Can Cats Really Be ESAs? The Truth About Felines as Emotional Support Animals

What Are Emotional Support Animals?

esas provide therapeutic support for mental health issues.

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides therapeutic benefit to someone with a mental or psychiatric disability. ESAs provide comfort and support that can alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions and help manage emotional and psychological stress. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an ESA is “any animal that provides emotional support alleviating one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability” (

Unlike a service animal, ESAs are not required to have specific training. Their role is to provide companionship and emotional comfort. Having an ESA can help people manage loneliness, depression, anxiety, phobias, and other challenges. The animal’s presence and support create a sense of calm and can even enhance the patient’s ability to socialize and engage in daily life activities.

ESAs do not have special access rights like service animals. However, they are allowed in housing under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and on airplanes under the Air Carrier Access Act. Mental health professionals can prescribe ESAs by writing a letter to certify that the animal provides a therapeutic benefit for the patient’s mental health disability.

Difference Between ESAs and Service Animals

esas differ from service animals in training and access rights.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) differ from service dogs in a few key ways. According to the ADA, service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Common tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting persons having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service dogs are working animals, not pets.

In contrast, ESAs provide comfort and support through companionship for their owners suffering from mental health conditions like depression, PTSD, and anxiety. ESAs do not require any specialized training beyond basic obedience. Their role is to be a comfort animal that alleviates symptoms of mental health disorders. ESAs are considered more akin to pets whose presence provides therapeutic emotional benefits for their owners.

Additionally, service dogs have access rights under the ADA, meaning they can accompany their owners in public places like restaurants, hotels, and airplanes. ESAs do not have these same public access rights and are only granted access to housing under the Fair Housing Act and air travel under the Air Carrier Access Act if certain requirements are met.

Benefits of Cats as ESAs

Cats can provide many benefits as emotional support animals. Some of the key benefits include:


Cats make excellent companions and can help relieve feelings of loneliness or isolation. Having a cat around provides constant friendly company and gives you someone to care for. Cats will often snuggle up beside you or in your lap, providing a soothing sense of closeness. According to a study by Purina, 82% of surveyed cat owners reported their cats helped them feel less lonely.

Stress Relief

Petting and being around cats has been shown to reduce stress and lower anxiety levels. A cat’s soft purr and gentle kneading can help calm and relax you. Cats may also help distract from worrying thoughts and give you something positive to focus on. Research has found that interacting with cats causes a release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and mood enhancement.

Unconditional Love

Cats provide constant affection and unconditional acceptance. They don’t judge you for having a mental illness or emotional issues. Your cat loves you just as you are. The unwavering devotion and attachment cats often show can make you feel valued, boost self-esteem, and give you purpose.

Requirements for ESAs

To legally qualify as an emotional support animal (ESA), the owner must have an emotional or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This disability must be verified by a letter from a licensed mental health professional or medical doctor. The letter should confirm that the owner has a disability and that the ESA provides a therapeutic benefit.

esa owners must have a verified mental disability.

In addition to having a qualifying disability, ESAs are expected to be well-behaved in public. Aggressive or disruptive animals can be denied access rights. Owners must have control over their ESA at all times.

Rights of ESA Owners

ESA owners have certain legal rights and protections under federal law. The two main laws that protect ESA owners are the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

Under the Fair Housing Act, ESA owners cannot be discriminated against when seeking housing. Landlords and property managers must provide reasonable accommodation for ESAs, even if they have a “no pets” policy. They can only reject an ESA if it poses a direct threat or causes undue financial/administrative burden.

When it comes to air travel, the Air Carrier Access Act allows ESA owners to fly with their animals in the cabin without paying a pet fee. Airlines are required to accept ESAs on flights within the U.S. Proper documentation is required to travel with an ESA.

In terms of public access, there are no federal laws requiring businesses to allow ESA entrance. However, some states have laws granting ESAs access rights. It’s best to check local laws regarding ESA access to places like restaurants, stores, etc.

While ESA owners have protections, their rights are limited compared to service animal owners. ESAs can legally be refused access to public places that aren’t covered by housing and travel laws.

Emotional Support Cat Breeds

Certain cat breeds tend to have temperaments and characteristics that make them well-suited for being emotional support animals. Some of the most popular emotional support cat breeds include:

Ragdoll: Known for their friendly, calm, and placid personalities, Ragdolls make excellent ESAs. They enjoy being held and carried around. Their laidback nature also makes them tolerant of children and other pets.

Siamese: Intelligent, vocal, and attention-loving, Siamese cats thrive when they can interact with their owners throughout the day. They form strong bonds and can be sensitive to their owner’s moods.

Persian: Sweet, calm, and adaptable, Persian cats have an easygoing nature that is comforting for many people. Their plush coat and doll-like faces also give them strong appeal.

While any cat can potentially be an ESA, these breeds often have the ideal mix of affectionate and soothing qualities.

Training an ESA Cat

ragdolls, siamese make good esas due to calm personalities.

Proper training and socialization are important for any cat, but especially for an ESA cat that will be going out in public and interacting with strangers. The two main areas to focus on are socialization and basic obedience.

Socialization involves gradually exposing your cat to new people, places, sights, sounds, and experiences in a positive, rewarding way. Start socialization early in kittenhood and continue it through adulthood. Let your cat meet new people of different ages, appearances, and genders. Take them on car rides, walks outdoors, and to pet-friendly stores. Reward calm, friendly behavior with treats and praise. This will help prevent fear and anxiety in new environments. According to wikiHow, you can also work on stroking and touching your cat all over to get them comfortable being handled by strangers.

For obedience, teach your ESA cat basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “down,” using positive reinforcement methods. Be patient and consistent during short, frequent training sessions. Your cat should master basic manners and walking politely on a leash or in a carrier. A well-trained ESA cat can greatly reduce stresses for both of you when out in public according to Cat Care Solutions.

With proper socialization and training, your loving feline companion can become a wonderful ESA providing you comfort and support.

Obtaining an ESA Letter

The first step to obtaining an ESA letter is to be assessed by a licensed mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.). The mental health professional must determine that you have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and that an ESA provides therapeutic benefit for your disability. According to the Pettable website, “An ESA letter must be provided by a licensed mental health practitioner to be considered legitimate, and must include the patient’s name and diagnosed mental condition.”

It’s important to have an ongoing relationship with your mental health professional, rather than seeking out an ESA letter from someone you’ve never met. The assessment and ESA recommendation should be based on your clinician’s understanding of your disability and treatment needs. Some websites offer instant ESA letters, but these are not considered legitimate documentation under the Fair Housing Act.

After assessing you and determining an ESA would be beneficial, the mental health professional will write a letter on their official letterhead stating you are under their care, are emotionally/psychiatrically disabled, and prescribe an ESA as part of your treatment. Most airlines require the letter to be from the past year.

Traveling with an ESA Cat

Bringing your emotional support cat on an airplane involves understanding airline policies and having proper documentation. Since ESAs are not protected under the Air Carrier Access Act like service dogs, airlines can impose restrictions on them.

Most major U.S. airlines require several items to bring an ESA cat in the cabin:

  • A letter from a licensed mental health professional stating you have a mental health condition that the ESA provides benefit for. The letter must be dated within one year of the flight. (
  • A health form completed by your vet documenting your cat’s vaccinations and overall health status.
  • Proof of your cat’s training and good behavior, like a Canine Good Citizen certificate.
  • Payment of a pet fee, typically $125 each way.
  • Your cat must stay in an approved carrier under the seat during the flight and not disturb others.

Make sure you understand your airline’s policies and have the proper documentation. Arrive early at the airport, as airlines require ESA paperwork at check-in. With preparation, you can travel smoothly through the skies with your feline companion.

Finding an ESA Cat

If you don’t already have a cat that can serve as an ESA, you’ll need to find one. There are a few options for finding an ESA cat:


One of the best ways to find an ESA cat is through adoption from a local animal shelter or rescue organization. Many shelters have cats available for adoption that could make excellent ESAs. The benefits of adopting include:

– Giving an animal in need a loving home
– Often lower costs than buying from a breeder
– Shelters screen animals for health and temperament

When adopting, let the staff know you are looking for a cat with an easygoing personality to be an ESA. Shelter staff can help match you with a cat that will be a good fit. Be sure to ask about the cat’s history and needs.

According to, cats available for adoption can be registered as ESAs once you adopt them and obtain an ESA letter from your medical provider.

Responsible Breeders

If you have a specific cat breed in mind, you can purchase an ESA cat from a responsible breeder. Be sure to research breeders thoroughly and ask questions about their breeding practices and the health/temperament of their cats.

Some cat breeds often recommended for emotional support include:

  • Ragdoll
  • Maine Coon
  • Siamese

According to, any breed of cat can qualify as an ESA with proper documentation from a medical provider.

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