man on floor with dog

What Animals are Considered Emotional Support Animals?

When it comes to service and emotional support animals (ESAs), you may wonder about what classifies these animals, and what the minutiae are regarding living or moving about, especially your ESA.  

Fundamentally, an emotional support animal is not categorized as a service animal because ESAs are not trained for a specific essential task with which to help their owners. Service animals are usually dogs, or even miniature horses, that are trained to support a person who has a disability. Seeing Eye dogs are a common example of a service animal. Any animal, essentially, can be an ESA.  

ESAs are there to give their owners emotional comfort, support, and companionship. Research shows that the therapeutic value of having an emotional support animal to someone who is emotionally vulnerable is extensive. As ESAs are not there to perform essential tasks for their owners, they will not automatically be allowed to go into any public places with you like service animals are.  

While the rules regarding emotional support animals are not as hard and fast as they are for service animals, you do need to be aware of certain ABCs.  

Can Cats and Other Animals be Emotional Support Animals? 

Unlike with service animals, there are no rules about what animals you can have as an ESA. Cats and any other animal that you wish to have as a companion can be an emotional support animal. They also do not need to have had any training to be your ESA.

Dogs generally make great ESAs. The most popular breeds include:  

  • Labradors
  • German Shepherds
  • Poodles
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Beagles
  • Corgis
  • Pugs
  • Dachshunds 

But the choice of ESA species is yours. Domesticated rats can be considered ESAs, and are easy to maintain, but airlines might have certain rules against ESA’s that do not fall into a certain species.

Keep in mind that animals, besides dogs and miniature horses, cannot become service animals.  

What if I’m not sure if I need a service animal or an ESA? 

In certain circumstances, the lines of an ESA and a service animal can become blurry. This can be the case if someone has a condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

A service animal for such an owner will provide critical emotional support, such as calming them down if the owner finds him or herself in circumstances that make him or her anxious. In this case, the animal will need to be trained to provide essential emotional care to their owner, and thus may be classified as a service animal.   

For this reason, it is important to engage with an expert to make sure you and your animal are classified and trained correctly, and for the best results.  

What do I need to do to make my animal official? 

Because emotional support animals are intended to support anxiety and other psychological problems, an expert needs to guide you through your situation. 

While you do have freedom of choice in what animal species you have as your ESA, you will, however, need to have an evaluation letter from a registered Mental Health Professional to travel with your ESA, or in other similar instances like housing and going to the office. 

If you are not sure how to get in touch with the right doctor to help you get documentation in order, contact the ESA Registration of America. This organization will help you to find the right person to consult. This consultation can happen remotely, and the procedures comply with the HIPAA. You can also do your research online to find a professional in your area.  

A mental health expert will be able to assess if you qualify to be able to take your emotional support animal to work or on an airplane with you.  

Size Matters, or does it? 

As far as ESA size is concerned, there are no rules about this, either. So long as you have the required documentation, you will be able to take your larger, or smaller, animal onto the plane with you, and to the office. When traveling we always recommend that ESA owners review an airline’s policies to see if they can accommodate large animals in the cabin.

It is a good idea to be sensitive to the dynamics of a particular scenario, however. For example, taking your Great Dane ESA on a flight may not be wise if it cannot fit under the passenger’s seat or safely out of the aisle. Cats, as another example, are also less happy being moved around than dogs, so it may be best to leave him or her at home, or to find ways to work from home rather.  

As a reminder, ESA’s are not allowed in places like the bank or the grocery store with you. Access rights are reserved for service animals. You will need to familiarize yourself with the bylaws of your particular area about what the policies are about emotional support animals, and what species you may take to what kinds of public spaces.   

If you have problems taking your ESA on public transport platforms, you can get in touch with the Department of Transportation for advice on 202-366-2220.  

Living Arrangements with Your ESA 

Concerning your housing arrangements with an emotional support animal, it is good to know that you can live with your ESA almost anywhere. Remember that: 

  • Your landlord is not allowed to charge you any additional fees for your ESA. This is because your ESA is not classified as simply a pet.
  • Landlords are also obliged to accommodate ESAs, even in housing where animals are not normally allowed. 
  • You will only have to pay a (reasonable) fee if having your ESA there causes any damage to the apartment or house. 
  • As part of the process, your landlord may ask you to complete a Mental Health Professional Third Party Verification document. 

If you run into any housing problems, you can get in touch with HUD for legal advice. You can contact them on 1-00-669-9777. 


Any animal can be an ESA, but only certain animals can be service animals. Just remember that you will still need professional documentation for your ESA and certain locations and airlines can place limits on ESA type if they are exotic or non-traditional animals.

To learn about or keep up to date with everything you need to know about having an ESA, be sure to register.