The Difference Between Emotion Support and Therapy Animals: FAQs

Emotional Support Animals, often shortened to ESA, are very different from Therapy Animals. But they are often easy to confuse. So we’ve gathered a collection of Frequently Asked Questions about the common misconceptions associated with the difference between emotional support and therapy animals.

Is a therapy animal the same thing as an emotional support animal?

No. Although the names of the two may lead you to believe they are the same, therapy animals and emotional support animals are two very different classes of animals with different roles and legal status.

What are therapy animals used for?

Therapy animals are companions that are brought to a specific location to help people cope with things going on in their lives. Most commonly, they visit places like hospitals retirement homes, nursing homes, and schools.

When not providing this service, therapy animals are just like any other pet.

What is the role of a therapy animal’s handler?

Unlike an emotional support animal handler, the handler of a therapy animal does not actually suffer from emotional distress him or herself. Instead, a therapy animal handler is merely responsible for bringing their pet to specific locations and facilitating their animal’s interaction with the people there.

What sort of training or certification does a therapy animal need?

A therapy animal does not need any training and, unlike emotional support animals, does not even require much certification. In most cases, as long as the animal is friendly towards people and has the right disposition, it can qualify as a therapy animal.

Are therapy animals allowed in places like airplanes or apartments with no pet policy?

No. While emotional support animals CAN accompany their handler on planes, in apartments that don’t normally allow animals, and some other locations, therapy animals do not have this privilege. Because they don’t offer recognized medical help to their handler, nor are they prescribed by a licensed physician, therapy animals are treated just like any other pet in most places.

Some states do provide minor rights to therapy animals and their handlers, but it is not nearly as comprehensive as the freedoms enjoyed by emotional support animals.

Do therapy animals and emotional support animals both have to be registered?

While both animals must be registered to begin providing care, the registration process is very different. For a therapy animal, the handler must simply fill out an application, prove that the animal is healthy and pass a brief safety assessment.

When it comes to emotional support animals, the process is more comprehensive. Because emotional support animals provide medical care to their handlers, the handler must be prescribed an emotional support animal by a licensed mental health care professional.

Although it may sound like a lot of work, we offer this service cheaply and easily on our website by putting in touch with one our of licensed professionals over the phone. That way, you can get your animal registered as an emotional support animal without having to schedule an appointment or even leave the home.

Can therapy animals act as emotional support animals, and visa versa?

Yes. Although for a therapy animal to become an emotional support animal, he/she would have to go through the same process (along with the handler) of any other animal. Simply being a therapy animal does not ensure that that particular handler’s path gaining an emotional support animal is any easier.

Can any animal be an emotional support animal and/or therapy animal?

In both cases, many kinds of animals can play the role of both emotional support or therapy animal. While the vast majority of in both cases are dogs, other animals such as cats, pigs, birds, and more, can qualify. As long as the animal is clean, safe, and friendly enough around people to provide emotional support or therapy, they can be considered for both roles.

Are therapy animals required to display any identification when they are out in public?

No, it’s important to remember that when a therapy animal is not specifically engaged in duties at a location (hospital, school, etc), it is considered just like every other pet.

Are emotional support and therapy animals considered pets?

While therapy animals are pets that provide help to people on the side, emotional support animals are NOT pets. Emotional support animals provide a necessary service to their handlers who suffer from emotional and mental disabilities. This is why emotional support animals, and not therapy animals, can legally accompany their handlers in many locations like airplanes and inside apartment complexes that normally have a “no pet” policy.