What are Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional Support Animals with Owner

Emotional support animals are all about providing comfort, security, companionship, and love when suffering from a mental or emotional disability of illness. As a groundbreaking way to alleviating debilitating symptoms of mental and emotional disabilities, ESAs know what they’re doing.
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?

To begin, animals are often the best source of comfort when we generally feel unwell or are suffering from a debilitating illness.
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.
Most importantly these animals provide comfort, companionship, and relief for their owner in the accomplishment of one or more major life activities.
Examples of conditions with drastically reduced symptoms by an emotional support animal might include anxiety, depression, PTSD, trouble sleeping due to disability and many more.
***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.
As the emotional support animal is not supposed to be a trained animal like the service dog, no documentation regarding training or certification needs to be provided to the landlord.

Types of Emotional Support Animals

There are many animal owners out there claiming their pet as an ESA. And while not to discredt anyone’s furry (or not so furry) companionship, there are only a few types of emotional support animals that are acceptable in housing and flying.

1. Can a dog be an emotional support animal?

Absolutely! In fact, emotional support dogs are the most common type of ESA animal since dogs help with reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental 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! Similar to dogs, some breeds of cat are better than others at providing support. That being said, we all receive support in different ways. It is up to the individual to determine which breed is the best option for an emotional support cat for them.

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. There are advocates for emotional support animal that seek to include rats, monkeys, mice, rabbits, miniature pigs, snakes, hedgehogs, and more. There are a number of issues that arise when trying to expand the list to include less typical animals. Not the least of these are legal and ethical considerations for public safety and consideration.

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

Assistance animals are there, well, to assist 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 a specific 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.
In fact, very little training is required at all, provided that the animal in question is 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, the animal can not pose a danger to the other tenants or workers.

2. Service Dog

A service dog is a trained dog that aids and assists an individual suffering from 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 to those who may be struggling with day-to-day life and activities. 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 the 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 an emotion support animal and make suitable accommodation for them and their owner.

  • ESA owners must be legally allowed to keep their support animal even in a no-pet housing.
  • ESA owners are exempted from pet deposits or pet fees.
  • Emotional Support Animals are allowed in “common areas”.

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 usually called an emotional support animal letter or ESA letter can be obtained through a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).

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

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) provides the legal requirements to ensure that disabled individuals in need of an emotional support animal are not discriminated when traveling by plane. No airline is allowed to refuse the individual transportation, nor the emotional support animal, or require unreasonable advanced notice before offering the individual with disability services.

  • 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 48 hours in advance, as some airlines have specific forms that must be completed in addition to the Emotional Support Animal Letter.

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. It would be like denying someone with a wheelchair. All patients and their support animals are protected under the FHA laws.

4. Can my emotional support animal fly with me OR can I take my emotional support animal on a plane?

When traveling via air travel, 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 contain the licensed mental health professional’s letterhead and type of care in which they practice ensuring the authentication of the certificate

Some airlines require the individual to give 48 hours’ notice to the carrier, so be sure to check with the airline before the flight.
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.
The ACAA protects emotional support animal and the individuals they are with from occurring a fee for their animal accompanying them aboard the flight. If all requirements are met in the procedure above, the airline the individual is flying with cannot legally ask questions regarding their disability and not allowed to restrict them and their animals from boarding the plane.
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 a no laws or regulations regarding an emotional support animal that states the patient must clearly identify them as an assistance animal. Though it is not required for an emotional support animal to wear a vest, many ESA owners choose to do so and heavily encouraged!

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. No public places!

7. Can one person own two ESAs?

Yes, absolutely. The Americans with Disabilities Act is more than capable of making allowances for an individual requiring more than one emotional support animal for successful treatment. However, having more emotional support animals does raise issues with the housing and flying act. Whilst they are not allowed to deny the individual the aid of the emotional support animal, realistically, an airline is not capable of providing for three emotional support dogs on a plane.

Benefits of Owning an ESA Letter

When the individual has qualified for an emotional support animal and has obtained their emotional support animal letter, they shouldn’t throw it away or place it somewhere they can’t find it.
There are many benefits to owning an emotional support animal letter, and that is why the individual should keep it on their possessions at all times. These include:

  • The ability to keep your emotional support animal at the rental property or housing community.
  • There are no pet fees for when placing a deposit for a rental property.
  • There are no pet fees when you fly with your emotional support animal.

How Do You Qualify?

Approximately 18% of American adults live with some form of 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 pets that are assigned to an individual, after qualifying, who suffers from a mental or emotional disability or illness and provides them with comfort, companionship, and love in the hopes that their presence will reduce the individual’s symptoms.

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 the symptoms many people suffering anxiety get, 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 and is a great means of support. Many people with ADHD tend to feel isolated from the community around them, and an emotional support animal directly addresses that.

4. Can an ESA help you recover from PTSD?

An emotional support animal can help an individual suffering from PTSD alleviate some of their symptoms. Many sufferers with PTSD opt from a dog as their emotional support animal, as they have proven to have a better effect on people with this mental illness.
Such benefits are that they are good companions that will not judge the individual, they are fun and will alleviate stress, help the individual engage in the emotion of less leaving them feeling less detached, and giving the individual a reason to have to leave the house, therefore spending more time around people.

5. What other mental and emotional conditions make someone a suitable candidate for an ESA?

Mental or emotional disabilities or illnesses that will qualify an individual for an emotional support animal depends on the severity of their condition and if their individual’s medical health practitioner deems them qualified. An example of another condition is depression.

Where, and How to Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter

Obtaining an emotional support animal letter in order to get the pet is an easy and simple process.

1. What is an emotional support animal letter?

An emotional support animal letter provides the individual with the recognition that they, under a licensed medical professional, a patient with a mental or emotional disability or illness. It also states that the individual is limited by their disability and is affecting their mental well-being, thus, being prescribed with an emotional support animal as necessary treatment.

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

Certapet is a well-known organization that helps individuals suffering from a mental or emotional illness obtain an emotional support animal. We have helped thousands of people with a brief questionnaire that is completely confidential and takes only a few minutes to complete.

3. Who can prescribe an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal can be prescribed for treatment ONLY by a licensed mental health care professional.

4. What is an LMHP?

LMHP refers to a licensed medical health practitioner/professional, and they are able to qualify the individual for an emotional support animal – only them!

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

No, no, and… no. The doctor’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 in registering/certifying their pets with them.

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

Again, no, no, and 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.

8. Can you buy a ready ESA dog or cat?

No, an individual cannot buy an emotional support animal as the pet is only there for as long as the individual requires their form of treatment. If the individual sees improvements in their symptoms through the emotional support animal, then they can look at eventually purchasing (or adopting!) an animal of their own.

How to Spot a Fake ESA Service?

Many online communities or website take advantage of this and sadly underestimate the severity of a mental or emotional disability. 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.
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 in their hometown or city, or with them across their travels.
what is an emotional support dog

1. Can you bring emotional support animal to work?

Although employers are not explicitly required to allow emotional support animals at work, they are still very likely to consider it as a reasonable accommodation, especially if it enhances an employee’s ability to do his/her job. Again, the support animal in question must be well-behaved and pose no risk to other employees or the workplace itself.

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

Yes, the same rules apply to an individual’s place of employment. If the individual who needs an emotional support animal attends school or college, they are legally allowed to be accompanied by their emotional support animal and be offered suitable accommodation. In some instances, the school or college may require the individual to register as a disability student, so be sure to check with the school or college.

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

Hotel laws differ from housing or travel laws, with some hotels stating that they do not accept ESAs as they are not legally allowed to. However, the majority of the time hotel owners are companionate towards the individual and the emotion support animal and are happy to accept a person in need. Before the individual makes any travel arrangements, they should check with the local hotels at their chosen destination to see if they accept emotional support animals

4. Are emotional support animals allowed in restaurants?

There are many pet-friendly restaurants that accept and welcome emotional support animals and all animals alike. They will also help you with suitable accommodation whilst you eat. Some restaurants, however, are similar to hotels and strict rules apply that they cannot accept the emotional support animal.

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

Stores are the same as restaurants or hotels. Some will accept the individual’s emotional support animal and others will not. This is because the emotional support animal, unlike the service dog, is not trained. This is where a vest if the individual chooses to put one on their emotional support animal though it is not a requirement, can come in handy.

6. How to train emotional support animal?

ESAs are not 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. However, many individuals choose to purchase an animal from a young age and train it to become an emotional support animal. This can absolutely be done.
An emotional support animal is a therapeutic treatment full of love, security, comfort, and companionship for an individual suffering from a mental or emotional disability. 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 emotional support?

Emotional support animals definition.

Best emotional support dogs?

Where can esa dogs go?

Can esa dogs anywhere?

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:

    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