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Registering a Cat as an Emotional Support Animal: Steps & Tips

In the United States, an estimated 18% of the population suffers from a mental illness. For these individuals, traditional forms of treatment such as medication and therapy, may not be enough. In some cases, an emotional support animal may be prescribed as an additional form of support. Recently, there has been a significant rise in the number of people claiming they need an emotional support animal to cope with their mental health.

The definition of an emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. There is no definitive list of emotional support animals, but some of the most common examples include dogs, rabbits, horses, birds, and yes—cats.

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What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional support animals work specifically with individuals who suffer from mental illnesses. They are able to perform tasks such as recognizing signs of distress, providing comfort, or watching over the unwell person. These animals are not required to have any specific training but are typically used to provide comfort and companionship to those suffering from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions. People suffering from mental illness may benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal. Individuals who qualify have mental health conditions that disrupt their daily lives, such as anxiety disorders, panic disorders, or clinical depression.

dog and owner
Image Credit: Piqsels

Can a Cat Be an Emotional Support Animal?

The classification of an emotional support animal is not concrete. Some would say that because cats are not as emotionally dependent on humans as dogs are, they cannot be considered emotional support animals. Others may argue that the bond between a cat and its human can be just as strong, making them viable candidates for emotional support animal status.

Ultimately, it is up to the discretion of the individual to assess whether or not a cat can be classified as an emotional support animal. As with any emotional support animal, cats can provide love, empathy, and encouragement. If you’re not a “cat lover”, then you may not realize that a cat’s loyalty can be as unconditional as a dog. In addition to that, many mental health professionals report that cat ownership has just as many positive effects as dog ownership.

Why Do Cats Make Great Emotional Support Animals?

There are a few reasons why cats make great emotional support animals. Cats are known for being low-maintenance, so they’re perfect for people who lead busy lives. They’re also good at providing companionship, and studies have shown that owning a cat can reduce stress levels and promote better mental health. Additionally, cats are typically independent creatures, which can help people who need a little more space. Cats also provide physical affection by rubbing against people and purring, which can help reduce stress levels.

Cat Licking owners nose
Image Credit: Creative Cat Studio, Shutterstock

Are Cats or Dogs Better Emotional Support Animals?

Some people may feel that cats are better emotional support animals because they are quieter, more independent, and tend to require less attention than dogs. Others may find that dogs are better at providing emotional support because they are more social and interactive. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual’s preference and what they feel most comfortable with.

Cats make a great emotional support animal for people who think some dogs are too boisterous. Compared to some dogs, cats are smaller and can better control their impulses and energy. By bonding with their owners and developing a sense of companionship, cats create a calming presence in their owners’ homes. For people with panic disorders, mood disorders, or other mental health conditions, cats can be an excellent source of emotional support. If you have a cat and want it to serve as an emotional support cat for you, you must first qualify your mental health condition.

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How Do I Register My Cat As an Emotional Support Animal?

You cannot register your cat as an emotional support animal, as there is no official registration process for you or your cat. Steer clear of fraudulent websites that promote misinformation about the existence of service cat registries. Contrary to what you may read on these scam websites if you want your cat to be an emotional support animal, all you need is a letter from a licensed mental health professional, also known as an emotional support animal letter.

There is no legal requirement for Emotional Support Animals to be registered. These online registers are often packaged with fancy certificates and ID tags, but they are simply trying to profit off of people’s confusion about this process. These so-called registries and certification services offered by such websites are increasingly likely to be denied by airline staff and real estate renters. A letter from a licensed mental health professional is truly all you need.

woman with cat using computer
Image Credit: ORION PRODUCTION, Shutterstock

How Do I Qualify for an Emotional Support Cat?

To qualify for an emotional support cat, a person must first be diagnosed with a mental or psychiatric disorder by a licensed mental health professional.  You must be experiencing emotional challenges in order to receive an emotional support animal. Your disability must be causing significant impairment in your ability to perform major life activities. You might qualify for an emotional support cat if things like anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental health struggles affect your daily life.

How Do I Make My Cat An Emotional Support Animal?

So if you can’t register your cat, what can you do? In order to determine if your cat can serve you as an emotional support animal, you should speak with a medical professional. The emotional support cat must be prescribed by the mental health professional to help alleviate the symptoms of a diagnosed disorder. The cat must also be deemed necessary to support your daily functioning. An emotional support cat can be a great help if you suffer from mental health issues.

cat playing with owner
Photo credit: Andrew Kota, Pexels

How Should the Letter Be Written?

Emotional support animals do not have an official registration database. Any request for an ESA must be accompanied by a letter from a certified mental health professional. In order to be successfully accepted, this letter should look, and be, legitimate. The letter must be on professional letterhead and written by a qualified physician or mental health professional. The letter should include the license number of the provider, their signature, and the date on which it was signed. The letter must also include a clear explanation of why you need an emotional support animal.

Can I Make My Cat an Emotional Support Animal Without a Mental Health Provider?

If you don’t already have a mental health provider, you have two options. You can either make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional and get your letter that way, or you can use a paid online service. You’ll need to complete an online mental health evaluation with a licensed mental health professional before being issued a letter. You can’t write this letter yourself—if you create it yourself it will have no legal value.

woman carrying a cat
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

What Should I Do Once I Have My Letter?

Once your licensed mental health professional has completed a letter documenting your diagnosis and your cat’s emotional support animal status, be sure to keep your letter on hand when you need it. When you are flying with your animal or looking for a place to stay, it may be requested. Landlords and airlines cannot discriminate against people who use a cat for emotional support, but they can if they fail to provide your letter.

Are Emotional Support Cats Still Pets?

A cat that provides emotional support is no longer regarded as just a pet. Rather, emotional support cats enjoy special legal rights due to their status. It is necessary to have a supporting document created by a licensed mental health professional for your emotional support animal in order to take advantage of not only this role’s benefits and legal privileges. Cats that provide emotional support are more than simply pets, but they are not the same as service animals or therapy animals either.

cat and a woman
Image Credit: Pixabay

Do Emotional Support Cats Enjoy Any Legal Privileges?

Support animals are the subject of two federal laws in the United States. Although the benefits and protections accorded to emotional support cats aren’t as extensive as those granted to service animals, there are still two factors to be taken into consideration. In terms of rights, emotional support animals only have travel and housing privileges.

Pets with emotional support status are allowed to travel by plane without a carrier and this status can also be used as a way to get around no-pet policies or avoid paying pet deposits on a rental property.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The Air Carrier Access Act exempts you from paying an additional fee when you travel with your emotional support cat. The airlines must also be notified in advance and receive a recent (less than one-year-old) supporting letter from a licensed mental health professional for the emotional support cat. Before booking, it’s best to review flight information carefully to ensure you meet your airline’s pet policy.

Pet Magasin 001 Cat Carrier
Image Credit: Pet Magasin, Amazon

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act helps to make living with your cat easier by ensuring that individuals who require an emotional support cat will be granted reasonable accommodation and can live with their pet. It also prevents landlords and rental companies from being able to charge pet deposits and fees to tenants.

Since the Fair Housing Act applies to colleges, emotional support animals, such as cats, are permitted on university campuses. Do keep in mind that the university will ask for your emotional support animal letter.

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What Are The Differences Between an Emotional Support Animal & a Service/Therapy Animal?

An emotional support animal is not trained to perform tasks like service animals, but they may provide significant therapeutic benefits to their owners. For example, people with depression might feel less isolated and alone if they have an emotional support animal.

A service animal is an animal trained to assist people with disabilities. People with physical disabilities, such as the blind or deaf, can benefit from them. Restaurants, hospitals, and stores allow service animals. A therapy animal is a pet that provides comfort and support to people experiencing emotional or psychological difficulties. Hospitals, nursing homes, and schools use these animals to reduce stress levels and encourage socialization. Therapy animals can be any kind of pet, but they tend to have a calm temperament and be good with people.

An emotional support animal is somewhere in between a service animal and a pet. They provide incredible benefits, so they do enjoy some legal rights if they have the right documentation.

Black tabby Maine Coon with harness
Image Credit: DenisNata, Shutterstock

Where Can I Take My Emotional Support Cat?

There are a number of laws regarding where you can take a service animal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to emotional support cats. It is no longer a requirement for airlines to transport them in passenger cabins, though they must be carried free of charge. They are also not automatically permitted in restaurants, movie theaters, or shopping malls.

​​How Do You Train an Emotional Support Cat?

As far as the law is concerned, emotional support cats are not required to undergo any special training. However, in shared spaces, they should remain calm and well-behaved. They should also be litter-trained.

Can Cats Be Service Animals?

Service Animals are dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, as defined by the American Disability Act (ADA). There is a special provision for miniature horses, but no mention is made of service cats.

There are a few reasons why cats cannot be service animals. The first reason is that cats are generally not as trainable as dogs. Dogs have been bred for centuries to serve humans, while cats have not. Most cats also have a shorter attention span than dogs, and they are more independent. Finally, cats can be impulsive and vocal, which can be a distraction for a person with a disability.

man playing cat outdoor
Image Credit: Karpova, Shutterstock

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In conclusion, if you are in need of an emotional support cat, the best way to accomplish this is to visit your therapist and have them provide you with the necessary paperwork. Emotional support animals provide a significant benefit for those suffering from mental or emotional disabilities, and with the correct documentation, you can have your furry friend fly with you for free and live beside you—even in properties with “pet free” clauses.

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Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock