What is an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional support animals are changing the lives of a growing number of people around the world, providing companionship, comfort, security, and love. An emotional support animal is more than just a beloved pet; it is a new, groundbreaking method of alleviating the challenging symptoms of a range of emotional and mental disabilities. We’ve created a useful guide to everything you need to know about emotional support animals, including:
  • What is an emotional support animal?
  • How emotional support animals are different from service and therapy dogs
  • How to choose an emotional support animal
  •  Emotional support animal laws and regulations
  • Why you need an ESA Letter
  • Where can you take an emotional support animal?
  • Protecting yourself from ESA scams
  • Whether you’re considering an emotional support animal to help with your emotional or mental difficulties, or think it might be a good option for someone you care about, keep reading to learn more.

Emotional Support Animals: The Basics

Understanding the definition of an emotional support animal can help you decide if one might be right for you.

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal, also referred to as an ESA, is a designated companion animal that provides comfort and support to a person dealing with a diagnosed emotional, mental, or psychological disability. An ESA can also be called an assistance animal or support animal, and helps its owner or handler manage the symptoms of their mental or emotional condition.

For most people, their ESA fulfills their emotional need simply by offering affection and companionship. Many patients also find an improved sense of well-being resulting from the daily routine of caring for their ESA.

To be officially categorized as an ESA, the owner and animal must have the proper documentation in the form of an ESA Letter.

Is an emotional support animal different from a service dog or therapy dog?

There are many different types of assistance animals, including emotional support animals, service dogs, and therapy dogs, each one serving a unique purpose.

Emotional Support Animal

An emotional support animal provides love, affection, compassion, and support to a specific person with a diagnosed mental or emotional condition. They do not perform a specific task or job; instead, their purpose is to offer relief in challenging situations.

Service Dog

A service dog assists a disabled individual, providing aid to people with visual impairment, mobility challenges, seizures, hearing loss, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and diabetes. Their role is to help their owner complete daily tasks, and many service dogs alert the owner in the event of an oncoming physical or emotional episode. Service dogs undergo intense training that enables them to help with specific functions, and receive special certification upon completion.

Therapy Dog

Like an ESA, a therapy dog provides comfort and joy through their presence. However, a therapy dog typically works with large groups of people (not only a specific person), traveling with a handler to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other locations to offer therapeutic relief.

Types of emotional support animals

The best emotional support animals are simply ones that provide the comfort and support needed by their owners. Dogs are cats are usually the most common type of ESA, but there is no limitation on the type of animal that can fulfill the ESA role. Ultimately, a good ESA is one that offers comfort, support, companionship, and positivity through their presence. Basic training to ensure good behavior in public places is important, and an ESA cannot pose a danger to other people or animals.

How can I adopt an emotional support animal?

Because ESAs do not undergo special training or receive certification, there is no specific organization or source for adopting ESA animals. Instead, your ESA can be a pet that you adopt or purchase from any shelter, rescue, or pet shop.


Here are a few things to keep in mind when searching for an ESA:

  • Choose an animal that you feel a connection with, in order to set yourself up for the best possible results. The most common type of support pets are dogs or cats.
  • Your ESA will need to be relatively well-trained and able to handle the presence of other people and animals. Avoid choosing an overly aggressive or excitable animal. The animal should be able to function well in public without acting out or disturbing others.
  • While there are no rules about the types of animals that can serve as ESAs, there are a few limitations to understand. For example, an extremely large ESA (such as a horse) may pose challenges when searching for acceptable housing. Also, airlines are legally permitted to refuse spiders, rodents, reptiles, and sugar gliders, so those types of ESAs cannot accompany you on the airplane.
Once you find your ESA, you do not need to enroll in any specific training program but basic pet training will be useful to encourage positive behaviors.

Can my pet be an emotional support animal?

Yes. An existing pet is an excellent candidate for becoming an ESA, especially because you have likely already formed a strong bond with the animal. Having a good connection with an existing pet is a good foundation for a future ESA.

Can I have two emotional support animals?

Technically, yes. There are no laws that prohibit having two (or more) ESAs, but it’s important to understand that the rules for each ESA do not change. A licensed professional must provide the official recommendation and documentation for each ESA. Additionally, both animals should be able to behave properly in the public space, and you must be able to provide sufficient care for the animals.

Qualifying for an Emotional Support Animal

If you’re unsure if you might qualify for an ESA, keep reading to learn more.

How to qualify for an emotional support animal

There is a wide range of mental and emotional conditions that may qualify you for an emotional support animal. A licensed mental health professional will need to provide an evaluation and diagnosis in order for you to pursue an official ESA. Here are just a few of the common conditions that can allow you to obtain an emotional support pet:
  • Panic and anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Phobias
  • Mood disorders

Can I get an emotional support animal for anxiety?

Yes. ESAs have been found to provide significant relief for many patients suffering from symptoms of anxiety including severe stress/fear, insomnia, racing heart, and more.

Can I get an emotional support animal for PTSD?

Yes. Having an ESA can help PTSD sufferers engage in a positive emotional connection, reduce stress, and improve mood.

Can I get an emotional support animal for ADHD?

Yes. ADHD patients often find that an ESA can help add structure and routine to their daily life, as well as provide emotional comfort.

Asking a doctor for an ESA

Many doctors are hesitant to write ESA letters due to a lack of knowledge and understanding. Although, at Support Pets we have a wide range of mental health professionals and doctors, which make the process of receiving an ESA letter very easy. A growing number of people are finding ESAs to be a highly effective means for managing various symptoms, and support animals are becoming increasingly common.

Why You Need an ESA Letter

An ESA letter is an important and extremely useful document for anyone considering an ESA.

What is an ESA letter?

An ESA letter is official documentation that “prescribes” an emotional support animal to an individual. The letter states that the person has a diagnosed disability and is allowed an ESA as a result. Note that the ESA letter applies to you as the patient, rather than a specific animal.

How do you get an ESA letter?

A licensed mental health professional can provide you with an ESA letter if they see fit. The letter must include their official letterhead, a dated signature, and other specific details that apply to your situation.

Why do you need an ESA letter?

An ESA letter functions as official ESA documentation, securing your rights under applicable ESA laws. You will need an ESA letter for air travel with your emotional support animal, as well as filing an official request for housing accommodations for your ESA.

ESA Laws and Regulations

If you have an emotional support pet, you also have specific rights granted by ESA laws. These rights apply to travel and housing and ensure you receive fair treatment.

Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing, specifically related to disability, race, religion, sex, color, national origin, or familial status. As a person with an emotional support animal, you are protected against discrimination if you are seeking to buy or rent a home, secure housing assistance, or qualify for a mortgage. The FHA also makes it illegal for a homeowner or landlord to set different terms or conditions for the sale or rental of a house due to any of the factors named above. Some types of housing are not included in the FHA regulations, including single-family homes rented or sold by owner, private clubs, religious housing, and owner-occupied buildings with four units or less.

Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) makes illegal for anyone to discriminate against disabled individuals traveling by plane. Airlines cannot refuse or limit your transportation, and ESA owners with proper documentation must be provided with accommodations (with a few exceptions). The ACAA also bans the airline from charging you additional fees for allowing an ESA.

Finding Housing with an ESA

Whether you’re searching for new housing or trying to defend your current residency, there are laws that protect you and your ESA.

Do landlords have to accept an ESA?

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a landlord cannot refuse you housing simply based on your ESA. The law states that landlords must attempt to make reasonable accommodations for your ESA, even if a property has a “no pets” policy. However, there are certain situations in which a landlord can legitimately refuse housing for you and your emotional support animal. If allowing your ESA would create undue financial or administrative stress on the housing provider, they can deny the request. Large animals such as horses or llamas may also be refused, on the grounds of unavailable space. ESAs must not be disruptive or dangerous in any way, and you are responsible for any damage they may cause to the property. If your emotional support animal is found to have a negative impact on the health, safety, property, or quality of life of other tenants, the landlord can ask you to leave.

Can landlords charge extra fees for an ESA?

No. You cannot be charged additional deposits or fees for your emotional support animal.

Bringing an ESA in Public Places

An emotional support animal can accompany you to any pet-friendly place, just like a pet would. Whether you’re going about your daily errands or traveling to a new city, you may be able to bring your ESA along for comfort and companionship.

Can you take an emotional support animal to work?

While there are no specific laws guaranteeing ESAs be allowed at work, you may find that yours is willing to accommodate yours if it helps you better perform your job duties. Request a meeting with your human resources department to communicate your situation and inquire about possible accommodations for your ESA.

Can you bring an emotional support animal to college?

Depending on your school, you may be able to bring your emotional support animal with you as needed. Many colleges and universities have already developed policies to support students with ESAs, and recent court cases have rules in the favor of ESAs being allowed in the on-campus housing of public universities. If you’re hoping to bring your ESA to college, you should contact your school ahead of time to learn more about specific policies and rules.

Can you take an emotional support animal on a plane?

Yes. Your ESA will be able to ride in the main cabin, either at your feet, on your lap, or on the seat next to you. Also, you can go through the terminal with your ESA, which is a huge plus. Exceptionally large animals may not be able to sit in the main cabin, and certain types of animals (spiders, rodents, reptiles, and sugar gliders) are not allowed on the plane at all. You will need to contact the airline to confirm what documentation, if any, you’ll need in addition to your ESA letter. If you are planning to travel outside the U.S., you will be subject to rules regarding foreign animals.

Can you bring an emotional support animal in a restaurant?

Restaurant owners are typically more willing to accommodate pets registered as an ESA. Keep in mind that restaurant owners do reserve the right to refuse service to pets and their owners.

Can you take an emotional support animal to a hotel?

Some hotels have pet-friendly policies and will have no problem allowing an ESA. In hotels that do not typically allow pets, management may be willing to make an exception for ESA situations. Always contact a hotel before booking to confirm whether or not your ESA will be allowed to stay in your room.

Can you take an emotional support animal anywhere?

No. Because an emotional support animal is not a service animal, there are some limitations on where you can take it. Most businesses are legally permitted to deny entry of an ESA, while certified service animals are required to be allowed. However, if you contact the business ahead of time and communicate your situation, you may find that many are willing to make accommodations if possible.

Avoiding ESA Scams

Unfortunately, there are many scams that seek to take advantage of patients considering an emotional support animal, but you can protect yourself if you know what to look for.

Is there an emotional support animal database?

No. There is no national or official database for ESAs, and websites that claim otherwise are providing misleading information.

Do I need to get my emotional support animal certified?

No. Unlike a service animal, there is no specific certification for an ESA. You do not need to complete any program or training for your ESA.

Does an emotional support animal need a vest (or ID)?

No. ESAs are not required to wear a designated vest, ID card, or any other form of identification.

Visit Support Pets for More Information about ESAs

If you have a question that was not answered here, Support Pets is happy to help. Follow the steps on the website to see if you and your pet qualify to receive an ESA letter from a licensed health professional or doctor. Take our instant qualification quiz online!

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