What are Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional Support Animals with Owner

Emotional support animals are a consistent form of therapy that provides comfort, security, companionship, and routine for those suffering from a mental or emotional disability. Emotional support animals can provide a great addition to any treatment plan as they are a non-invasive, natural form of therapy.
Throughout this article, you will be provided with information regarding:

  1. The full definition of emotional support animals
  2. How they differ from a service dog or therapy dog
  3. Laws and regulation
  4. The benefits of getting an ESA letter
  5. How to identify if you have been provided with a fake letter
  6. All the places to go with you and your emotional support animal

Table of Contents

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides therapeutic benefit(s) to their owner through support and companionship to help alleviate symptoms associated with a mental or emotional disability.

Examples of conditions that may benefit from the addition of an ESA to their treatment plan include anxiety, depression, PTSD, and sleep difficulty to name a few. Emotional support animals differ from service animals in that they are not required to be specially trained, however, they are expected to behave appropriately.

***CertaPet assists individuals by connecting them with LMHPs licensed to practice in their state and have extensive knowledge and experience in prescribing ESAs to patients in need.

Want to know if you could qualify for an Emotional Support Animal? Take Certapet’s free 5-minute screening.

Types of Emotional Support Animals

Although many animals may provide emotional support to their owner, an ESA is defined as an animal that helps to relieve symptoms of individuals with a mental or emotional disability. The type of animal must be approved by the doctor or clinician working with you through your treatment plan.

1. Can a dog be an emotional support animal?

Absolutely! In fact, emotional support dogs are the most common type of ESA since dogs help with reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental and/or emotional disability. While some breeds are better suited to provide emotional support, there is no legal requirement for an emotional support dog to be a specific breed.

2. Can a cat be an emotional support animal?

Yes – emotional support cats are real! They can be any breed, but please keep in mind some airlines do not accept certain breeds due to health and safety concerns.

3. Can a bird be an emotional support animal?

Legally, yes. With that said, CertaPet does not generally work with Licensed Mental Health Professionals who are quick to approve birds. You may have seen the emotional support turkey that was on a plane in 2016 – that’s not us! This isn’t because we don’t love birds, but because there isn’t a conclusive amount of evidence-based research to support birds as a certified emotional support animal.

4. What other types of animals are acceptable as emotional support animals?

There isn’t a strict statement outlining which animal species or breeds qualify as an emotional support animal.

But we do not certify anything but cats and dogs and the occasional rabbit. We understand that other animals may have therapeutic value and we do not discredit that at all, but it is our policy to only recognize dogs cats and rabbits due to zoning restrictions, health concerns and regulations, and public safety.

What is the difference between an emotional support dog, a therapy dog, and a service dog?

Upon qualifying for an emotional support dog, many individuals are unsure whether or not their animal is the same thing as a service dog or therapy dog.

The answer to that is no, they are not. Explained below are some of the basic characteristics and differences between the three.

Definition of Assistance Animal

An assistance animal is a general term for animals that help their owners’ who suffer from a disability in their day-to-day life. Service animals and emotional support animals are classified as assistance animals, but therapy dog/cats are not due to they do not belong to one individual owner but rather to an organization, group, etc.

1. Emotional Support Dog

An emotional support dog provides support to an individual suffering from a mental or emotional disability. Unlike a service dog, they are not trained to perform specific task(s) and they accomplish their purpose by their presence and natural compassion. Their sole purpose is to provide the patient with relief in difficult times.

While they do not have to be specifically trained, an ESA needs to be reasonably well behaved by normal standards, such as being fully house-broken and does not have bad habits that would disturb neighbors, such as frequent or lengthy episodes of barking.

Additionally and should go without saying, the ESA can not pose a danger to the other people or animals.

2. Service Dog

A service dog is a trained dog that aids and assists an individual suffering from physical disabilities such as visual impairment, mobility impairment, seizures, hearing impairment, post-traumatic stress disorder, and diabetes with day-to-day tasks and activities. These animals undergo rigorous training and have developed skills intended to help with specific functions.

3. Therapy Dog

Therapy dogs typically travel with their owner to hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and other places to provide therapeutic relief.

These dogs are there to help improve the quality of the patient’s outlook and provide them comfort and joy during their brief visit. Unlike an emotional support animal, they are do not provide support to a specific individual.

Emotional Support Animal Laws, Rules, and Regulations

The two primary Federal Laws governing support animals are the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. Additionally, many states and cities have specific laws and ordinances outlining additional rights. For the purpose of your sanity and ours, we’ve focused on the big two.
owners taking advantage of the emotional support animals laws fair housing act

1. Living with my ESA: What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHA) states that apartments or housing communities that do not allow pets must make an exception for emotional support animals and make suitable accommodation for them and their owner.

  • ESA owners must be legally allowed to keep their support animal even in no-pet housing.
  • ESA owners are exempted from pet deposits or pet fees.

The landlord of the apartments or housing community may require a proof of documentation indicating that the patient is in the need of an emotional support animal due to their mental or emotional disability. This documentation is an emotional support animal letter or ESA letter, which is written a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).

2. Flying with my ESA: What is the Air Carrier Access Act?

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) states that airlines are not allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities.

  • ESA owners can bring their emotional support animal in-cabin during flights.
  • ESA owners are exempted from paying any fees associated with the travel of their animal.

There is, however, a set procedure to undergo to ensure the individual and the support animal are accommodated properly.

We recommend reaching out to the airline as soon as possible once you have made your reservation to ensure you have all the proper paperwork taken care of well in advance of your travels.

3. Can my landlord reject my ESA?

If the patient requiring an emotional support animal is renting, the landlord is legally required to allow the renter to have an emotional support animal on the property. This means that the patient cannot be evicted or charged for requiring the aid of an emotional support animal under any circumstances.

All patients and their support animals are protected under the FHA laws.

4. Can my emotional support animal fly with me?

When traveling via airplane, a patient with a disability who is aided by an emotional support animal is allowed to fly through the Air Carrier Access Act. There is a set procedure to follow to ensure that your emotional support animal can fly with you.

The individual with the emotional support animal must know:

  1. They have to obtain a letter from their licensed mental health professional declaring the patients mental or emotional disability and the need for the emotional support animal
  2. The documentation cannot be more than a one-year-old
  3. The letter must be on the licensed mental health professional’s official letterhead

Most airlines require the individual to have the letter and any additional paperwork they may request submitted to the airline 48 hours in advance. Please be sure to check with your airline about any additional documents they may need.

Emotional support animals have the right to travel with their passengers in the open plane, and not be stowed in the cargo bay or confined to cages under the seat of the individual.

However, each airline has its own set of rules and restrictions so make sure to be fully prepared before arriving at the airport with your ESA.

Read our Airlines ESA and Pet Policy pages for more information on which airlines require which forms. Check out our ESA travel letter fact sheets as well to have a detailed checklist when packing with your emotional support animal. 

5. Does my ESA need a vest?

No, there are no laws or regulations regarding an emotional support animal that states the patient must clearly identify them as an assistance animal.

While it is not required for an emotional support animal to wear a vest, many individuals are more comfortable have the identifying vest on while in the airport. This is personal preference and completely up to you when making a decision if you want to put an identifying vest on your dog, but the only thing legally required is the emotional support animal letter.

6. Can an emotional support animal go anywhere?

No. An emotional support animal is not accommodated the same rights and privileges as a service dog and cannot go into any establishment where a dog or any other pet is not allowed.

7. Can one person own two ESAs?

Technically yes, but this is a very rare situation. The majority of airlines have a one ESA policy and we typically stick to that. If you believe you might be one of the rare exceptions, please speak with your doctor or mental health professional regarding this situation.

How Do You Qualify?

Approximately 18% of American adults live with some form of a mental or emotional disability. Many of them could positively benefit from owning an emotional support animal. However, most people don’t know about ESAs, and more importantly, don’t know if they qualify for one.

To see if you qualify, take the pre-screening (free, 5-minute survey) today.
emotional support dog and esa owner sitting on rock

1. Who needs an emotional support animal?

Emotional support animals are for individuals who suffer from a mental and/or emotional disability. These disabilities include (but are not limited to):

  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • General Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • Panic Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

2. Can you get an emotional support dog for anxiety?

Yes, anxiety is considered a mental illness that affects many people throughout the world, and emotional support animal can help to reduce symptoms such as stress, fear, and in some cases even insomnia.

3. Can you get an emotional support dog for ADHD?

Yes, a person suffering from ADHD qualifies for an emotional support animal.

4. Can an ESA help alleviate symptoms of PTSD?

An emotional support animal could help relieve symptoms of PTSD by waking sufferers from nightmares, providing a healthy distraction from negative thoughts, and even interrupting flashbacks to name a few. Check with your clinician to see how an ESA might help your PTSD symptoms.

Where and How to Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter

1. What is an emotional support animal letter?

An ESA letter is a letter written by a mental health clinician or medical professional that states the animal provides some benefit for a person disabled by a mental health condition or emotional disorder. Emotional support animals are typically dogs but are sometimes cats or other animals. The letter needs to be written on the professional’s official letterhead and must contain their date and type of license.

2. What is the Certapet Process? The easiest method!

We have helped thousands of people by linking them with a licensed mental health professional in their state to develop a treatment plan that may include an emotional support animal. To see if you may qualify, you can take a pre-screening assessment here.

*****Receiving a positive response on the pre-screening does not guarantee you will qualify for an ESA. Your assigned LMHP will help you determine if an ESA is right for you. *****

3. Who can prescribe an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal can be prescribed for treatment only by a licensed mental health care or medical professional in your state.

4. What is an LMHP?

LMHP refers to a licensed medical health practitioner/professional. Through consultation and treatment planning, they are able to determine if an individual may benefit from an emotional support animal.

5. Does an emotional support animal have to be certified?

No. The LMHP’s letter is all you need for your ESA.

You do not need to certify it anywhere.

You do not need to register it anywhere.

Please beware that there are a lot of fake Support Animal Registry or Certification sites that try to lure people into registering/certifying their pets.

6. Does an emotional support animal have to be registered?

Again, no. An emotional support animal does not have to be registered. The individual’s emotional support animal letter is enough.

7. Can an emotional support animal application be denied?

Yes. An LMHP will not recommend an ESA for you unless he/she is sure that owning one will bring significant improvement to your mental well-being. In case your application is denied, CertaPet issues a refund on the fees you paid.

How to Spot a Fake ESA Service

Many online communities and websites take advantage of individuals with a mental or emotional disability by not providing them with a letter for a fee without a clinical assessment or structured interview with a clinician. This can result in the individual obtaining a fake emotional support animal letter, and therefore can be possibly denied the animal or denied the benefits of travel and housing that comes with it.

Further, many states are cracking down on fake emotional support animal letters and fining the person who might have been in sincere need of an ESA but was misinformed by these illegitimate websites. Please make sure you are working with a legitimate therapist or clinician licensed in your state so you do not have to endure the fines, fees, and stress of this unfortunate situation

A fake ESA Service commonly exhibits one or more of the following traits:

  1. The individual’s emotional support animal letter is NOT written by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).
  2. The medical health professional the individual seeks qualification through doesn’t have an LMHP licensed to practice in their state.
  3. There is NO screening to qualify the individual for an emotional support animal.
  4. The Service that provides the individual with certification for an emotional support animal calls itself a ‘registry’ and asks them to sign up for it.
  5. There is no follow-on service, meaning that the place in which the individual obtained the certification for the emotional support animal fails to keep in contact with them throughout the process, or for regular check-ups.

Access to Public Places

Just like you would a pet, an emotional support animal can go with their individual to pet-friendly places. Unlike service animals, they do not have the right to go into non-pet-friendly public establishments.
what is an emotional support dog

1. Can you bring an emotional support animal to work?

No, places of work do not fall under the Fair Housing Act.

2. Can you bring an emotional support animal to school or college?

Yes, they are allowed to accommodate an individual who needs an ESA to live with them in on-campus housing, and their designated pet relief area which will be discussed when you are working with student disability services.

However, ESAs are not allowed to go to class or through campus.

Discuss with student disability services where you are and are not allowed to bring your dog. You never know, your professor might welcome having a well-behaved animal accompany you to your class. Make sure to ask as this will be on a case by case basis.

3. Can I take my emotional support animal to a hotel?

Hotels do not fall under the Fair Housing Act as it is considered short term housing. Therefore, hotels do not have to honor an ESA letter. However, many hotels have personal policies that do allow ESA’s.

Make sure to ask when booking a hotel room, just be aware that if they deny you, they are legally able to do so as they do not fall under the Fair Housing Act.

4. Are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants?

Restaurants are considered public places, and emotional support animals do not have any rights to enter. However, some restaurants are pet-friendly by choice. Make sure to ask if an ESA is allowed before entering a restaurant.

5. Can I take my emotional support animal to a store?

Unless the store is pet-friendly, an emotional support animal cannot go into that public establishments.

How to train emotional support animals

While emotional support animals do not have to specifically trained like service animals, it is highly encouraged they know basic commands and can behave properly at the airport or inside your accommodation. You or a local trainer can do so.

ESAs do not have to be specifically trained as they are only there to provide the individual suffering from a mental or emotional disability or illness comfort, companionship, and possibly reduce symptoms.

If you suffer from a debilitating illness, then an ESA may be the right fit for you.
Find out if you qualify today.

Other common questions answered by this article:

What is an ESA animal?

What is an ESA dog?

What is an ESA support dog?

What is the full Emotional support animals definition?

What are the best emotional support dogs?

Where can ESA dogs go?

Where can I take my ESA dog?

Can I have more than one ESA animal?

 

Any Questions?

You can go to our FAQ section,
Email us at [email protected],
call us at (877) 207-0561,
or chat with us below.

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  • Debbie says:

    What about a 55 year and older community that doesn’t allow dogs and my parents live there and I would like to take my ESA when I visit, can they refuse me?

  • Claudia says:

    Hi. I was wondering if my therapist who used to prescribe my medication for ADHD can help get me this letter? Even if he can would i still be able to use him if i dont see him anymore? He has known me scine i was a little girl?

    • David says:

      Absolutely. Any Licensed Mental Health Professional can write a recommendation letter for an ESA. We simply provide an efficient mechanism for doing so.

  • Erin Kraemer says:

    I work at a school and would like to bring my puppy to work with me as an ESA. I have gotten approval from the school principal. The animal is registered without a letter from my doctor. Do I need to get approval from the school board or county office of education before I bring my dog to work? If there should be a complaint, who is legally responsible and liable for any damage claims?

    • CertaPet says:

      Hello Erin,
      Thanks for reaching out! Based on ESA laws, schools, institutions or other public places are not required by law to accept Emotional Support Animals. However, there are some places that will (like your approval by your school principal). The legal documentation for an ESA is a letter signed by a licensed mental Health professional that states your animals alleviates a disability-related need. Because schools are not explicitly stated in the ESA laws, they reserve the right to decide whether or not to accept your ESA. I recommend talking to your school board to see where they stand on the subject. Please note that any damage an ESA creates is the responsibility of the owner.

  • Tamara Bryant says:

    How long are the letters valid?

    • CertaPet says:

      Hello Tamara! Most housing authorities and airline companies do not accept letters that are older than one year. The ESA recommendation letter is a prescription, therefore prescriptions expire and eventually need to be renewed.The letters issued by the licensed mental health professionals in our network do expire one year after the approval date. Hope this information helps!

  • dee says:

    How much time is a emotional support dog suppose to be with owner? Are they suppose to go everywhere with them?

    • CertaPet says:

      Hello Dee,
      Emotional Support Animals are only protected in rental properties with no-pet policies and when flying on domestic airlines. Your question regarding how much time an ESA is supposed to be with an owner can only be answered on a case by case basis. ESAs are not allowed to go to public places without explicit permission by the owner. Hope this information helps! If you have any more questions please feel free to give us a call at (877)207-0561.

  • Amy Opperman says:

    When I got my ESA I STILL payed my landlord a petdeposit. Is that because I got him after I had already lived here for almost 3 years before needing my ESA dog?

  • certapet says:

    Margarita,
    After a year the fee for the Emotional Support Animal Letter is significantly discounted.

  • Theresa says:

    I’m confused if the Ada does not protect an esa then what is the purpose of an esa letter. Is it possible that an apartment complex deny you even though you have this letter? I am moving in a month and the pet fees are outrages and I know that I would definitely qualify for an esa letter but I can’t afford to pay 200 and then get denied and have to pay a pet deposit