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Emotional support animals offer real help for a wealth of mental health disabilities that sometimes would make a person’s life almost unlivable. Humans need that companionship integral to our mental stability, and we suffer when it isn’t there.

By offering simple companionship and affection, emotional support animals can make all the difference in our lives! What better animal to fill this role than an adorable, loyal cat?

What is an Emotional Support Cat?

Emotional support cats are more than simple pets, they offer support to an individual coping with a psychiatric or mental disability. They are licensed and registered medically for this very purpose!

Overall, emotional support animals comfort an individual dealing with any type of physiological impairment to their mental health. Emotional support cats provide therapeutic benefits through companionship or simply emotional support! A general list of the overall conditions emotional support cats can help with:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Any type of mood disorder
  • Stress 
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Fears or phobias
  • Nearly any other emotional or psychological condition

Is any Special Clothing or Identification Required?

Various people a patient will encounter need to be able to identify a service dog right away so they know not to interfere with the individual or animal, but your emotional support cat doesn’t necessarily need any sort of identification tag or vest. On the other hand, this can certainly make interactions easier! It’s totally up to you.

The identification you might choose could include a special harness, collar, patches, leashes, or anything else you think will help others identify your cat as an emotional support animal. 

How to Register an Emotional Support Cat

You register your cat with the official US Service and Support Animal (ESA) registry, of course! But how do I go about doing that, you ask? Don’t worry, It’s pretty simple!

Step One: Get an ESA Letter

You’ll need to get a letter from a licensed physician (mental health expert) currently treating you for your condition. ‘Currently treating you for your condition’ is the key phrase to keep in mind. For this letter to be truly, legally valid, you would have had to have spoken with this physician.

You do NOT have to have been seeing this person for several months, don’t worry! It can take as little as one consultation to get you approved. As long as you meet with your mental health provider and they have a chance to evaluate you, you could qualify.

Step Two: You Can Register Your Emotional Support Cat

This is where the real money is made! Many unsuspecting pet owners think they absolutely must have their ESA registered in order for it to qualify as an ESA at all, but this simply isn’t true. ESA registration is certainly helpful, but these are in no way required (US Service Animals).

Without that ESA documentation from a legitimate health care provider above, a simple registration isn’t going to hold up anywhere. You don’t need a costly identification tag to make this valid.

Can I Register Online?

You certainly can register your emotional support cat online! Support Pets makes this easy on any cat owner, offering conveniently structured steps for you to follow. They even offer a simple ‘qualification quiz’ to help you on your way.

After you take your ‘qualification quiz’, which involves some pretty straightforward multiple-choice questions, you can order your emotional support cat’s ESA. Remember, it is the ESA that signifies your pet as an emotional support animal.

In fact, Support Pets should call you after you fill out the information needed. According to Support Pets, your final step will involve receiving your ESA letter in the mail between 24-48 hours!

Register with Caution

If you use another online provider, be careful to make sure they are legit! 

Remember how we said you’ll need to be receiving current treatment, and your mental health professional will need to be licensed? This is important because there could be very large consequences for taking shortcuts. 

Using a fake ESA letter is a federal offense punishable by a fine of up to $125,000 with possible jail time! The internet is dotted with scammers as well as legitimate sites, so know what you are getting into.

  • Any fee you pay should guarantee you a consultation with a mental health professional, not guarantee an ESA letter (ESA Registration of America).
  • This mental health provider will either need to speak with you over a video conference (i.e. Zoom) or set up an in-person evaluation. You can’t simply fill out a form without actually speaking to anyone.

What is an ESA Letter, and Why Do I Need it?

ESA stands for ‘Emotional Support Animal’, and an ESA letter certifies your legitimacy. This is an official health document, signed by a licensed mental health professional, verifying you suffer from a medical problem.

An ESA letter officially certifies your emotional support animal needs to be with you wherever you go, as part of your treatment. It can’t just be any physician though, and some states are pretty strict when it comes to this!

Laws often dictate the signing physician ‘must be a therapist, psychiatrist, physician, or mental health expert who is currently treating you for your condition (ESA Registration of America)’.

Your ESA letter will help you avoid regulations otherwise preventing your emotional support cat from traveling with you, like a ‘no pet policy’ for example. You will also be able to avoid many of the fees normally added when a traveler wants to bring their pets.

You’ll be able to work around certain federal laws that would normally prevent you from owning pets in certain rental areas (see Fair Housing Act below).

What Exactly is a Licensed Mental Health Provider?

According to the ESA Registration of America, there are certain restrictions your provider has to meet. For example, your family doctor who is a general practitioner, your orthopedic surgeon, or a general nurse practitioner wouldn’t qualify even though they are health care professionals.

  1. Your provider can be a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).
  2. Your provider can be a licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).
  3. Your provider can be a licensed Clinical Psychologist (Ph.D. or PsyD).
  4. Your provider can be a licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

How Do I Qualify for an ESA Letter?

Not everyone can get a hold of this coveted ESA letter. You’ll have to meet certain criteria, and it’s not as simple as ‘buying one’. So how do you go about this?

To legally qualify, you’ll have to first be diagnosed with some sort of mental health condition. It doesn’t have to be an extreme disorder (though that would qualify); you could simply be dealing with anxiety or stress-related problems. Depression, PTSD, or OCD are some other examples. 

You’ll need to be getting current treatment, be it simple counseling, medication, or some sort of therapy. The physician treating you will certify your need to carry your emotional support cat wherever you go, as part of your treatment plan.

  • Do you have an emotionally detrimental condition?
  • Are you currently receiving treatment for that condition?
  • Are you being treated by a licensed mental health professional?

Does this Mean My Emotional Support Cat Can Go Anywhere Legally?

Not exactly. Where the Air Carrier Access Act once made it possible for both licensed emotional support animals and service animals to travel anywhere with their owners uninhibited, those rules were very recently ratified and will enact in just a few days. 

The new regulations don’t provide the same privileges for emotional support animals they once did, the act now specifically accommodating service dogs. These changes will go into effect on January second.

These regulations are just now going into effect, and are of course being contested. Because these involve large changes to something that has stood for a long time, it’s always possible they could change right back if they end up not working well.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act defines emotional support animals as ‘assistance animals’, allowing disabled renters to request to keep an assistant animal as a reasonable accommodation (FHA). Pet fees for these animals are waived and they are allowed to live in otherwise ‘no pet’ housing, assuming they wouldn’t pose a risk to others.

  • The protections offered under the Fair Housing Act apply even if there is a ‘no pets policy’!

Can I Fly with my Emotional Support Cat on Airlines?

Travel is an enormous part of our lives for many people, but it can be rough! The fear of flying trapped in a metal tube thousands of feet in the air, or the intense social anxiety enormous airport crowds can bring, can sometimes just be too much. Traveling can seem so daunting we just want to avoid it altogether. 

Many airlines prohibit animals on flights for a wealth of reasons (i.e. allergies, medical complications of passengers), with certain exceptions. Though they may not allow pets to fly with owners normally, airline policy might allow for emotional support animals. 

Unlike service dogs, US airlines aren’t obligated to allow emotional support cats 100% of the time. They often make exceptions, so it’s important to ask your carrier ahead of time!

What Do I Need to Fly With My Emotional Support Cat?

We are dealing with a major change to the overall flight restrictions, a change that hasn’t gone into effect just yet (12-28), so let’s assume all the information given by the ESA Registration of America is valid. After all, they are the officials!

  • Click the link above to view major US airline policies.

Your emotional support cat doesn’t have the same privileges as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities act, so airlines aren’t strictly mandated to accommodate the little one (but most will). 

Step Number One should be to contact your airline and ask about their policies.

Step Number Two: You’ll often need vaccination paperwork prior to travel. This is usually a necessity for all animals across the board. Even service dogs, having near-unlimited travel privileges, need to carry current vaccination records. Some states (like Hawaii) require a quarantine upon arrival.

Sometimes, other countries don’t follow American policies for a number of reasons, and may not allow your little one even if that airline usually does. There really isn’t any reason a commercial airline wouldn’t know about this, but might not inform you in advance. Make sure you check with your travel advisor if leaving the country, be it the US or somewhere else.

Step Number Three: Submitting Paperwork

All airlines will need some form of paperwork submitted normally 48 hours before travel. This will list the address and jurisdiction of the health professional treating you, you suffer from a mental health condition, and your kitty is part of your treatment. This information will probably be on the ESA letter you have (which you’ll also need).

Don’t forget to get yourself an appropriate, comfortable pet carrier for your flight! We all want our little ones to be as safe and secure as possible during our travels. As long as your furry companion is healthy, happy, and won’t pose a threat to others or their property, you’re good to get started! House cats don’t really pose the same type of threat a dog could anyway, even if they wanted to (which most don’t), so that box is easy to check.

Conclusion on How to Register an Emotional Support Animal

The great news is that registering an emotional support cat is easier than you think. Especially if you already working with a licensed physician or therapist! Taking the step of registering your cat can help save you on rental pet fees, allow you to travel with ease and more!

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Robin Griffin

After adopting one two... well many cats I found myself newly dubbed the "Cat Lady." Now I take it in stride and share my favorite tips, tools, and products that we use in our cat household.

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