Emotional Support Animals (Everything You Need to Know)


Having an animal as a pet can provide joy and companionship to a person as well as mentally stressed people. For this reason, health professionals are acknowledging the inclusion of Emotional Support Animals (ESA) in therapy sessions.

If you are thinking about getting an emotional support animal as a pet, then this article is the perfect guide that will help you with all the information you need.

You get to know the types of ESA, the benefits of owning one, how to get it, and the requirements involved.

So, what’s an emotional support animal, and how sure are you that you need one?

Let’s find out.

A Young lady hugging her emotional support animals or ESA Dog

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal, according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is an animal that gives emotional support while reducing one or more symptoms or consequences of a person’s condition.

Emotional Support Animals provide solace, reduce loneliness, and can sometimes aid with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have the necessary training to assist individuals with disabilities.

These animals support their owners to be independent and cope with their disabilities.

Their function is to provide comfort and reassurance to their owner, allowing the owner to be more independent despite their condition.

Compared to a service animal that only assists its owner to do tasks they are unable to do.

Let’s find out if an emotional support animal can pass as a service animal.

You may like to also read about American Airlines Pet Policy for a guide on how to travel with your pet.

Is an Emotional Support Animal a Service Animal?

As much as an emotional support animal can be more than just a pet, it still does not meet the criteria of a service animal.

Emotional support animals are meant to provide companionship and support while service animals, on the other hand, assist individuals with disabilities.

Service animals, most commonly dogs, are particularly taught to perform certain activities for their owners in relation to their disabilities. On the other hand, emotional support animals are aimed at alleviating distress as well as providing relief to their owner.

While service animals can be trained either by their owner or elsewhere before being introduced to their owner, emotional support animals do not necessarily need training.

It is important to note that emotional support animals are not just dogs they can be cats, rabbits, and parrots to mention just a few.

Continue reading to learn more about the types of emotional support animals that you can have.

Types of Emotional Support Animals

Here is a list of the most common emotional support animals.

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Rabbits
  • Ferrets 
  • Miniature Horses and Ponies 
  • Parrots 
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Pigs and Miniature pigs
  • Chickens
  • Sheep and Goats
  • Llamas and Alpacas 
  • Hedgehogs

Surprisingly, there is one animal that is not so common but can pass as an emotional support animal. It is a Snake.

Even though we all have pictures of snakes being dangerous and venomous, you can still keep one as an exotic pet.

But let’s look away from snakes and focus on man’s best friend for a minute.

Yeah… I am talking about dogs this time.

Dogs are one of the most common emotional support animals that therapists recommend.

However, there are some does that are still very dangerous and can tear a person apart if one is not careful.

With this caution in mind, continue reading to learn more about emotional support dogs.

Emotional support dogs are common emotionals support animals.

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support dog is one of those animals that provide companionship and support to a person. As a result, they are most commonly used in helping a person with mental conditions.

They usually accompany their owners in order to alleviate their mental health and to provide comfort and ease to the person.

This is so, because of how smart they are and more emotionally connected to their owners.

However, the dog can be of any age and breed but for it to be called an emotional support dog or animal, it has to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional.

Now, let’s find out whether an emotional support dog differs from a psychiatric service dog.

Does an Emotional Support Dog Differ from a Psychiatric Service Dog?

As much as an emotional support dog and a psychiatric service dog offer similar support to their owners they are not the same.

The difference is that a psychiatric service dog requires extensive training to work specifically with people who have mental illnesses.

On the other hand, an emotional support dog has no training on how to help a person’s mental disorder.

A psychiatric service dog has been trained to do certain tasks that will enable its owner to cope with a mental illness.

For example, the dog can help remind its owner to take their medications and help them from wandering into an insecure place such as traffic.

On the other hand, an ESA just tends to provide solace just like a pet would to its owner. 

In conclusion, if a dog’s presence is all that the person needs to cope with or alleviate mental illness, then the dog does not qualify to be called a psychiatric service dog.

Let’s check out the benefits of owning an emotional support dog.

Benefits of Owning an Emotional Support Animal 

Research has shown that emotional support animals can provide comfort and mental health benefits to handlers suffering from various mental illnesses.

One major study has it that having an emotional support dog helps in reducing the stress cancer patients go through especially children.

Recently, doctors now integrated the use of an ESA for patients who suffer from;

  • Mild or severe anxiety 
  • PTSD
  • Panic attack
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Autism 
  • Stress-induced situations
  • Social shyness
  • Aerophobia ( fear of flying)
  • General anxiety disorder 
  • Agoraphobia ( fear of being outside of the home)
  • Depression 

So as to help them improve quickly. Thus, with this type of treatment according to doctors, patients tend to enhance in the following areas;

  • Less anxiety 
  • More reciprocal care and love
  • Increase in being social 
  • Self-esteem 
  • Safety and comfort 
  • Motivation 
  • Decrease in the symptoms of the diagnosed illness 
  • Increase in sense of purpose 

Now you know the benefits, let’s learn about how to get an emotional support animal.

A lady carrying a small rabbit. Rabbits can be emotional support animals too.

How To Get An Emotional Support Animal 

Firstly, if the sole aim of the dog is just to provide comfort and compassion to its owner then you can get it from any dog shelter, breeder, or store.

You also might check in with a veterinarian to guarantee the animal has taken all necessary shots and is healthy.

Getting an emotional support animal is just the same way as getting any other regular pet.

That said, if the aim of getting an ESA is to help reduce its owner’s mental stress then, there is a need for a prescription from a mental health professional.

This is basically a signed letter from a therapist or a psychiatrist stating that you have a mental health condition and that your pet helps you deal with it.

The letter can also be obtained from a medical doctor as some airlines and landlords accept them.

Steps to getting an ESA letter:

1. Discover if an emotional support animal will be beneficial to your mental health.

2. Ensure your pet is well trained and behaved to help your mental health.

3. Connect with a licensed therapist either in real life or online.

4. Then finally, have your therapist write an ESA letter on your behalf with their licensed professional letterhead.

Continue reading to find out if you are eligible to own an ESA.

Who is Eligible to own an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional support animals require you to invest your time and effort. As a result, you need to be capable of taking care of the animal as well as committed.

As you already know, there is a need for you to seek guidance from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) to be sure you need an emotional support animal.

It is the duty of the LMHP to determine if you qualify for an ESA based on the information gathered during your consultation.

If you are eligible, the LMHP will have to write you an ESA letter. However, this letter is an important document that legally qualifies your pet as an emotional support animal.

There is a need to take into consideration that the ESA letter expires annually.

As a result, it requires you to see your therapist continually in order to keep up with the letter yearly.

How to Care for Emotional Support Animals

Here are some tips on how to care for your emotional support animal (ESA):

  • Provide a safe and comfortable environment. Make sure your ESA has a place to sleep, eat, and play where they feel safe and secure. This may be a crate, a bed in a quiet corner of your home, or a cat tree.
  • Feed your ESA a healthy diet. Talk to your veterinarian about the best food for your ESA’s individual needs. Be sure to provide your ESA with fresh water at all times.
  • Groom your ESA regularly. This will help to keep them clean and healthy, and it can also be a bonding experience for you and your ESA.
  • Exercise your ESA regularly. The amount of exercise your ESA needs will vary depending on their age, breed, and health. But all ESAs need some form of exercise to stay healthy and happy.
  • Take your ESA to the veterinarian for regular checkups. This will help to ensure that your ESA is healthy and up-to-date on their vaccinations.

In addition to these basic care needs, you should also provide your ESA with emotional support. This means spending time with them, talking to them, and petting them. You can also train your ESA to perform simple tasks, such as sit, stay, and come. This can help to strengthen the bond between you and your ESA and give them a sense of purpose.


Research has shown that emotional support animals help in performing an important role in a person’s emotional life and mental health.

Whether you are dealing with depression, anxiety, panic attack, or any type of mental disorder an ESA can provide companionship and support.

Also, talk to a therapist about whether you need an ESA to alleviate your condition or not, and be sure to get an ESA letter from a licensed medical health professional (LMHP) if need be.

Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Support Animals

What is an ESA?

An ESA is an animal that provides emotional support to a person with a mental health disability. ESAs are not trained to perform specific tasks, like service animals, but they can provide companionship, reduce stress, and improve mood.

What types of animals can be ESAs?

Any domesticated animal can be an ESA, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and even miniature pigs.

How do I get an ESA?

To get an ESA, you need a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that you have a mental health disability and that the ESA is necessary for your treatment.

Where can I take my ESA?

ESAs are allowed in public housing and on airplanes, but they are not allowed in all public places. For example, ESAs are not allowed in restaurants or grocery stores.

What are my rights with an ESA?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protect the rights of people with ESAs. Under the FHA, landlords cannot refuse to rent to people with ESAs, and they cannot charge extra fees or pet deposits. Under the ACAA, airlines must allow ESAs to travel with their owners in the cabin of the plane.

What are my responsibilities with an ESA?

You are responsible for the behavior of your ESA. Your ESA must be well-behaved and under your control at all times. You must also make sure that your ESA is vaccinated and up-to-date on its shots.

Can I train my ESA to perform tasks?

Yes, you can train your ESA to perform tasks, but this will not make it a service animal. Service animals are dogs that are specifically trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. ESAs are not required to perform any tasks.

How do I find an emotional support animal?

You can find an ESA through a local animal shelter or rescue organization. You can also look for ESA breeders online.

Are emotional support animals the same as service animals?

It is important to note that ESAs are not the same as service animals. Service animals are dogs that are specifically trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. ESAs are not required to perform any tasks.


  • Akc.org – Everything you need to know about emotional support animals.
  • Very well – What is an Emotional Support Animal?
  • HealthCanal – Emotional Support Animals: Everything you need to know.
  • Wikipedia – Emotional Support Animal 

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