Can Cats Be Emotional Support Animals?
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. 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 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.
How Do Cats Help with Mental Health
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 combatting 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.
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.
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.
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, and just playing with your cat as it chases toys 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. 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 it 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. Below we'll go into how to make sure you qualify for a support animal.
You Need to Have a Mental Health Related Disability
First, you need to be suffering from some type of mental or emotional health challenge. This can include:
- 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. The benefits of living with a pet are pretty extraordinary, and there are many ways they can help 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.
If You Think You Qualify How Do You Get an ESA
What do you do if you think your cat would qualify as an ESA?
Connect with a Licensed Mental Health Professional in Your State
To begin the process of qualifying your pet as an ESA 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.
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 qualify for 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.
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 Animal Trained to Do?
A psychiatric service animal (PSA) 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 animals 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.