Emotional Support Animal vs Service Animal | What You Need

A common mistake made by many is assuming that an emotional support animal – or an ESA – is the same thing as a service animal. However, this is not the case, and there are major differences between the two that it is important to be aware of. While it is true that both emotional support animals and service animals have some similarities, the purpose of the animal and often the type of animal are far different. 

It can be helpful to have a full understanding of the differences between an emotional support animal and a service animal in order to make an informed decision as to which one is most appropriate for you. Otherwise, you may risk attempting to get the wrong registration for your pet, purchasing an animal that is not right for you or not having adequate treatment for a physical or mental condition.

Both emotional support animals and service animals can be incredibly helpful to those with physical or mental disabilities, and both have made the lives of many much better and have lead to an overall much higher quality of life. While some disabilities or health concerns may not result in the need for an ESA or service animal – or having a therapy dog is adequate enough – there are many instances where having one is required. The following is everything to know about both emotional support animals and service animals, including what each one is, how they are different and how to register an ESA or service animal.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal – which is commonly referred to as an ESA – is any type of animal that is there to provide comfort and support to its owner. While the most common type of emotional support animal is a dog, an ESA can be anything from a small bird to a horse. The most common reason someone may be in need of an emotional support animal is that they have a mental health issue they are dealing with, which could be anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress or a number of different mental health conditions. 

It is important to make the distinction between an emotional support animal and other forms of supportive animals – namely therapy dogs and service animals(see below). A therapy dog is often confused with an ESA due to the fact that their main purpose is to provide comfort and help people be more at ease mentally. However, therapy dogs are not licensed and recommended through a mental health professional, so they do not carry the benefits an emotional support animal does. 

In order to obtain an emotional support animal, one must be evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist. Here at U.S. Service Animals, we make the process for those who are in need of an emotional support animal easy to get an ESA letter, which gives them many benefits such as housing accommodations and the ability to fly with the ESA. 

In other words, an emotional support animal helps people with mental health complications deal with their concerns more effectively. They are loving animals that provide companionship and comfort to the person, and since they are protected and allowed by law in many places, the owner of an ESA can have their pet with them just about anywhere they want to go, including airplanes, restaurants, etc. 

Register Your Pet As An Emotional Support Animal

What Is a Service Animal?

A service animal is any animal that is trained to perform a specific task for individuals with a disability. One of the main distinctions between a service animal and an emotional support animal is that a service animal can be used to treat a variety of issues, including physical and mental concerns, whereas an ESA is specifically used for emotional support. 

Another important note to make is that service animals are almost always a dog, and it is very rare to see a different type of animal for a service animal. One of the main reasons for this is the animal must be highly trained in many instances and reliable in performing the task it was trained to do.

There is a wide range of reasons one may need a service animal, including to be used as a guide, seizure alert or allergy detection. When comparing service animals to emotional support animals and therapy dogs, service animals are much more highly trained, and they often require a specific breed to ensure the animal is capable of carrying out their intended purpose.

The fact is service animals play a vital role in the health of their owner, and most who have a service animal rely on them for large portions of each day. Subsequently, many who have a service animal grow very close with their animal, and they become best friends that do everything together. 

It is important to be able to recognize when a service animal is needed – as opposed to when a therapy dog or emotional support animal is needed – to ensure proper care is given. If the issue is a physical disability – such as loss of vision – then a service animal is likely required. For those who are in need, the entire registration process can be completed here with U.S. Service Animals. 

Register Your Pet As A Service Animal

How Is an ESA and Service Animal Different?

One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to emotional support animals and service animals is what the differences are between the two. Before diving into the differences, it is important to note that they are similar, which is why there is often some ambiguity around the question. They are similar in the sense that they are both there to support the health of their owner, although the method in doing so is different. 

Perhaps the most notable difference between an ESA and service animal is that a service animal is required to undergo much more extensive training than an ESA, and their ability to carry out their job duties is much more important. Whereas an emotional support animal may only be responsible for providing love and affection, a service animal often has to guide its owner through populated areas, notice signs of health complications and many more complex tasks. 

Another difference between the two is what animals qualify for each. Essentially any animal can become an emotional support animal as long as they are not aggressive and affectionate enough to comfort their owner. On the other hand, not every dog can become a service dog. Service animals require in-depth training most often conducted by a professional dog trainer. Subsequently, many people who currently have a pet cannot just turn the dog into a service animal, and in many instances, it requires a new dog that is trained at a young age to perform the necessary task. However, those who are in need of an emotional support animal(see below) can register their current pet rather easily through our site. 

Who Needs an Emotional Support Animal?

While it is important to know exactly what an emotional support animal is, the information is not useful if you do not know when one may be needed. By understanding the signs as to when an emotional support animal is required, you can ensure you take action and get the treatment needed for any mental health issues you may experience. 

An emotional support animal is a rather broad term and it applies to many people who experience different types of disabilities and mental health concerns. However, there are some conditions that are more commonly treated through an ESA animal than others, including but not limited to the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • ADD
  • Learning issues
  • PTSD 

One of the main reasons – if not the main reason – a mental health professional gives an ESA letter to a patient is to ease their anxiety. The fact of the matter is life can be stressful, and the stress life brings can weigh on many in such a manner it causes them to alter the way they live their life on a daily basis. For many, however, having a loving emotional support animal there by their side can help make life much easier and happier overall. In a similar manner, many with depression find an ESA to be useful in helping them overcome their sadness and lack of motivation. 

While anxiety and depression are perhaps the two main reasons for an emotional support animal, many also use them to treat ADD and learning issues as it allows the person to be more at ease mentally and able to focus better each and every day. Last but not least, many soldiers – and others who have experienced a traumatic event – find having a loving companion in the form of an emotional support animal to be a great way to overcome the trauma and find peace and happiness out of life once again. 

Who Needs a Service Animal?

The differences between an emotional support animal and a service animal are likely quite clear at this point, but it is still important to understand why a service animal is needed as well. Keep in mind, a service animal is a much more well-trained animal that often carries a much higher level of responsibility. While there are instances where an animal other than a dog may be a service animal, some of the more common reasons for a service dog in particular include:

  • Walk guidance
  • Hearing impairments
  • Seizure alert
  • Diabetic alert
  • Allergy detection

One of the most well-known types of service animals is a guide dog, which is there to guide visually impaired individuals while walking. In fact, guide dogs have been around for so long that they can be dated back to Roman times. However, visual impairment is just one of many different types of service animals, and there are other forms as well, including dogs that help alert a person of an oncoming seizure. The idea os a seizure alert dog is still being studied, but many experts believe there are certain breeds that have an innate ability to detect a seizure that is around the corner. Seizure alert dogs, which help ensure a person gets the care after a seizure begins, are also a type of service animal. Diabetic alert dogs – or DADs – are also fairly common, and they help alert individuals with diabetes when there is an unhealthy change to their blood sugar. 

How to Register an ESA or Service Animal

The process for registering an emotional support animal and a service animal is very similar, and you can complete each step through our site. The first step in having a pet registered as an ESA or service animal is to simply give us a call. And we can guide you through the rest of the process.

Of course, registering an ESA or service animal can only be done at the recommendation of a medical professional, and we are fortunate to have medical professionals available through the phone so you can get an ESA letter in a convenient manner.  After you give us a call and fill out the information of your pet, we can set up a time for you to be evaluated by a medical professional to determine whether or not an emotional support animal or service animal is right for you. If your dog is accepted as an ESA or service animal, we can then send you the ESA letter or license for the service animal and ensure you get the care you need for your disability.

Consult With Us

Emotional support animals and service animals are much more than just pets, and they serve an important role in the health and well-being of their owner. If you want to take the first step towards getting an ESA or service animal or would like to have your own pet registered, consult with us today and we can guide you through the entire process. Everyone deserves to know they are in good physical and mental health and are covered if an incident did occur, and an ESA or service animal can ensure that is the case.