How To Get an Emotional Support Animal In 3 Easy Steps

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal? Everything You Need to Know

Updated on October 17, 2023
Written by ESA Pet Staff

fact checked by Esa Pet Staff

At Pet ESA, we recognize the joy and bliss of owning a pet. Their presence in and of itself can do wonders for many facets of your health and quality of life. If you struggle with emotional or mental challenges, your precious pet can help with that, too.

It’s a no-brainer that a domesticated animal can fill your life with companionship and unconditional love. They can offer therapeutic benefits. Research has shown that interacting with your cat, dog, or any other pet can give you a good dose of the happy-feel hormone oxytocin, which lifts your mood, improves sleep, and relieves stress.

An emotional support animal (ESA) can provide many more benefits beyond pet ownership, especially if you need help with a mental illness. You can live with your ESA, even if your housing has a “no-pets” policy. 

However, you want to ensure you’re doing it right to enjoy the full benefits of having an emotional support animal. We’ll cover everything you need to know about obtaining an emotional support animal and what it means to be an ESA owner.

How Do I Get an Emotional Support Animal?

If you are considering getting an ESA, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

The first step is to determine whether you’d benefit from the support of an ESA. That’s why it is crucial to understand what an emotional support animal is and how it can fit into your lifestyle.

An Emotional Support Animal, or ESA, is more than a pet; it is a companion animal that can provide therapeutic benefits for your emotional disability. Emotional support animals can be a vital part of your emotional therapy. Their calming presence and routine care can further have mental health benefits.

A licensed medical care provider can prescribe an ESA if you have a specific mental health condition or disability. These mental health conditions run the gamut from anxiety and depression to mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, autism and more.

An ESA can be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of your disability, as well. Think about it: an emotional support dog’s unconditional love and unwavering affection can make feelings of loneliness and isolation puff. Having your ESA around can also help lower stress levels and blood pressure through petting and playing with your furry friend.

Unlike service dogs, an emotional support animal requires no special certification or training to perform specific tasks. You must talk to a licensed mental health professional to evaluate your disability and need for an emotional support animal. If you qualify, you will receive an ESA letter or doctor’s note to help you gain legal access to no-pet housing.

You should consider getting a service animal if you’re looking for more than companionship or emotional support. For example, a psychiatric service dog can undergo rigorous training to perform tasks related to helping with your psychiatric disability or symptoms. They can help interrupt self-harming behaviors, retrieve medications during an episode, or alert to oncoming anxiety attacks.

That being said, ESAs are all about providing you with emotional comfort and support through your relationships and interactions. It’s a no-brainer that dogs make superb emotional support animals. Still, other beloved pets like cats, rabbits, and even miniature horses (ponies) can do the trick.

Getting an ESA Letter

Next up is to get a doctor’s note or ESA letter. This is crucial because it documents your pet as an emotional support animal. Up to this point, your dog, cat, or hamster is nothing more than a regular pet.

This is a legally binding document written by licensed mental health professionals. In other words, for your pet to be legally recognized as an ESA, it must be prescribed to you in writing by a licensed psychiatrist, therapist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor in your state.

An ESA letter is provided to you on the provider’s official letterhead. It may detail your mental health disability and need for an emotional support animal. It gives you access rights not granted to regular pets under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Obtaining an ESA letter from a reputable source, like ESA Pet, can make your life easier with your furry friend. How so?

An ESA Letter Protects Your Legal Rights

Getting a valid emotional support animal letter from a licensed medical care provider can be a game-changer. It provides an array of legal protections for you and your ESA under FHA, American with Disabilities Act, and other federal laws.

Under the Fair Housing Act, any property manager, HOA, or landlord cannot deny you housing based on your disability — be it emotional, physical, or mental disability. Ergo, an ESA letter gives you the legal right to live with your emotional support animal, even if there’s a no-pets policy in place.

Landlords are legally required to accept emotional support animals. However, this legal right can only be guaranteed if you have an ESA letter. Landlords, HOAs, and property managers have the right to request one.

The best part is that an ESA can guarantee your rights to have an emotional support animal across multiple types of housing. Here, think dorms (student housing), condos, apartments, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and other residential properties. The FHA and an ESA letter will help guarantee your rights if the accommodation has five or more units.

If that doesn’t sound protective enough, a landlord cannot charge pet fees, deposits, or rentals for your approved ESA. This helps you save on costs often associated with living with a regular pet. HOAs and condo owner associations are also required to adjust rules that prevent pets.

An ESA Letter Helps You Avoid Pet Fees

We’ve already touched on this. It’s worth reiterating that landlords, housing associations, and property managers cannot charge you costs associated with regular pets. An ESA letter waives all pet deposits, fees, rentals, and whatnot.

Not convinced about the fee-waiving power of an ESA letter? Here are some unique ways an ESA letter can waive costs:

  •  Additional lease signing fees – Properties sometimes charge extra fees when signing a lease that allows pets. An ESA letter waives these supplemental application processing fees.
  • Increased security deposits into escrow – Landlords may require a more significant deposit amount for pet owners to be placed into an escrow account. This does not apply to you as an owner of an emotional support animal.
  • Monthly pet rent – Some properties assess an additional monthly rental amount for tenants with pets. This cannot be levied against emotional support animal owners.
  •  Non-refundable pet fees – Some complexes charge one-time pet fees that are not returned. An ESA owner is exempt from paying any non-refundable pet administrative costs.
  • Gated pet yard requirements – Communities sometimes mandate pets must be contained in gated yards. ESA owners are not obligated to fence or gate-in emotional support animals.
  • Additional renter’s insurance riders – While general liability coverage is mandatory, supplemental pet injury riders are not needed for emotional support animals.

An ESA Letter Allows Your Animal to Go to Restricted Pet Access Areas

Apartments, condos, and complexes may designate specific areas where pets are not allowed, like pet-free floors. With an ESA letter, your ESA companion will have full housing access rights without zoning restrictions.

An ESA Letter Helps Address Misconceptions, Disputes, and More

Emotional support animals are not required to be registered, vested, or trained. This has created quite some misconceptions, controversies, and misunderstandings around their role. With an ESA letter, you can easily navigate these issues and establish your furry friend as a companion.

This document answers any pressing concerns or questions landlords, and fellow tenants might have. That’s especially true when it comes to whether your pet is allowed or not to serve as an emotional support animal. An ESA letter reassures them that you’re not passing regular pets for therapy animals.

An ESA letter written by a licensed therapist serves as a clear line of communication between you and those who need to know. It clears ambiguity and resolves uncertainties over your animal’s role and rights while addressing skepticism about ESAs.

Enjoy the Company of Your ESA Without Worrying About Restrictions

Most housing properties impose size, breed, and weight restrictions on pets, especially dogs. A legitimate ESA letter exempts you from these restrictions, even if the housing has a no-pets policy. Landlords and HOAs cannot refuse to admit your emotional assistance animal unless it poses a safety risk to others. You can have multiple breeds or animal types if your letter recommends it.

How to Get Emotional Support Animal Letter From a Licensed Mental Health Professional

The first step to getting an ESA is to obtain a doctor’s note or letter from a licensed mental health professional. This letter must state that you have any mental or emotional conditions and that an ESA would provide you with a therapeutic benefit.

There are a few different ways to get an ESA letter. You can talk to your current therapist, psychologist, social worker, counselor, or psychiatrist. We are sure they will be more than happy to help you.

Working with a licensed mental health professional specializing in ESAs is more straightforward and hassle-free. Multiple online providers offer ESA letter services. The trick is to find a reputable site like ESA Pet with good BBB standing.

When all’s said and done, the overarching step is to talk to a licensed healthcare provider. The good thing is that an ESA letter obtained online from a licensed therapist is just as valid as one from an in-person provider. You should be able to get your signed ESA letter within three business days.

A valid ESA letter has to cover all the following bases:

  • Issued by a licensed medical practitioner. This could be a licensed mental health practitioner like a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist. Other healthcare providers, such as social workers, registered nurses, physicians, physician’s assistants, and nurse practitioners, can help.
  • Provided on the licensed provider’s official letter – it must be dated, signed, and feature the professional’s contact and licensing details.
  • Establish that you have an emotional or mental disability and that an emotional support animal would help manage your mental or emotional condition symptoms.

Suppose you’re having trouble finding a healthcare provider familiar with emotional support animals. In that case, ESA PET can help connect you to a licensed therapist in your state. The whole process is straightforward and confidential.

Get Your Emotional Support Animal

The chances are good that you already own a cute and cuddly pet. If you are pet-less, don’t sweat it. When you’re approved for an ESA letter, you can start your hunt for a companion animal to adopt. You can choose from a laundry list of animals that can be ESAs, with dogs and cats at the forefront.

It all boils down to your personal preferences and needs for an ESA. If you have allergies, it’s a no-brainer to go for a hypoallergenic pet like poodles, birds, and dogs that don’t shed.

If your life and work life are hectic, it makes sense to pick an ESA that isn’t finicky. A set-it-and-forget-it pet like a hamster, dog, or bird can fit the bill. We all want to do good while getting better, which is why adopting an ESA from a local animal shelter or rescue facility can tick all the right boxes.

How Do I Take Care of an Emotional Support Animal?

You want to take immaculate care of your furry friend to keep your ESA happy and healthy. Your companion animal can only care for you if you get a handle on their upkeep.

Caring for an ESA is the same as taking care of your pet. It would help if you stuck to general hygiene, health, and nutrition advice.

Help Your ESA Exercise

Regular exercise is integral to caring for an emotional support animal’s health and well-being. Whether your ESA is a dog or cat, it’s crucial to keep them physically and mentally active. You should aim to walk dogs for at least 30 minutes daily, broken into shorter sessions if one long walk isn’t feasible.

Walking provides dogs with much-needed physical activity while allowing mental stimulation and socialization opportunities through basic obedience training and interacting with their environment. Practice commands like “sit” and “stay” during walks to reinforce positive behaviors.

While cats don’t require as much intensive exercise as dogs, playing with them for 10-15 minutes daily is still beneficial. Interactive cat toys like feather wands, laser pointers, or toys they can bat around can help satisfy their instincts to hunt and play.

You can also set up climbing structures, platforms, and scratching posts to encourage activity. Consider interactive feeders that also make cats “work” for their food. Even just 10 minutes of play daily can help prevent obesity or behavioral issues in cats.

Ensure Your ESA Is Properly Hydrated

Keeping your ESA hydrated is crucial, primarily if you feed your pet mainly dry food. Without enough water, your companion may face issues like urinary tract infections or kidney problems.

Dogs generally have good instincts to drink enough on their own when you give them fresh water. Leave a bowl of clean water where your emotional support dog eats their meals. They quickly lap H20 when it’s close to the food source.

Some dogs prefer moving water to still water. You could try a pet water fountain if your dog seems disinterested in drinking from a regular bowl. The flowing water mimics a natural stream and may entice them to drink more.

Cats and birds can be picky about taking their H20. Their instinct is to get moisture from their food rather than an open water bowl. Place multiple bowls across the pathway of your pet to encourage drinking. You can add a few drops of stew or tuna to the dry food for your cat.

Providing a Safe and Secure Environment

An ESA is allowed to live with you, which means everything goes wrong regarding providing a safe environment. If you own a curious or young pet, you should pet-proof your home and eliminate anything that could hurt them. We’re talking cleaning products, chemicals, and meds. Tuck them away in closed high cabinets.

Ensure outdoor spaces are well-fenced or gated to keep your ESA secure. Ensure to trim hedges and bushes to deter your animal from veering into unsafe places unsupervised. Installing outdoor cameras and motion-activated sensors could help you closely monitor your pet.

Don’t Forget to Groom Your ESA

Groom your ESA regularly to keep them healthy and clean. A well-kempt companion animal isn’t easy on the eyes; their presence can melt your stress and anxiety away.

How to Treat Dog Constipation at Home

If your dog seems “stopped up,” try adding fiber supplements to food, gentle exercise, and plenty of fresh water. For mild cases, natural remedies like prunes, pumpkin, or warm olive oil can help things move along. See the vet for persistent constipation or painful bowel movements.

Taking an Emotional Support Animal’s Temperature

Knowing how to take your pet’s temperature is vital for monitoring their health and catching illnesses early. Wondering how to handle dogs’ temperature?

Use a digital thermometer lubricated with pet-safe gel for emotional support dogs and cats. Gently insert it into their rectum and hold it still for the reading to register. Average temperature ranges are 100-102°F for dogs and 100-101°F for cats.

Feeding an Emotional Support Animal

Feed your ESA a high-quality diet appropriate for their age, breed, and activity level. Remember to provide a nutritious diet tailored to your assistance animals’ species and life stage.

It pays to measure the recommended daily amount of food and provide fresh water for emotional support dogs and larger animals like horses. For birds, cats, and smaller animals, automatic feeders can help tide things over while you are away or busy. For dogs, look for a high-quality kibble appropriate for their size, age, and activity level.

Taking an Emotional Support Animal to the Veterinary

Regular vet checkups are non-negotiable. Your ESA should see the vet at least once yearly for exams, vaccinations, and preventive care. Make sure to attend appointments. Your vet can treat any medical issues and watch for signs of disease, so bring vaccination records to each visit.

Training Emotional Support Animals

Aside from caring for your ESA, you should train your animal to be a good and well-behaved citizen of your household and building. You must remember that emotional assistance animals are not legally required to be trained or certified.

While ESAs do not require specialized training related to disabilities like service animals do, it is still essential to provide basic obedience training. As with a service animal, this helps ensure your ESA is well-behaved in all environments.

ESAs differ from service animals in providing emotional support, comfort, and companionship rather than performing specific tasks. However, all pets benefit from training.

You can train your ESA yourself through positive reinforcement techniques. Start with basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “leave it.” Practice in short sessions multiple times per day. Be consistent and patient, as training is a process.

It may also help to enroll in a beginner obedience class, especially for young or energetic breeds. Group training classes offer socialization benefits and the opportunity to learn hands-on from an instructor. They can guide potty training, leash manners, and more.

While housing laws do not require ESA training, landlords can deny a dangerous or disruptive animal. Proper training demonstrates your ESA is well-behaved and not a nuisance or safety risk. It also sets an excellent example for other ESA owners.

If there are other options than self or group training, hiring a private trainer can ensure your ESA learns good habits. A well-trained ESA reflects positively on you and strengthens your rights under the Fair Housing Act.

Common Questions on Getting an Emotional Support Animal

What Are My Responsibilities as an ESA Owner?

As an ESA owner, you are responsible for providing your emotional support animal with proper care and light (optional) training, especially regarding behavior. You are also responsible for ensuring your ESA behaves appropriately in public places.

Can My ESA Be Denied Access to Public Places?

Yes. Your emotional support animal has limited public access, particularly when compared to psychiatric service dogs and other service animals. Under ACAA, your pet friend can come with you to the cabin of the plane or train. The same goes for no-pets housing, as long as you present a legitimate ESA letter to the landlord.

That’s not to say ESAs are permitted in all public places, significantly where they can compromise safety and health codes. We’re talking grocery stores, restaurants, or other places that serve food. Unlike emotional support animals, psychiatric service dogs can accompany the handler to most public places. Service animals can go with you to class, workplace, restaurants, and whatnot. Still, you must obtain a psychiatric service dog letter from a licensed mental health professional.

How Can I Prove the Legitimacy of My ESA?

The easiest and most effective way to establish the legitimacy of your emotional support animal is to obtain a signed doctor’s note or, better yet, an ESA letter from a licensed therapist. Although optional, having your animal trained, vested, or registered may help perk up its legitimacy.

Can I Travel Internationally With My ESA?

You can generally travel internationally with your ESA. It all boils down to whether the transit or destination country recognizes emotional support animals. Some countries treat ESAs to the same standards as pets. You can travel alongside your companion animal in the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, and most of Europe if you have a legit ESA travel letter.

Can My ESA Be Taken Away if I Violate Any Rules?

Yes and no. Your landlord cannot deny your right to live with your ESA without a valid reason under the FHA. Even if you break the rules, like accessing no-pet areas, your animal cannot be removed.

However, certain circumstances allow your animal to be taken away. Suppose your ESA is found to be disruptive, dangerous or causing damage to property despite training. In that case, your landlord may issue a complaint. They need to provide evidence of the behavior issues to the proper authorities. You would then be able to correct the problem through additional training before more serious actions are taken.

You must also follow housing rules like noise ordinances and clean-up policies for pets. You could be warned or fined if you fail to comply. However, repeated or severe violations over time may cause your landlord to request the removal of the animal, especially if you fail to remedy the situation.

Misrepresenting your pet as an ESA when any licensed mental health professional does not prescribe it is illegal under federal law. Landlords have the right to verify an ESA letter if provided one. Falsifying documentation could lead to eviction and other penalties.

Can I Have More Than One ESA?

Yes, you can have more than one ESA. The caveat is that you must ensure all your emotional support animals are covered by your ESA letter. You can obtain separate ESA letters for each animal, but one can cover all.

Can I Get an ESA for a Family Member?

Yes. You can obtain an emotional support animal for your kid, parent, or other loved ones. Ensure a licensed healthcare provider evaluates and approves your family member for an ESA letter.

Are There Any Legal Restrictions on ESAs in My State?

Some states may impose some legal restrictions on ESAs. Certain ESA breeds deemed “dangerous” may have ownership bans or insurance requirements in some states despite emotional support animals having no breed or size restrictions.

The upside is that most states give additional rights to ESAs beyond the ACAA and FHA. For instance, California allows ESAs in the workplace if there are five or more employees.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal: Final Thoughts

Obtaining an emotional support animal isn’t a single-step process. Still, it can go a long way in making your life easier if you suffer from a mental health condition. It pays to consult a licensed mental health professional to discuss whether an ESA could help alleviate your symptoms.

If the therapist finds a companion animal that can help with your disability, they will issue an ESA letter. This documents your pet as an ESA, allowing you to stay closer to your furry friend. Use the ESA letter to convince landlords and airlines to let you live and travel with your animal.

Once you welcome your new furry friend home, it pays to care for your ESA. Regular exercise, a good diet, ongoing vet checkups, and training could do the trick. This ensures your ESA is well-behaved and can provide the therapeutic benefits and emotional support you need.