Though everyone has low moods and bad days sometimes, a mood disorder interferes with a person’s life over an extended period of time. Fortunately, National Institute of Health (NIH) researchers have made incredible advances in treatments that include helping sufferers learn to recognize and change their behavior. That’s where an emotional support cat can be especially effective.

The classification “mood disorder” covers bipolar, dysthymic and major depressive disorders. According to the NIH, nearly 21 million Americans face the challenge of mood disorders every day. So, how can a cat help?

Studies have shown that changing one’s behavior can be as beneficial to mood disorder sufferers as medication. Undeniably, all pets change our behavior to some degree: We have to feed and water them daily, ensure they have a comfortable place to sleep, make sure they are potty trained and, with many types, give them exercise. Ideally, we must see to it that they visit the veterinarian at least annually. They rely on us for their very existence.

And of course, pets need attention … even cats.

Felines get a bad rap for having an uncaring attitude most of the time, but this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. Cats will look their owners directly in the eye, something they won’t do with anyone they haven’t bonded with. Cats will sense when their owners don’t feel right and try to comfort them with head rubs or purring. Many sufferers of PTSD even swear by their cat’s ability to bring them out of a flashback.

Almost any type of pet can become an emotional support animal (ESA). However, since a major benefit of an ESA is its ability to accompany you almost everywhere, a dog or cat are easier than a horse or turtle. We most often see ESA support dogs in public.

The advantage cats bring to a depressive or bipolar relationship, some researchers have said, is that while a dog will take just about any kind of behavior humans throw at it, a cat will not. Again, this means sufferers are gently forced to modify their actions.

One director of an animal-assisted therapy program in Colorado teaches clients to use the emotional support cat as a kind of barometer for their own actions. If the cat suddenly leaves their side or exits the room, the owner takes it as a sign that their behavior may be out of line.

A cat taught one group of children in therapy that they had to be in control of themselves or the cat would flee. In turn, the lesson positively influenced the kids’ human interactions. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology discovered that animals can increase humans’ production of chemicals that enhance their sense of well-being.