The ESA Registration Of America

Register your dog, cat or other animal, get therapist letters, IDs, vests, & more!

The ESA Registration Of America

My Dog Is Very Large. Do Emotional Support Animals Have a Size Limit?

2020-04-20

Emotional support animals are valuable assets for people with diagnosed emotional disabilities. Unlike a service animal, this type of animal provides support to those in need, whether they suffer from anxiety or other ailments. ESAs also can be different types of animals, although the most common tend to be dogs. 

An oversized dog might present some tricky situations, especially when traveling with the dog or renting an apartment. In this article, we break down what makes them different from service dogs, discuss size limits, go over the form of documentation you'll need, and talk about what it's like to live with an ESA.

Who Can Benefit from Assistance Animals?

People with a range of emotional or mental conditions can benefit from an ESA dog. These animals accommodate various disabilities and disorders, including anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, or bipolar disorder. 

For people with emotional or mental disorders, emotional support pets can make them feel safe and loved. For example, many people experience anxiety when flying. Special assistance animals can provide psychiatric service and support that ease their owner's stress. By staying focused on the animal, the ESA dog owner can stay calm and grounded in their environment. 

How Are They Different from Service Dogs?

Emotional support animals differ from service animals because they do not have the right to access all public places. Emotionally supportive pets can access airplanes and live in pet-free housing. Service dogs, however, can accompany their owner anywhere. 

A service dog or a psychiatric service dog also will require different levels of certification and proof. For example, a canine individually trained to do work and provide assistance to someone with a severe mental disability qualifies as a psychiatric service animal, not an ESA.

Service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, are trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of their owner. A psychiatric service animal provides an essential service for a person who needs medical, mental health care. These dogs are individually trained to do work that a person needs to manage a disability. You need much more than a simple letter from mental health professionals to have a psychiatric service dog.

Alternatively, emotionally supportive dogs provide therapeutic support for their handlers and do not require training.

What Do I Need for my Pet to Qualify?

For a pet to qualify as an ESA, a mental health professional must examine the animal and its role in the human's life to determine if the dog provides any therapeutic value. Hours spent on a psychological evaluation can determine whether your pet will qualify. 

Is There a Size Limit for Emotional Support Animals? 

There are no maximum or minimum size rules for emotional support animals—any animal, whether a cat, dog, or bird, can qualify. Also, no matter the breed, they can become emotional support dogs as long as a licensed mental health professional verifies the animal can work or perform tasks necessary for the wellbeing of the dog parent.

For different people, specific breeds or species may be more appropriate for their condition. A dog might be better for someone with anxiety, but other ESAs such as cats can offer different therapeutic benefits. 

Important Size Issues to Consider

Before you choose the ideal candidate, here are some topics related to the size of pets that you should consider with assistant pets.

While there are no limitations, enormous emotional support animals can come up against possible restrictions. Certain airlines have banned overly large dog breeds due to cabin size limitations. Further, exotic animals cannot fly on planes even if registered as support animals.

Flying with an Emotional Support Dog

All airlines have size restrictions on traveling with your dog in-cabin for flights. Cats and dogs must fit in the floor space underneath the seat in front of you. Otherwise, they will need to fly in cargo.

For some airlines, breed and seat fit can impact a dog's access to a flight. All this, plus additional fees, can make the search for suitable flights difficult.

Protection Under the Air Carriers Access Act

With ESAs, the situation is no different than that for a service dog. Airlines recognize that emotional support animals provide psychiatric support for those in need during a flight, even if they may not have the task-specific training that service dogs have to help someone with a disability. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation Air Carriers Access Act protects these dogs. ESAs can fly, regardless of breed or size, and the dog parent does not have to pay an additional pet fee for the flight.

Necessary Forms and Documents

Before the flight, the person must submit the correct form—known as an ESA prescription letter—to validate the animal's status as an ESA. They also need to provide notification before the travel date that an animal will be on a flight. 

The airline may have a form to fill out, so make sure you submit each required letter, form, or note on time. As long as you follow the guidelines set forth by the airlines, you and your dog will have protection under the law set in place by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The airline cannot deny you!

Can an Airline Make Rules?

Each airline can set some regulations to ensure the safety and wellbeing of other passengers on a flight. As long as specific forms are on hand, ESAs can fly in-cabin for any flight. Vaccination and other health records for the animal may be necessary before boarding your flight, too, so that everyone knows the animal is safe. 

Living with an ESA 

Property managers must accommodate tenants with emotional aide pets, even if the facility does not allow pets. This makes an apartment search much more accessible.

While ESAs cannot have size limits in apartments, the tenant must furnish a letter or other form of documentation proving the animal's status.

Some property owners or managers might ask for health documentation. This documentation is different from the letter proving that you need the emotional support dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits property owners from inquiring or demanding proof of any medical condition.

Can They Charge Me Extra?

There should be no fees unless the animal causes damage to the property. The Fair Housing Authority protects ESAs and their owners, so handlers shouldn't face discrimination regarding rental properties. 

Why Are the Rules Set This Way? 

Legal Protections

The rules protect emotional support dogs and their owners from discrimination in public places. The law allows ESAs to travel with owners to provide the emotional support needed anytime, anywhere. 

Maintain Separate Status from Service Animals

The critical differences between highly trained service animals and emotional support dogs mean they face different rules and restrictions. This is due to the extensive skills that a medical or psychiatric service animal, like a service dog, provides. Service animals may go through hours and hours of training to properly care for the disability or psychiatric needs of a person. Since service dogs have trained for so many hours, service animals have special rights and privileges.

What Else Should I Consider?

Just because you legally can live and fly with a dog that can provide emotional services doesn't mean size plays no factor. A person may experience challenges when considering huge dogs for a service animal role.

As noted, the Department of Transportation grants flight accommodation for dogs trained to work or perform tasks as emotional service animals. However, you still need to control your ESA or service dog while traveling.

Handling smaller comfort animals will be much easier, especially for a person with a mobility disability. A smaller animal will be easier to lift and carry when necessary.

ESAs: A Real Support System

Emotional support animals offer many emotional and psychological benefits. A dog provides immense comfort to its companion, which is why the dog must be present at all times. It's crucial to protect these animals so that people can receive proper emotional support.

Although there are no restrictions on size for ESAs, it's essential to understand your rights and the different requirements on flights or during the search for a rental property. Submit the relevant form or letter on behalf of your dog, and they cannot deny you. Knowing your rights and staying up-to-date is the best way to protect yourself and your emotional support animal.