Can Cats Be Service Animals?

Many cats are so friendly and comforting, great company for the elderly, the sick, children, and the withdrawn. Cats are a calming influence in a lot of ways. They are easy to care for. They eat less and are much less maintenance than most dogs.

So can a cat become a service animal? Well, sort of. Although cats are quite practical companions, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) only allows dogs and miniature horses the title of being an official service animal. Why? Because they must be trained and certified by an accredited school. Cats don’t ‘do’ training. 

Yet cats still make excellent therapy animals, and can legally qualify instead as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) with a prescription from a licensed mental health professional. This registration will allow the owner to keep the cat in ‘no pets’ apartments, for example, as a legal exemption under federal housing laws.

Until 2022, they were allowed special traveling privileges. Now, you can still make travel arrangements with pet-friendly hotels and transportation, but all providers are no longer mandated by law to make these accommodations. 

What’s the difference in their titles? An ADA service animal is almost always specifically trained to assist people with certain physical disabilities. 

An emotional support animal (ESA) helps with emotional issues, and only needs to have good manners and empathy to qualify. The person’s emotional disability is documented by a licensed professional, and the choice of animal is usually up to the individual. Common issues are severe anxiety, loneliness and depression, or PTSD that veterans often experience.  

Although cats are not used officially in such roles in the military, they often befriend troops along the way and live with the soldiers as support companions. These days, instead of being left behind when a military unit leaves an outpost, there are organizations such as Paws of War that work to transport befriended animals to a forever home with the servicemen and women stateside.

Persians and Maine Coons, Ragdolls and Burmese breeds make good emotional support cats because they can be especially affectionate, and enjoy cuddling. These breeds are easygoing, and they like keeping company with people. An emotional support cat can be a lifeline to someone who has become withdrawn or unable to cope.

It doesn’t take a prescription to make your cat special. Any cat can be a close companion who brings others great comfort and emotional support. Let your pets know you are grateful for them.

Heron’s Crossing provides end-of-life care for pets in the Metro Atlanta area. In-home appointments with compassionate vets are available. If you’d prefer a home-like setting away from your home, our Decatur office is also available by appointment.