guy with esa dog on couch

What Are The Requirements And Care for Emotional Support Animals?

Navigating the world of emotional support animals (ESAs) can feel like decoding a secret language, but don’t worry, you’re in the right place to crack the code. Whether you’re considering getting an ESA to help with anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue, understanding the requirements is your first step. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want a legitimate reason to have their furry friend by their side 24/7?

Before you start dreaming of no-pet fee apartment living with your beloved pet, there are a few hoops to jump through. It’s not as simple as declaring your pet an ESA and calling it a day. From official documentation to understanding which animals qualify, we’ve got the lowdown to guide you through

Emotional Support Animals Basics

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide essential companionship and emotional support to individuals dealing with mental health or emotional disorders. Unlike service animals, ESAs aren’t required to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Instead, their primary role is to offer comfort and support, making a significant difference in the life of someone coping with challenges such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

To have your pet designated as an ESA, you’ll need a letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP), such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. This letter must state that your emotional support animal is part of your ongoing treatment plan. It’s key the letter includes the professional’s license number, type, and the date and place of issuance. The LMHP must also explicitly acknowledge that you have a mental health condition under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and that the ESA is necessary for your mental health or treatment.

Keep in mind, any domesticated animal can qualify as an ESA, including dogs, cats, birds, and even smaller animals such as rabbits. There’s no requirement for ESAs to undergo specific training; however, they should be well-behaved in public and not pose a threat to others.

Remember, federal and state laws protect your rights to live with your emotional support animal, even in housing complexes that typically don’t allow pets. Yet, it’s important to provide your ESA letter when requested by landlords or housing authorities to avoid any challenges.

woman with esa dog in chair

General Requirements for Emotional Support Animals

When looking into getting an emotional support animal (ESA), understanding the general requirements is key. These aren’t as extensive as those for service animals, but they’re key for your ESA’s acceptance in various scenarios, particularly concerning housing and air travel.

First off, any domesticated animal can be an ESA. This category includes dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and even small rodents. The primary criterion is that your ESA provides significant emotional support that aids in one or more aspects of your mental health condition.

The cornerstone of legitimizing your ESA is obtaining an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). This letter must state that you have a mental health condition diagnosed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and that your ESA is a part of your treatment.

Keep in mind, the ESA letter has specific requirements:

  • It needs to be on the professional’s letterhead.
  • It must include the professional’s license number, type, issuing state, and date of issuance.
  • The letter should clearly state the necessity of the ESA for your mental health or treatment.

Behavior is another essential requirement for ESAs. While they don’t need specific training like service animals, your ESA should be well-behaved in public. That means no aggressive behavior, incessant barking or noise-making, or causing public disturbances. A well-behaved ESA ensures you both are welcomed in more places without issues.

It’s important to renew your ESA letter annually. ESAs do not have a one-and-done certification process; upkeep with a current letter ensures your rights remain protected under various federal and state laws, especially regarding housing and air travel accommodations.

Legal Protections and Limitations

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is your ticket to ensuring that you and your ESA can live together, even in housing with no-pet policies. This law prevents landlords and housing providers from discriminating against tenants who have ESAs. It means that your ESA can live with you in most types of housing, including those that normally restrict pets, without extra fees. However, you’ll need to provide your ESA letter to your landlord to take advantage of this protection.

When it comes to air travel, things got a bit trickier in 2021. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) no longer requires airlines to accommodate ESAs as they had in the past. Now, it’s up to each airline to set its own policy regarding ESAs. Some airlines allow ESAs to fly in the cabin with their owners without a pet fee, but others might treat them as regular pets, which can come with fees and restrictions. It’s essential to check with your airline well before your flight to understand their specific requirements.

In public places and workplaces, ESAs don’t receive the same legal protections as service animals. Since ESAs aren’t trained to perform specific tasks related to a disability, businesses and employers aren’t required to allow them on their premises. That said, many places are becoming more pet-friendly and might allow ESAs at their discretion.

It’s also important to know that fabricating an ESA certification or misrepresenting a pet as an ESA is fraudulent and may lead to penalties. Maintaining an up-to-date ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional is the key to navigating these legal waters smoothly.

Selecting an Emotional Support Animal

When it’s time to choose your Emotional Support Animal (ESA), understanding your needs and lifestyle is key. Not every pet fits the role of an ESA, which requires a temperament suited to providing comfort and support without causing additional stress.

Consider the Species

Dogs and cats are the most common ESAs, but rabbits, birds, and even reptiles can serve as effective emotional support animals. Dogs offer loyalty and unconditional love, making them great companions. Cats can be more independent but still provide significant emotional comfort. Rabbits are quiet and can be comforting for those in smaller living spaces, whereas birds often form strong bonds with their owners and can be taught to perform comforting tasks.

Assess Temperament and Compatibility

Look for animals with a calm demeanor that can handle being in various environments. An ESA should be adaptable, especially if you travel or find yourself in crowded places. Compatibility with your lifestyle is key; a highly active dog may not be the best choice if you live in a small apartment or have limited mobility.

Consider Age and Size

Puppies and kittens may require more training and patience, but they grow into their roles as ESAs. Adult animals, on the other hand, can offer immediate companionship and often adapt quickly to their new role. Size matters too; ensure your living space can comfortably accommodate your ESA’s needs.

Health and Care Needs

Selecting an ESA also involves considering their health and care requirements. Some breeds require more medical attention or special care, which can be demanding both time-wise and financially. Opt for an animal that you can care for without adding undue stress to your life.

Training for Good Behavior

While ESAs don’t need the same level of training as service animals, basic obedience and socialization are important. Your ESA should be able to respond to basic commands and behave well in public settings to ensure both of you can navigate various situations comfortably.

Essential Care Tips for Emotional Support Animals

Taking care of your Emotional Support Animal (ESA) goes beyond providing love and companionship. Given their vital role in your emotional well-being, ensuring they’re healthy and happy is key. 

Regular Veterinary Visits

Schedule routine check-ups to monitor your ESA’s health. These visits can catch potential health issues early, ensuring your animal remains by your side, providing support for as long as possible. Vaccinations, parasite control, and regular screenings play a critical role in their overall health.

Proper Nutrition

Provide a balanced diet tailored to your ESA’s species, age, size, and health requirements. Quality food contributes significantly to their well-being, affecting everything from their energy levels to their fur’s health. Consult with a veterinarian to choose the best diet plan.

Adequate Exercise

Ensure plenty of exercises, tailored to the type of ESA you have. For dogs, daily walks are essential, not just for their physical health but also for their emotional contentment. Exercise helps prevent boredom and behavioral issues, enhancing the bond between you and your ESA.

Mental Stimulation

Keep their mind engaged with toys and training. Mental stimulation prevents anxiety and depression in animals, just as it does in humans. Use puzzle feeders, teach new tricks, or engage in species-specific play to keep their mind sharp.


Expose your ESA to various environments and people if their temperament allows. Socialization reduces fear and anxiety in unfamiliar situations, making your ESA more adaptable and confident. Positive interactions can significantly enhance their ability to support you emotionally.

Comfortable Living Space

Create a safe, comfortable space for your ESA. This space should be theirs alone, where they can retreat and feel secure. For animals like dogs and cats, a cozy bed in a quiet corner can make all the difference. Birds and small mammals require cages or enclosures positioned in areas with minimal stressors.


Ensuring your Emotional Support Animal (ESA) thrives is as key as understanding the legalities and requirements of having one. By focusing on their health through regular vet visits, providing a balanced diet, engaging in physical activity, and offering mental challenges, you’re setting the foundation for a strong, supportive relationship. Don’t overlook the importance of socialization and a safe, comfortable environment for your ESA. These elements are key to their well-being and, in turn, enhance the support they provide you. Remember, a happy and healthy ESA is more equipped to help you navigate your mental health journey.