-good hormones that are known to lift a person's mood and improve their mental well-being.
Another way emotional support cats or service animals (different from an ESA) help is by providing companionship. Loneliness is a particularly challenging mental disability in that it can create a host of other issues. Cat ownership or emotional support animal ownership can help relieve some of the negative effects of loneliness.
Simply having emotional support cats or service animals can make people feel less lonely in life, which can greatly impact their well-being.
Improve Sleep Quality
By helping you relax and feel less anxious before you go to bed, your emotional support cat can play a welcome role in improving your quality of sleep. For some people, having their ESA on the bed at the beginning of the night helps them fall asleep quicker and wake up less during the night. Some pets provide a warm and comforting presence at night, which can help lower anxiety and help a person fall asleep quicker.
Improve Exercise and Physical Fitness
Most cats aren't trained to walk on a leash, but if you start when they are young, many cats enjoy going for walks either on a leash or being carried. Getting out of the house to pick up pet supplies can also be an essential exercise break for people dealing with emotional or mental stresses. Even just making time to play with your cat as it chases toys indoors will keep you moving and having fun.
A Host of Other Benefits
Pet lovers tend to recognize each other and enjoy each other's company. Animal lovers tend to bond over the affection they share for their furry friends, and every pet owner enjoys sharing quirks about their pet with other people. Having an emotional support cat can create an even tighter bond between people. Plus, just knowing that another being loves spending time with you can make your days brighter. And science has shown that petting a cat and listening to its purr can help your body release calming hormones and reduce the amount of stress compounds in your bloodstream!
How Do You Know If You Qualify to Have Your Cat Certified as an Emotional Support Animal?
To make sure you can have your emotional support cats with you at home and in other places where your mental or emotional symptoms might require them to be with you, you need to qualify for an ESA letter that you can show landlords and others. Some places won't honor an emotional support animal letter as a document proving your medical need for an ESA, but it's good to keep on hand just in case. Below we'll go into how to make sure you qualify for a support animal.
You Need to Have a Mental Health Related Disability
For a medical professional to write a letter on your behalf you first need to be suffering from some type of mental or emotional health challenge. This can include:
- Panic Attacks
- Personality Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
- And a host of other potential mental and emotional challenges
Many Americans experience these kinds of challenges (1 in 2 will develop a mental illness or disorder in their lifetime), so you may very well qualify even if you have not ever been formally diagnosed.
Your Cat Needs to Support or Alleviate Symptoms of Your Mental Health Disability
Additionally, to qualify, your ESA needs to support or alleviate symptoms of your disability in some way. Some people may not necessarily be happy with dog ownership and lean more towards cat ownership because cats tend to be less high-energy. If your pet adds stress to your life, it may not be a good choice for an ESA. The benefits of living with a pet are pretty extraordinary, and there are many ways they can help that we did not cover in this article. If you feel that your cat helps you deal with symptoms of mental or emotional issues, it's worth checking to see if they qualify as an ESA.
How to Get an Emotional Support Cat
What do you do if you think your cat would qualify as an emotional support animal?
Connect with a Licensed Mental Health Professional in Your State
To begin the process of qualifying your pet as an emotional support animal for your condition, you need to connect with a mental health professional who is licensed to operate in the state where you live. If you spend a decent part of the year in two different states, you should be able to consult with mental health professionals in either state about your need for an ESA.
Have a Mental Health Evaluation
Once you have connected with a mental health professional licensed in your state, they will collect information on your mental and emotional history and evaluate your mental health. They need to do this to determine if you would benefit from an ESA in the first place. Some people may say that a person needs to qualify for an emotional support animal, but the letter is more a statement that an ESA can help a person cope with a mental health condition and could be considered a medical need to cope.
During that same evaluation, they will work with you to understand how you benefit from having a therapy pet or therapy cats. The mental health professionals are trying to understand just how your psychological disability is specifically improved from having therapy pets.
Receive Your ESA Letter
Once it is clear that you benefit from having emotional support cats, your clinician will write you a legal ESA letter that you can use to move your therapy cats with you into any housing unit and ask your landlord to waive your pet fee, take them with you into some public places, and even travel with them.
What Is Your ESA Letter Legally Required to Have
When getting an ESA letter and certifying your cat as an emotional support animal, make sure you have the proper documentation and that your letter contains all the required information.
Official Letterhead of Your Mental Health Provider
The letter needs to contain the letterhead of your clinician. Letterhead is just a fancy way of saying paper with a design on it that represents the provider’s business. It is a formal way of indicating that the letter came from the provider and isn’t a forgery.
Statement About Your Disability and ESA Qualification
The letter must contain a statement that the clinician attests that, based on the information you provided in a live conversation, they have determined that you have a mental disability and would benefit from having an ESA under the Fair Housing Act or American with Disabilities Act.
License and Contact Information for Your Clinician
The laws allow a landlord or airline to contact the clinician to verify that you have consulted with a professional, so the letter must also include their medical license and contact information.
That allows a landlord to verify that the clinician's license is in good standing and lets them contact the clinician directly to verify the information in the ESA letter.
Where Can You Go With Your Emotional Support Cat?
While service animals can legally go just about anywhere in public, emotional support animals do not have the same legal protection. So, where can your emotional support cat go with you?
Emotional support animals are required by law to be allowed in any residence – regardless of whether that place typically allows pets or not. As long as you submit your ESA letter, your landlord must make reasonable accommodation for your ESA, imposing no fees or species or breed restrictions. Your ESA should also be allowed in any common areas within your housing complex. They are also allowed to live with you in university dorms, though they are rarely allowed in classrooms – it just depends on the campus.
Flights with Select Airlines
Unfortunately, due to some recent policy changes from the U.S. Department of Transportation, only some airlines allow ESAs. No domestic airlines recognize emotional support animals, though they must still accommodate service animals. If your ESA must travel with you, they must fly with you as any regular pet would.
As there is no law protecting an ESA’s right to public access, hotels are not required to allow emotional support animals. However, it may be worth asking the hotel before you book if they will accommodate your support animal. Otherwise, it may be best to find a pet-friendly hotel to stay at.
Some Public Places
Other public places, such as restaurants and stores, have no obligation to allow your ESA to enter. This usually includes workplaces, as well.
However, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and some places may choose to accommodate your emotional support animal if you simply show your ESA letter. And when it comes to your place of work, it’s all up to your employer.
Emotional Support Cats vs Service Animals
An emotional support cat is a cat that provides a calming presence and helps a person with a mental or emotional disability to cope with their symptoms. Technically, they require no special training – simply their companionship provides therapeutic benefits for the owner.
Unfortunately, emotional support cats are only legally required to be allowed in any place of residence. All other public places have the right to refuse ESAs if they choose to.
At this time, only dogs and sometimes miniature horses are recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as service animals. A service animal is specially trained to perform at least one task that specifically aids the owner in living with their disability – physical or mental.
It is unfortunate that cats are not legally recognized as service animals. However, cats can be highly trainable – more than many people realize. They can, in fact, be trained to perform many tasks often assigned to regular service animals.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Difference Between Support Animals and Service Animals
The big difference is that service animals are held to a higher standard of training. Service animals can be service dogs or service cats that have been trained to behave well in public and with other animals and they have been individually trained to perform specific tasks that help individuals with a psychological or physical disability manage their lives better. The rights of service animals are protected under federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
Who Can Train Service Animals?
Service animals can be trained by anyone, including yourself. The ADA recognizes that dealing with a disability can be extremely difficult and likely does not want to put up barriers to people getting the support they need. As a result, you can train a service animal at home yourself or, if you need help with training, you can contact one of the many organizations that provide service animal training services across the country.
What Is a Psychiatric Service Dog Trained to Do?
A psychiatric service dog (PSD) can be trained in a host of different tasks including:
- Reducing anxiety by sitting on your lap or putting pressure on your chest
- Nudging you when you're caught up in rumination
- Reminding you to take medications
- Pushing you to remove yourself from stressful situations
The tasks they are trained to perform are aimed at helping you deal with a symptom of your mental health disability and can qualify them to be service animals. Can cats be service animals? Yes, cats can be trained as psychiatric service dogs and do a great job of providing that support.
What Additional Benefits Come with Psychiatric Service Cats?
Psychiatric service cats are allowed on any airline without a fee and have the right to go with you into any public space - including restaurants, supermarkets, and other public areas.
Emotional support animals (ESAs) aren't protected in quite the same way. Your emotional support cats are legally allowed to move into any housing unit, travel with you to any Airbnb, and live in University dorms.
But unfortunately, after recent federal rule changes, ESAs are allowed to fly free only on certain international airlines. And, while your desire to have your ESA with you will generally be respected in other public places, unlike with a service animal, you don't have a federally protected right to take them with you into any public space.
How to register a cat as an emotional support animal?
There is actually no official “registry” for emotional support animals. The best way to make your cat an official ESA is to obtain a legitimate ESA letter that certifies them as a support animal for you.
To make sure your ESA letter is legitimate, you must have a live consultation with a mental health professional licensed in your state. The letter they write must contain all the legal requirements, including the clinician’s letterhead, license number, contact information, and statement of your qualification for an ESA.
Also, an ESA does not need to wear any special tag or vest to be recognized as your support animal. All you should need is a valid ESA letter.
How to qualify for an emotional support cat?
You must have a qualifying mental health condition as determined by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) in a live consultation. The LMPH must also determine that your pet is an essential part of your treatment, in that it helps to reduce some of the symptoms of your condition.
Are cats good emotional support animals?
Yes, absolutely. Cats can provide a calming presence that helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and many other mental health issues. In fact, cats have been proven to reduce stress and blood pressure levels for their owners, as well as lower depression, feelings of loneliness, and anxiety. The act of simply petting their animal can help a person feel more calm and relaxed.
Can a landlord refuse an emotional support cat?
No. As long as you submit your ESA letter, your landlord must make reasonable accommodations for your emotional support cat to live with you. They also cannot impose any pet fees or age or breed restrictions.
The only way that a landlord can legally refuse an ESA is if that animal poses a threat to others or if the request for accommodation is unreasonable in some way. Whether you’ve got an emotional support animal or a service animal, your landlord must accept your letter as a statement from a medical professional of your medical need for your pet.