Can A Cat Be A Service Animal?

Can a Cat be a Service Animal?

There’s a lot of confusion around whether a cat can be a service animal and unfortunately too many misleading answers on the internet that confuse cat owners. I can confirm after thorough research that the short and definitive answer is NO, a cat cannot be a service animal, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Starting March 15, 2011, ADA recognizes only dogs and miniature horses as service animals.

This is because a service dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability, which ADA deems cats as unable to do.

What a cat CAN be though is an emotional support animal (ESA) or a therapy animal. There are still benefits of registering your cat as an ESA. For example, you can bring your service cat on an airline that supports emotional support animals (often for free) and most cities have by-laws where no pet policy apartments must allow your cat to come live with you if you have an ESA letter from your doctor that prescribes that you live with your emotional support cat due to mental health problems.

But don’t think that you can just abuse the system and register any cat as an ESA. Your cat has to be trained and certified to become an ESA. Let’s take a look at the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal, how you can get your cat to become an ESA, and how an ESA can help improve the quality of your life if you are in need of emotional support.

Service Animal vs Emotional Support Animal

As mentioned above, service animals must individually be trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Only dogs upon certification as service dogs, are recognized as able to perform these tasks.

Cats are not recognized as service animals under the ADA. However, ADA does recognize any animals including cats to be emotional support animals and comfort animals as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals. The definition of an emotional support animal is that they provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

Although service animals have more rights in public than emotional support animals, there are still benefits of emotional support animals under the ADA. In summary, the differences between service animal rights and emotional support animal rights are:

Allowed? Service Animal Emotional Support Animal
Public Facilities and Accommodations Any public facilities allowed even if there is a “no pets” policy. Not allowed.
Employment Employers must accommodate and allow service animals at the workplace. If the disability or reason for the service animal is not apparent, the employer has the right to ask for documentation supporting this claim. If the service animal poses undue hardship or a direct threat in the workplace, employers can deny service animals. Employers must accommodate and allow emotional support animals at the workplace. If the disability or reason for the ESA is not apparent, the employer has the right to ask for documentation supporting this claim. If the service animal poses undue hardship or a direct threat in the workplace, employers can the deny ESA.
Housing

(as per The Fair Housing Act)

Landlord must allow service animals even with a “no pets” policy because service animals are not deemed as pets. The landlord has the right to ask for proper documentation proving that the service animal is certified and for a 3rd party (or doctor) to describe in detail the reason for you needing a service animal. Landlord must allow emotional support animals even with a “no pets” policy because ESA are not deemed as pets. The landlord has the right to ask for proper documentation proving that your cat is certified as an ESA and for a 3rd party (or doctor) to describe in detail the reason for you needing an ESA.
Schools Allowed with proper documentation. Seldom allowed with proper documentation but schools are not required to allow them.
Transportation Allowed and free of charge. Case by case basis.
Air Travel

(as per Air Carrier Access Act)

Airlines are required to allow service animals with proper documentation and the presence of harnesses or tags Airlines are required to allow emotional support animals with proper documentation (more strict than service animals but what good news!). Documentation required may include: (a) A mental health professional stating on a professional letterhead that you have a mental health related disability, (b) having the ESA is necessary for mental health or treatment, (c) proof of the mental health professional’s license (including date and type)

As you can see in the table above, service dogs have a bit more leeway in where they are allowed to accompany their owners to public places that normally prohibit dogs and other animals. But emotional support animals have enough rights that there are clearly benefits to having emotional support cats if you do need one.

How To Make My Cat An Emotional Support Animal

No Such Thing as an Emotional Support Cat Certification!

There’s actually no such thing as an emotional support animal certification! Essentially, an emotional support animal certifications are basically a written letter by a licensed mental health professional. A licensed mental health professional includes a clinical psychologist, licensed professional counselor, mental health counselor, psychiatrist or a licensed psychiatric, and mental health nurse practitioner.

If you have a mental health professional, then you can ask them to provide you the documentation that you require to present to an airline in advance of your flight, to a landlord to allow an ESA in a housing with a no pet policy, and in a workplace setting.

If you don’t have a mental health professional that can provide this for you, then there are websites where you can buy an emotional support letter if you’re approved. If you have a mental health issue and your cat does alleviate stress and anxiety, then an emotional support animal letter is the right solution. If you don’t have a mental health issue and you just want to get an ESA letter to be able to travel and have your cat in a no pets allowed apartment, it can be seen as a controversial abuse of the law. But if it’s not harming anyone else and it does help you and the life of your cat, then I would argue that there is legitimate rationale.

If you come across a site that offers an emotional cat certificate with a fancy certificates and ID tag or claiming that your cat will be registered in an emotional support animal registry, they are just taking advantage of animal owners who don’t know the laws surrounding ESA laws so they can squeeze an extra buck from you. Instead, you should look for sites that provide simply an “emotional support animal letter” by a licensed mental health professional.

How To Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter

Some of the legitimate sites that provide an emotional support animal letter that you can buy are:

  • CertaPet – First, you complete a quick online pre-screening. Then you get connected to a licensed mental health professional online. If you’re approved, you will receive the ESA letter, which if you qualify due to mental health issues, you can get in as early as 2 days. It’s a bit expensive for a little less than $1/day for as long as the letter is valid.
  • ESADoctors – First, you fill out a questionnaire. A therapist then contacts you. If you’re approved, you get an ESA letter by a licensed mental health professional within 2 days. They have different options for why you need an ESA letter – for housing ($159) or for travel ($149) or a combo ($189). I’m a little dubious though, because they require you to pay after your questionnaire, before your therapist contacts you. You can get a refund within 24 hours, but if you’re not approved for an ESA by a therapist and this takes more than 24 hours, then you don’t get a refund. I would use this site with caution in that find out for sure the likelihood of you getting approved for an ESA letter before you dish out hundreds of dollars for the promise of one.

Emotional Support Cat Vest

An emotional support cat vest is absolutely not necessary. In fact, there are somewhat closed-minded people who don’t deem emotional support animals as necessary and have a problem with people who “abuse” the notion of service animals. But for someone who struggles with bouts of depression such as myself, I don’t question the validity of emotional support cats. They are absolutely helpful in calming my anxiety.

If you’re approved for an emotional support animal letter and therefore you can bring your cat on board a plane, then it can be helpful to put an emotional support cat vest on your cat just as a way to field judgement from closed-minded people.

For me personally, I would stop at the emotional support animal vest. I think buying a “holographic” service cat certificate is going beyond being honest, even if you do have a legitimate ESA letter and you want to use it just to avoid conflict from strangers who are complete jerks.

Airlines That Allow Emotional Support Animals

Although ADA requires that airlines comply with allowing emotional support animals with proper ESA letter to be allowed on flight, each airline has their own rules with respect to how strict their documentation requirement is, how far in advance you need to book your ticket if you’re traveling with an emotional support cat, and if you’re allowed to bring your emotional support cat in cabin with you or now.

Summary

The Americans with Disabilities Act clearly states that the only animals that can be deemed a service animal are dogs and miniature horses. That means, a cat cannot be a service animal. However, ADA allows cats and other animals to be emotional support animals if a licensed mental health professional provides a letter that you have mental health related problems and you need your cat to alleviate or treat your mental health illnesses.

If you’re approved for an emotional support letter and have the proper documentation, you can possibly bring your emotional support cat to the workplace (but your employer does have the right to say no if the cat poses a threat or harm in the workplace), on airplanes and other modes of transportation, and to an apartment with a no pet policy.

Beware of sites that claim to register your “service cat” or emotional support cat in the registry and provide ID tags and certificates. These don’t exist and are not required under the ADA act! They are scamming you for money by taking advantage of people who don’t know the ADA law related to emotional support animals.

If you’re traveling on an airline with your ESA, make sure to follow the rules of that specific airline. You do not need to put an emotional support cat vest or put an ESA collar tag on your cat but it could prevent some closed-minded judgmental strangers from coming over to you to give you a lecture on getting your cat out of there.

Hope you found this article helpful. As always, my goal is to educate the cat owners with articles on helpful topics after thorough research. Thank you for reading and good luck.