Everything You Need To Know About Emotional Support Pets
Pets provide us with immense joy and happiness. They can also be incredibly soothing and therapeutic, especially to those suffering from mental and/or emotional health conditions.
Emotional support animals are fairly popular nowadays and for good reason. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, your pet can provide significant emotional support and help you alleviate some of the symptoms of your condition.
In this article, we cover everything you need to know about emotional support pets. This includes how to find one, the benefits of having them, and relevant state and federal laws that protect you and your emotional support animal.
What Is an Emotional Support Pet?
An emotional support pet is a pet that offers key therapeutic benefits to an individual suffering from an emotional or mental disability.
Many people with emotional support animals struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other impairments, like severe panic attacks or phobias. The animal offers support and companionship, which helps to relieve some symptoms relating to the condition.
Emotional support pets are not limited to one particular species or breed. While dogs are commonly known to be good emotional support animals, all pets can offer the emotional guidance needed to qualify as an ESA.
Emotional Support Pets vs Service Animals
There are key differences between emotional support pets and service animals. For example, any pet can be an emotional support animal, but service animals are limited to only dogs (and occasionally miniature horses).
More specifically, service animals are dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks that directly benefit a disabled person. The disability can be physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, etc. Other animal species, whether trained or untrained, do not qualify as service animals.
Emotional support pets, on the other hand, provide therapeutic-based benefits to individuals with disabilities. The animal may provide emotional support for a person with a physical or mental impairment that limits at least one major life activity.
Here are some examples:
- Interrupting impulsive behavior in individuals with neurological disabilities.
- Reminding someone with psychiatric conditions to take their medication.
- Providing support and companionship to someone with a major depressive disorder.
- Helping to calm and soothe someone during an anxiety attack.
Unlike service animals, ESAs do not require any training and do not need to perform specific tasks. They provide various therapeutic benefits to individuals with emotional, neurological, or cognitive disabilities.
How Emotional Support Animal Benefits Their Owners
Studies show that having an animal around can bring significant mental health benefits to an individual. Pets foster a positive environment, helping their owners navigate tough times and certain symptoms of emotional disorders.
Here are some common benefits that emotional support animals provide:
Anxiety often leads to feelings of uneasiness, fear, and an overall sense of doom. There are several natural remedies for anxiety that are worth considering, such as physical activity, meditation, and spending time with your emotional support pet.
The simple act of petting an animal can elevate your mood and significantly improve anxiety symptoms. Whether your anxiety presents itself with heart palpitations, nervous tensions, or even a panic attack, an emotional support animal can be beneficial.
Improved Physical Health
Exercise, physical activity, and spending time outdoors are among the best mental health remedies. Pets force us to get outside and go for a walk or play around in the backyard.
This long-term, regular exercise may help to improve your physical health, as well as your mental health.
Reduces Feelings of Loneliness
It’s normal to feel lonely sometimes. However, if you constantly feel isolated, disconnected, and completely cut off from the world, an emotional support animal may help. Pets not only provide companionship but often become our best friends. They can help you lessen the impact of loneliness and feel more connected to the world around you.
If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and want to come to terms with past experiences, an emotional support pet can help you through this difficult time. They provide the emotional support needed to heal from trauma and can reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
Unconditional Love and Companionship
All pets, including emotional support animals, offer their owners unconditional love, companionship, and joy – and deserve the same in return.
This can give you a sense of purpose, which can be emotionally fulfilling and nourishing. A happy, healthy relationship will benefit your mental health and overall wellbeing.
Qualifications to Be an Emotional Support Animal
Despite what you might read online, there are no training qualifications or behavioral tests required for emotional support animals. There are also no breed, age, or species requirements for emotional support animals (unlike service dogs and psychiatric service animals).
This means any animal has the potential to be an official ESA, including dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, birds, horses, and more. Of course, some other requirements and processes need to be met.
Federal and state laws require that a qualified healthcare provider or mental health professional provide proper documentation outlining the patient’s need for an emotional support animal. This is the only way to get your pet licensed as an official emotional support pet.
The medical professional who issues the ESA letter must meet some qualifications as well. For example, many states require that they have an active, valid license within the scope of this field. California law takes it a step further and requires the healthcare provider to establish a relationship with the patient at least 30 days before writing the “prescription”.
How to Get an Emotional Support Pet
For your current pet to qualify as an emotional support pet, you will need to get a “prescription” from a mental health professional. This is essentially a signed letter that acknowledges your mental health condition and states that your pet helps you deal with it.
There are online ESA providers, like ESAPet, that can easily connect you with a mental health professional licensed in your state and set up a telehealth appointment to get your ESA letter.
To get an emotional support animal letter online, follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Complete a Quick Online Assessment
Complete a confidential online assessment in 2 minutes or less. This pre-screening application helps us determine whether you’re a good candidate for an emotional support animal letter.
Step 2: Consult With a Therapist
After the assessment, we will connect you to a licensed mental health professional in your state. The medical professional will set up a live consultation to evaluate your mental or emotional condition and need for an emotional support animal as part of your treatment plan.
Step 3: Get Your ESA letter
Once approved by the licensed mental health expert, you will receive your ESA letter by email within 48 hours.
With ESAPet, getting an ESA letter is quick, easy, and convenient.
Emotional Support Animal Laws and Ethics
Emotional support animals are given certain protections under federal and state laws.
While ESAs have more legal rights than regular pets, they have less than service animals. For example, service animals are legally required entry anywhere the public can go, such as restaurants and stores. Emotional support animals are not given these same protections and are only allowed in pet-friendly areas.
However, many places are sympathetic to those with mental health conditions and may accommodate emotional support animals.
Here are some additional protections and legal rights afforded to emotional support animals:
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act protects emotional support animals and their owners from housing discrimination and also shields them from pet restrictions and fees.
According to the act, landlords and property managers cannot discriminate against disabled tenants, including those with emotional support animals.
The law requires landlords and property managers to provide reasonable accommodation for emotional support animals and their owners. Legally speaking, emotional support animals are allowed in all homes and places of residence. This is the case even in places with strict no-pet policies.
Further, housing providers cannot charge pet fees or pet deposits to tenants who show up with emotional support animals.
The law also prohibits landlords and property managers from asking about the details of your mental condition and why you need an emotional support animal. They cannot request medical records or ask for proof other than your ESA letter to approve accommodation.
Housing providers can contact the licensed mental health professional listed on your ESA letter to ensure its legitimacy.
Traveling With an Emotional Support Pet
As of December 2020, emotional support pets are no longer protected under the Air Carrier Access Act. The Department of Transportation announced a new rule that gives airlines the option to no longer recognize emotional support animals. However, they are still required to accommodate service animals.
As a result, only some U.S. airlines still accept emotional support animals on flights.
If you’re planning to travel with an emotional support pet, your ESA must fulfill all of the airline’s requirements for regular pets. This includes any pet fees and other associated costs.
Further, only smaller pets typically fit into carriers that can be placed below your seat. Larger-sized pets may need to go below the cabin. However, all service dogs and psychiatric service animals are welcome to board the plane free of charge, even ones that are bigger in size.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Is a Service Animal Different From an Emotional Support Pet?
A service animal has the training to perform certain tasks for their owners. For example, a guide dog is trained to lead and alert someone who is blind or visually-impaired.
An emotional support pet, on the other hand, provides support and companionship to their owners. More specifically, emotional support animals offer key therapeutic benefits that help their owners cope with a mental or emotional condition like anxiety or depression.
Can I Take My Emotional Support Pet to Work or School?
Yes. Emotional support pets are generally allowed in the workplace or classroom. However, your employer or teacher has the right to request proof that you need an emotional support animal. You can show them your ESA letter, which is the only evidence required.
How Long Do I Need to Wait for My ESA Letter?
This depends on which ESA letter provider you’re using.
At ESAPet, we issue and send your official ESA letter within 48 hours (sometimes sooner) after getting approved by a licensed mental health professional.
What Type of Animal Can Be an Emotional Support Pet?
Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?
No. All housing providers are required by law to accommodate emotional support animals and their owners. Additionally, landlords must waive any pet bans, pet fees and deposits, or other restrictions for people with support pets.
Even though ESAs do not qualify as service animals, they’re considered assistance animals under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). And this act protects individuals from discrimination due to disability when applying for housing.
Housing providers can only deny an emotional support pet if there are clear and proven health/safety concerns.