What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

Most pets can offer emotional support to their owners. However, an ESA has legal rights that allow them to live more freely. For an animal to be a legal ESA, a prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional is required.

The mental health professional needs to recognize that the presence of the animal will help improve the person’s disability. One example would be that a dog could help someone with anxiety improve their social skills to enhance quality of life.

It’s important to understand the difference between an emotional support pet and a service animal. Service animals tend to have specialized training that helps their owners with physical disabilities. Common examples of service animals are seeing eye dogs that help blind people navigate around town.

There are no age or breed limitations when it comes to emotional support animals if the mental health professional believes the animal will help the patient with their condition. Still, certain therapists will only write ESA subscriptions for non-exotic animals such as cats and dogs. This determination is up to the mental health provider.

Do You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?

A person’s disability will determine whether they qualify for an emotional support animal. Some of the common conditions ESA’s can help with are:
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Chronic stress
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • Mental illness
Various other mental health disorders qualify for an ESA as well. When speaking with your therapist or psychiatrist, they may ask you how your condition affects your daily life. Although mental illness can be difficult to live with, not all patients can qualify. Your therapist will need to pinpoint how your condition hinders your lifestyle. In order to assess an in-depth questionnaire asking detailed questions is provided along with a HIPAA compliant video assessment with your therapist.

How To Get an Emotional Support Animal

After your licensed therapist determines that an ESA can help with your condition, they can prescribe you an emotional support animal letter. The letter gives you and your companion animal special rights when dealing with landlords.
While some landlords will accept documentation from a doctor, a prescription from a mental health professional is typically what’s required. Also, legal changes no longer consider ESA’s a protected class of animal by US based air carriers. It is up to the air carrier to determine whether they accept support animals in the cabin of the plane. We recommend checking with the specific airline before assuming they allow ESA’s.

Your letter, by law, protects your animal under the Fair Housing Act. This act permits people with an ESA letter to allow their pets to live in a residence even if there’s a “no pets” policy. Furthermore, landlords, by law, can’t charge additional pet fees. This law also applies to college dorms. The Fair Housing Act also states that assistance pets are not pets and a reasonable accommodation must be made by the owner.

ESA’s don’t share the same rights as service animals. People with disabilities can bring their service animals with them to public places, such as shopping malls and restaurants. Service animals are protected by the Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The American with Disabilities Act protects the rights of service dog handlers to a higher degree than owners of emotional support animals. The US Department of Justice provides guidance under the ADA stating that service dog owners can only be asked two questions:

  1. Is this animal required for a disability
  2. What task has the animal been trained to perform?

These questions do not apply to ESA’s. Since ESA’s are not trained to perform a specific task, but instead provide only comfort they do not have the same access rights as service dogs. Other site resources also cover what ESA’s are allowed to do.

Can you fly with your ESA?

Unlike service dogs, ESA’s are no longer a protected class on major US airlines. In 2019 the US Department of Transportation announced that ESA’s did not have the same definition as service dogs and thus were no longer considered a protected class of animal.

The Air Carrier Access Act enacted the change in definition allowing the airlines to determine themselves whether to allow or disallow ESA’s onboard flights. Major air carriers such as United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Frontier Alaska Airlines, and others have taken a hard stance against ESA’s on planes.

What information is included in an ESA Letter

HUD recommends certain best practices for what info belongs on the therapy prescription letter. This includes the patient’s name, whether the healthcare provider has a relationship with the client, and the type of animal the letter is written. When it comes to the disability information provided there is a best practice to mention to patient’s impairment and whether it impacts life activities, and how an animal can help provide therapeutic value.

If the animal is not a dog or cat the therapist should discuss the unique circumstance, include the date of the last consultation, and go into depth about the specific recommendation. An example would be if someone would want a bird, salamander, guinea pig, or other exotic animal as an ESA.

Emotional Support Animals in College Dorms

Many students across the US benefit from emotional support animals in dorms and on college campuses. Few colleges allow for pets in dorms, but the law requires an exception to be made for ESA’s. The Fair Housing Act applies to dorms at colleges and universities and the same ESA letter is required from a licensed mental health professional.

Certain colleges have specific rules stating the ESA letter must come from a mental health practitioner located within the same state as the university. Additional, university specific rules may apply to the ESA as well. For example, certain universities may not allow ESA’s in libraries, in on-campus dining facilities, classrooms, and other similar locations. It’s always important to check your college’s ESA policy as it relates to campus housing.

The Difference Between Emotional Support Animals and Psychiatric Service Dogs

While both animals help those with mental disorders, they are often confused with one another. Like service dogs that help with a specific physical task, psychiatric service animals have specialized training to aid an individual with a disability caused by mental illness.

The dogs can detect when their owner has a psychiatric episode and know how to provide comfort to reduce the effects. Psychiatric service animals work similarly to ESAs, but the primary difference is their specialized training for disabilities. ESA’s do not receive this training.

These service animals are also, by law, recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Psychiatric service dogs have some impressive skills. They can help remind their owners to take their medicine and are even trained to perform certain tasks to make the owner’s life easier during a psychiatric episode, for example. For example, it’s possible that owners can become unaware of their surroundings psychiatric service animal can help keep them out of harm’s way episode passes.

Can All Animals Qualify as Emotional Support Animals?

One of the best things about registering an ESA is that any domesticated animal may qualify based on a therapist’s approval. Dogs are the most common, but you can register a cat as well. It’s important to know that our therapists will not write a prescription letter for any other type of animal. Simply registering an ESA on a site does not make them legally certified. The therapist letter is what’s needed to complete the process.

While these animals don’t need to be trained to perform specific tasks, it should be known that your companion needs to be well-behaved and not cause any public disturbances.

What Are The Benefits of Emotional Support Animals?

Many psychologists recognize the benefits animals have on humans. For starters, people tend to feel less stressed and more tranquil when petting animals. If animals can deliver this kind of peace from a single interaction, imagine the serenity someone with depression or anxiety can have by living with one?
The fascinating thing about animals is how we can build such a strong bond without verbal communication. A strong companionship goes a long way when you’re living with a mental health issue or physical disability.
Speaking to an animal is surprisingly beneficial since they won’t judge you or your struggle. What’s more, these animals can offer the physical affection that everyone needs.
What’s more, taking care of an animal provides the owner with a sense of purpose and responsibility. Having a sense of purpose in life is vital, especially if you’re coping with mental illness. The time and energy spent taking care of your companion will help reduce attention to things that could trigger stress and anxiety.

How To Choose the Right Emotional Support Animal

There are many factors to consider when choosing an ESA. Although they’re there to help their owners, they also require adequate attention and love. You’ll need to think about how you can interact with your ESA within your daily life. Furthermore, you’ll need to consider whether you have the budget to provide reasonable accommodation and meet the animal’s nutritional and veterinary needs.

Be sure to think long-term when choosing an ESA. Your animal of choice needs to be able to match your lifestyle for the treatment to be effective. Adding more stress will only make your symptoms worse.

Here are a few factors to consider:


It’s not only vital that you and your companion get along. They should also be friendly with strangers and house guests. This factor is one of the reasons why dogs make the best ESAs. They’re relatively easy to train and can naturally adapt to new environments. If you’re having a panic attack or feeling overwhelmed, your ESA should be able to remain calm and provide support.


Allergies are an extremely important factor you need to think about when adopting any animal. You’ll need to think about whether you, a house guest, or a family member will be allergic to your furry companion. Fortunately, numerous animals are hypoallergenic.


Animals need a lot of supplies to live a happy and healthy lifestyle. You’ll need toys, food, training gear, and a space to provide them with reasonable accommodation. Vet bills can also get quite pricey over the years. Before choosing an ESA, try to tally up your estimated weekly and monthly expenses.

Does Your Emotional Support Animal Need Any Types of Identification?

Although an ESA isn’t required by the local government laws to wear any type of identification, some owners prefer to dress them in a vest. With an ESA vest, you can help reduce some of the confusion you may get when entering a private or public place. Unlike service dogs, ESA’s are not allowed in all public places, but identification within your own apartment building is always important.

However, an ESA vest is different from the ones worn by service animals. The only documentation your ESA may need is your letter. Landlords or anyone working for the transportation department will likely ask to see your letter to recognize that your companion is indeed an emotional support animal.