Can Cats Be Emotional Support Animals?

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While there’s no doubt that animals (especially cats) can be loving companions, there’s been plenty of debate over the years about whether or not they can actually provide emotional support to those suffering from mental health problems. 

The truth is, having an emotional support animal (ESA) can change your life. Beyond the emotional and psychological benefits that a pet can provide, they can also just be good company, especially for someone who has social anxiety related to a major extent and thus have difficulty integrating into social situations.

Unsure what exactly ESAs are but want to know more? We break down the basics of ESAs and why cats as ESAs make so much sense below. 

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What Is An Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

An emotional support animal, or ESA, is a companion pet that helps to relieve symptoms connected to an emotional or psychological disability by helping to calm down those experiencing major distress.

Generally speaking, they can be really helpful for people struggling with depression or anxiety because they help put them at ease. For those coping with disorders that impact their ability to socialize, ESAs can provide a vital layer of support and love.

This might sound like service animal territory, but in fact, ESAs are very different from service animals. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal (and specifically, dogs) as animals that are “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.”

Unlike service animals that receive specific training to better assist their human companions, ESAs usually don’t have any training beyond what might seem ordinary for a pet.

They don’t perform special tasks and might still do typical pet things, such as inappropriate elimination or other types of unwanted behavior.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that a specific pet is a bad ESA if those behaviors occur. Instead, the important thing to keep in mind with an ESA is that it’s still just a loving pet.

Another thing to remember is that ESAs can technically be any animal – cats aren’t the only type of pet that might qualify.

From dogs to chickens, animals of all sorts can technically be considered ESAs if they help deliver support, aid, or comfort to a person through affection and companionship.

Legal Protections For ESAs

Gaining ESA status can afford pets unique rights that aren’t accessible to other animals. The most significant of these rights are in airfare and housing. In both the Fair Housing Act of 1988 (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA), ESAs are afforded special recognition, a major coup for mental health advocates and pet lovers alike.

Under the ACAA, ESAs were given consent to accompany mentally or emotionally unwell people during trips in the cabinet of an aircraft carrier.

But it’s more than just that, because under that act, you don’t have to pay additional fees or purchase an extra ticket to travel by air with your pet.

To take advantage of this, it’s a good idea to contact your airline at least 48 hours in advance of your travel date and have all documentation needed on hand and available by request.

The FHA can impact your life tremendously if you’re a renter or living in a condo, because under it, ESAs are allowed access to domiciles that might otherwise be closed off to pets.

This can apply to on-campus housing, since colleges do have to be compliant with the FHA.

Additionally, it offers protections to tenants with ESAs against potentially discriminatory acts from landlords or homeowner associations. In the event that an application is turned down or additional fees – including pet security deposits – are requested to have a pet in your home, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and have legal safeguards against any retaliatory actions.  

Best ESA Websites To Register Your Cat As An ESA

The best ESA websites offer a simple pre-screening process and connect you with a licensed healthcare professional in your state for a telehealth consultation.

From there, your doctor will determine your eligibility for an ESA and, if you qualify, issue the necessary documentation in the form of an ESA letter.

Here’s a quick rundown of our top five picks:

Best Overall
10.0
Picked by 31 people today!

CertaPet ESA

  • Over 65,000 satisfied customers
  • Simple 3-step approval process
  • Consultations within 48 hours
Runner Up
9.8
Picked by 31 people today!

Pettable

  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • World-class mental health professionals
  • Receive letter within 24 hours of approval
Best Same-Day Approval
9.5
Picked by 25 people today!

Emotional Pet Support

  • Same-day approval may be possible
  • Simple application process
  • 100% refundable within 30 days
Best Customer Support
9.4
Picked by 21 people today!

ESA Doctors

  • Strong customer support
  • Up-to-date information on ESA requirements
  • Simple questionnaire to determine eligibility
Best Guarantee
9.3
Picked by 18 people today!

Realesaletter.com

  • Pay 50% upfront, remainder upon delivery
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • Receive letter within 24 hours of approval

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

#1 Overall Best: CertaPet ESA

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Easily one of the most popular and well-trusted ESA letter providers is CertaPet. Their three-step process makes it easy to find out if you’re a good candidate for an emotional support animal and, if you are, they’ll connect you with a licensed healthcare provider in your state to complete the consultation.

What we appreciate about CertaPet is that they have a great track record. Not only do they have over 65,000 satisfied customers but they provide more than just ESA letters – they also have licensed health professional qualified to make determinations for psychiatric service dogs (PSDs).

You might pay a little more for CertaPet than other services, but consultations are scheduled within 48 hours and you get a money-back guarantee, minus the consultation fee, if you don’t qualify for an ESA.

What We Like:

  • Free, five-minute prescreening process
  • Consultations are scheduled within 48 hours
  • Compliant with all federal and state laws

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Money-back guarantee excludes consultation fee
  • Must purchase travel or housing ESA separately (or pay $199 for both)

#2 Runner Up: Pettable

Enter Discount Code ALLABOUTCATS To Get 10% Off!

Though less well-known than CertaPet, Pettable is a similar option with one major benefit – a 100% money-back guarantee. The sign-up process still only takes a few minutes and you’ll be paired with a licensed healthcare professional to determine your ESA eligibility.

Like CertaPet, Pettable offers the option to purchase an ESA letter for housing, travel, or both. You’ll pay $149 each to buy them separately or pay $199 for both.

In addition to a money-back guarantee, Pettable provides peace of mind by offering bios of their licensed therapists on their website. You can also read customer reviews and take advantage of extensive resources about ESAs.

What We Like:

  • Money-back guarantee – including consultation fee
  • Compliant with all state and federal laws
  • World-class licensed mental health professionals

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Must purchase travel or housing ESA separately (or pay $199 for both)
  • Pricing is only visible after completing pre-screening

#3 Best Same-Day Approval: Emotional Pet Support

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Most ESA websites that offer instant approval are scams because it takes time for a healthcare provider to assess your needs and legitimately issue an ESA letter. While Emotional Pet Support doesn’t offer instant approval, they have therapists working 7 days a week so you may be approved the same day.

Emotional Pet Support has a simple application process, though the website is certainly older and a little clunkier than the first two we reviewed. You get to see their pricing before you even start the pre-screening and decide which option is right for you. If you’re not satisfied or don’t qualify, you can request a refund within 30 days of application.

What We Like:

  • Same-day approval possible in some cases
  • 100% refundable within 30 days
  • Simple application process with clear pricing

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Website is older and a little clunky
  • Exam fees aren’t covered by medical insurance

#4 Best Customer Support: ESA Doctors

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Dealing with the legal issues surrounding ESAs can be confusing but ESA Doctors offers strong customer support. They have a length FAQ section to help you through the sign-up process with customer service on standby to answer your questions after you apply.

In addition to being there to support their customers before, during, and after service, ESA Doctors also provides up-to-date information on ESA requirements by state. Again, the sign-up process is simple and takes just a few minutes.

One things to keep in mind, however, is that the order is non-refundable after 24 hours of purchase and you’ll still pay a $39 cancellation fee.

What We Like:

  • Strong customer support during and after service
  • Up-to-date information on ESA requirements
  • Simple 5-part questionnaire to determine eligibility

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Order is nonrefundable after 24 hours
  • Refunds exclude a $39 cancellation fee

#5 Best Guarantee: Realesaletter.com

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Paying for online services is always a risk for Realesaletter.com seeks to put your mind at ease. Not only do they offer a 100% money-back guarantee, but you only pay 50% of the service fee upfront and the rest upon delivery of your ESA letter.

Realesaletter.com works with over 50 licensed healthcare professionals around the country and has already issued over 15,000 letters. The pre-screening process is quick and easy, taking around 8 minutes, and at the end your application will be reviewed by a licensed therapist to determine your eligibility. If you qualify, you’ll get a PDF of your ESA letter within 24 hours of approval.

What We Like:

  • Pay 50% upfront and the remainder upon delivery
  • Backed by a 100% money-back guarantee
  • Receive ESA letter within 24 hours of approval

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Profile required to complete questionnaire
  • No refund if you cancel the process

Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid ESA letter providers that charge extra fees or offer unnecessary accessories – things like vests or ID tags. There’s no need to register your ESA with any kind of database either, so avoid services that offer it as a bonus (or for an extra fee).

If you’re nervous about using an online service, you can always talk to your doctor about getting an ESA letter. At the very least, he should be able to refer you to a mental health provider who can complete an evaluation to determine your eligibility.

How To Get An ESA?

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, panic disorder, PTSD, or other mental illnesses, you may benefit from ESAs.

Consulting with a doctor or trained healthcare professional can help you determine whether or not adopting a pet is the right option for you, since ultimately having an ESA also means taking on all the responsibilities that come with pet ownership.

Fortunately, there isn’t a specific registry or legal process that you need to jumpstart in order to get emotional support from your pet. In fact, documenting your pet as an ESA is completely voluntary, unless you’re trying to fly with benefits under the ACAA or rent with protections from the FHA.

Some sites suggest you need certification, and offer this at a for-profit rate, but these certificates aren’t considered legally binding and in most cases, are actually scams.

If you want to take advantage of the legal protections granted to ESAs – especially while flying – then a letter from a psychologist or mental health professional currently treating you is all you need. If you’re not confident doing this on your own, you may want to try a service like Pettable. Pettable makes it easy to get legally compliant ESA letters from qualified mental health professionals.

Why Cats Make Great ESAs?

While any animal could potentially be an ESA, cats are an ideal option because they’re naturally affectionate and intelligent animals, and they’re often very attuned to subtle changes or emotional shifts in ways that humans may not be immediately aware of.

Because of this, they can help create a more relaxing and calming environment in your home, and help to set you at ease following stressful or emotionally overwhelming events.

Unlike other animals, cats are also independent and non-intrusive. Unlike dogs, which can be loud or at times difficult to care for due to special needs, cats are extremely self-sufficient, while also being generally tidy and quiet.

While some may question a cat’s loyalty and dedication compared to that of a dog, any cat owner knows that felines are some of the most loving animals around.

The most important thing is finding a cat that fits your home, lifestyle, and above all, personality.

But once you do, you can start to develop the kind of bond that can truly lift you in times of hardship and leave you feeling fuller and more optimistic, which is what cats as ESAs are truly capable of.

Want To Get An Emotional Support Animal Letter For Your Cat?

Pettable can help. This service connects you with mental health professionals who can help you get a legally compliant ESA letter.

About The author

Shayna Murphy Shayna Murphy is a Boston-based writer and a lover of cats. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Elite Daily, and other outlets

5 thoughts on “Can Cats Be Emotional Support Animals?

  1. Andrea Harris

    How can cats not be an emotional support animal? Obviously they are! They are the most loving and caring animals in the world. Well i am not sure about my cat. All she does is dream when she sleeps and scratch me when she is awake. But i could not imagine my life without my furball. The sleepyhead has been there with me when i was at my worst. I wonder how animals can be such sweethearts when humans forget what heart is. But that is the world we live in. I got her registered last month because i was planning a vacation. I am soo excited to have her in the flight with me.

    Reply
  2. Beth McManus

    I lost my best friend Taffy, a brown tabby cat, when he was about 6 years old. … I think due to cancer. It was a quick decline. He was my Emotional Support Animal, always at my side with household chores, greeting me at the door, and most significantly, ‘protecting ‘ me from my alcoholic male companion . I kissed him and held him every day. I truly feel as if I have lost my only true reason to live.

    Reply
    1. Avatar photoMallory Crusta

      Hi Beth,

      Thanks for sharing a little bit about your bond with Taffy. The two of you obviously had a special relationship and it’s understandable that you’re devastated. I know there’s nothing I can say that will make you feel better, but I hope you can find ways to feel joy and hope in a life after Taffy.

      Take care,

      Mallory

      Reply
  3. Dolores Duffy

    ESA pets now must pay on airlines, remain in their carrier under front seat. I recently flew American Airlines which charged $125 one way from NY to Florida, and Spirit for $110 the way back. This new rule took effect end of January 2021.

    Reply

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