We’ve heard about service dogs more than enough times in order to wonder if cats can be service animals as well. After all, there are people who prefer the feline company more.
So, today’s article will tackle this exact question: can a cat be a service animal and, if so, how could one get his/her feline registered as one? Let’s find out!
Types of Assistance Animals
Before we get into our topic, it is important to understand that there is more than one type of assistance animal. Of course, the naming of “service animal” is the most common, but that’s mainly because most people are not aware of the different types of assistance animals.
While the lines may be blurred when it comes to the types of “working” and assistance animals, legal distinctions classify them as follows: service, therapy, and emotional support animals.
- Service Animals
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is any dog that has been individually trained to work or perform various tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability – be it physical, psychiatric, sensorial, intellectual, or other mental disabilities.
Therefore, other species are not considered service animals. With the exception of the occasional miniature horse, only dogs can be service animals. It’s only natural, given the fact that the first thing we think about when talking about service animals is a dog trained to help the visually impaired.
On top of that, there are dogs that receive training in order to assist their handler with a psychiatric or mental disability – anxiety, PTSD, autism, or schizophrenia, for example.
As a rule of thumb, service animals have to be socialized, well behaved, and capable of accompanying their owners to various events and areas.
- Therapy Animals
Cats can be therapy animals – however, they do not live with the people they assist. Therapy animals are brought into places like medical establishments, assisted living, or schools in order to work with residents/patients.
Therapy animals can be referred to as “working animals”. In short, their owners volunteer their time in order to help other people that can benefit from attention, company, and love.
Basically, therapy cats come with reassuring presence for those in need, providing them with support and comfort. In terms of rights, they are not eligible for the air travel rights that service animals have and are not allowed in no-pet housings or establishments.
- Emotional Support Animals (ESA)
Considered constant companions, emotional support animals – what cats can be – provide comfort, love, security, and companionship for those in need, such as people suffering from depression, PTSD, or anxiety, for example.
Emotional support animals do not require training. However, some training is acceptable when it comes to the rules for commercial flying and housing laid down in ADA.
So, Can a Cat be a Service Animal?
As mentioned before, only dogs and miniature horses can be considered eligible to be service animals. Even though cats can carry out tasks that are specific to service animals and are quite trainable, the ADA comes with restrictions that forbid cats to be service animals.
In short, a cat cannot be a legal service animal. However, you can train it to perform various tasks and such. Still, an animal trained and approved as a service one is the better choice if you are facing more serious physical/psychiatric conditions.
Emotional Support and Therapy Animals
On the bright side of things, cats can be recognized as therapy and emotional support animals. While they may not be considered fit to be a service animal, they can still provide the people in need with love, affection, support, and company.
For example, if your cat helps you improve your emotional and mental health, then it can be a therapy animal. In order to make for a good emotional support animal, so to say, the owner and the animals must have a special relationship that can help the former feel more relaxed, for instance.
Here is how a cat should be in order to fit the “shoes” of an emotional support animal:
- It must be comfortable wearing a harness and/or leash – they should not struggle while wearing them.
- It must be able to keep calm under various circumstances/environments – not getting scared by dogs, nor frantically running after ever critter they see.
- It must have excellent health.
- It must be on a diet that does not include raw food.
- It must be trained in a suitable manner.
How Can I Get My Cat Registered as a Service Animal?
First of all, you do not have to register your cat anywhere if you want them to be an emotional support animal.
Many websites promote themselves as being able to register a cat as either a service or emotional support animal and, in most cases, they request a fee as well. If you stumble across these types of websites, do not trust them.
In short, all you need for your cat to be seen as a therapy/emotional support animal is an emotional support animal letter. This is a written letter issued by a licensed mental health professional.
Basically, there are no legal requirements stating that emotional support animals (ESA) have to be registered.
Disabilities that Qualify for an ESA Cat
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Postpartum Depression
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Phobias and Fears
- Bipolar Disorder
- General Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Emotional Support Animals – Legal Protections
Even though emotional support animals don’t have the same rights that service animals have, they – as well as their owners – still enjoy some legal protection. Namely, the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act) and FHA (Fair Housing Act) allow you to have your cat travel by plane and live with you without you having to pay any fees.
Naturally, you have to provide the airlines/landlords with the ESA letter of the emotional support cat in order to be eligible for these benefits. Moreover, with the help of such a letter, you can bring your emotional support cat on campus, while in college.
The Bottom Line
While a cat cannot be a service animal, it can help those in need of affection and love. If we are to think about it, dogs are indeed more fit to attend to the various needs/tasks of a person with a certain disability, while cats are somewhat better at comforting the ones in need.
As a reminder, make sure not to trust any websites that provide ESA registrations, as there is no such thing out there – all you need is a simple letter.