From the tombs of ancient Egypt to present-day social media, cats’ lengthy history alongside man as companion and symbol has captured the imaginations and attention of generations. Through their fun antics, entertaining nature, intuitiveness, and cuddles, some might consider cats the ideal emotional support animal. However, a service animal is much different than an emotional support pet. So, the question begs: Can a cat be a service animal?
Can a cat be considered a service animal?
Despite all the joy and love our cats bring us, they are unfortunately not considered service animals. However, their capacity to provide emotional support through companionship and other mental health benefits is recognized as a potential status of Emotional Support Animal (ESA).
What is a service animal?
A service animal is typically a dog that is trained to aid an individual with a disability or illness who needs help performing tasks. These are considered working animals and are put through extensive training.
What is the history of service animals?
We see sporadic examples of animals being trained to serve people with disabilities throughout history. However, there have been examples of service animals in the last century, such as Morris Frank and his famous seeing eye dog, Buddy. Service dogs were mainly utilized for people with visual disabilities throughout the 20th century. But service dogs weren’t recognized and given legal protection until the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
What disabilities can be helped by service animals?
With their abilities to carry out tasks such as physical and emotional support, bring or move items for their owners, and alert others about medical emergencies, service animals can serve a number of disabilities and long-term chronic health conditions.
Below is a short list of disabilities service dogs can help with:
- Blindness (partial and complete)
- Deafness (partial and complete)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Anxiety disorders
How are service animals trained?
With a wide range of functions and assistance, it's understandable that service animals undergo a lot of training to become essential companions. For starters, only dogs that are sociable, reliable, and good with training can be considered. From there, service animals are trained for at least 120 hours to perform specific needs of their owners, both in private and public settings. These can be tailored to the owner’s needs, whether it is navigating, reaching objects and switches, providing stability when walking, or alerting others of a medical emergency should the owner be unable to alert others.
Depending on the state and locality, the specifications and requirements of the training vary greatly. However, the ADA does not require service animals to be professionally trained, and in some states, there is no requirement to register and certify the service animal. Because this varies with each state and area, it is important to familiarize yourself with the local laws and requirements on service animals.
Where are service animals allowed to go?
Under the ADA, service animals may be brought to all “public accommodations,” including cinemas, restaurants, grocers, waiting rooms, exam rooms, schools, and workplaces. However, certain areas—such as restaurant kitchens, operating rooms, and workplaces where the employer can demonstrate that the service animal could cause great disturbance, interruption, or hardship—usually are not permitted to have service animals.
Law about service animals
Typically, only dogs are trained as service animals. Service dogs are treated as working animals and not as pets under federal law.
However, there are rare exceptions, such as miniature horses. Service animals are usually considered as such based on their prior training to aid the owner. The extent and amount of this training is not specified. To have a service animal, a person must have a disability as defined by the ADA.
Other animal species besides dogs and miniature horses can be considered as emotional support animals.
What does the ADA say about cats?
The ADA currently does not allow cats to be considered service animals. This is because there are many tasks for aiding persons with disabilities that cannot be performed by cats, such as guiding the blind, alerting the deaf and hard of hearing, pulling a wheelchair, providing stability when walking, or carrying a number of heavier objects to and from their owner.
Service animals vs. emotional support animals (ESA)
The main distinction between service animals and emotional support animals is that service animals usually help with physical tasks, and thus are afforded much more legal protection. Emotional support animals are usually, as their name suggests, for emotional support—and thus are not afforded the same legal protections. Cats are one of the species that can serve as emotional support animals.
An emotional support animal is an animal that provides comfort to relieve the symptoms of a person’s disability or chronic medical condition. These are not pets under U.S. law, and can be a number of species—including but not limited to:
How do I make my cat an emotional support animal?
To have your cat recognized as an emotional support animal, you just need a licensed mental health professional to write a letter recognizing your need and your animal’s capacity to help your mental health. Once you have this letter supporting and stating that you have a mental health need, you can provide this letter to a landlord, airline, or relevant party.
Getting support you need
We now know the legal requirements around emotional support animals and the process necessary to give them the legal backing. Emotional support animals can greatly improve quality of life for countless people with mental health needs.
If you’re interested in having an emotional support animal for your own needs or for a loved one, read more here. As always, consider the right emotional support animal carefully. But we can assure you that a cuddly kitty is an ideal choice!
With the special exception of mini horses, dogs are the only allowable service animal due to their ability to perform necessary tasks.
Anxiety is considered a mental health disability. Therefore, a cat could act as an emotional support animal (ESA). However, cats are not accepted as service animals.
Yes, there is no law stating the amount of ESA cats allowed. However, a medical professional suggestion and local laws apply.
Cover photo by Oleg Ivanov on Unsplash