US Service Animals - Can You Get a Service Dog for Anxiety?


Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the world, affecting over 40 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older. There are many medications, remedies and treatments available for this condition. Although this widespread epidemic is highly treatable, only around 35% of Americans who are affected actually receive treatment. There are many options besides pharmaceutical drugs for anxiety treatment. Animal lovers who suffer from anxiety often have the question of whether they would be eligible to have a service dog for anxiety. The answer is yes; you can absolutely get a service dog for a mental illness, including anxiety. 

What are Service Dogs?

You may hear service dog and think that it is one of the animals that assists cops or military personnel. Dogs can be trained to do this, but these types of dogs aren’t the service dogs we are referring to.

Service dogs are specifically trained to help make the day-to-day life of their owner better. They can help with different aspects of everyday life for their owner who is suffering from a disability. Service dogs are put to the test. They have to make it through and pass extensive training before they can officially become a service dog. This helps give individuals some peace of mind knowing that their companion is extremely well trained and reliable.

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Service dogs are typically used by individuals with hearing or visual impairments, but those suffering from depression or anxiety can also utilize this furry companion. Not all dogs can become a service animal, the most common breeds are Labs, Golden Retrievers, and German shepherds.

How Do Service Dogs Help Those with Anxiety?

A service dog can help individuals who have anxiety in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Detecting signs of anxiety attacks before they begin.
  • Retrieving water or meds during the attack.
  • Getting someone to help if the owner is in distress.
  • Warding off strangers if the owner is in distress.
  • Distract the owner during anxiety attack to help calm them down.
  • Provide pressure to help soothe owner.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

There are many ways psychiatric service dogs can help people with mental disabilities such as anxiety. Psychiatric service dogs can be trained to bring medication or water to their owner at the first sign of an anxiety attack. Dogs may also lead someone to their owner to help with an emotional crisis, or bring a phone during an anxiety attack in order for the owner to call their therapist or support person. Psychiatric service dogs provide love and comfort, often with tactile support such as licking their owner’s face or applying pressure to their owner’s chest or abdomen to disrupt an anxiety attack. 

How to Get a Service Dog

To get a service dog, an owner must meet several criteria. First, the owner must have a physical or mental disability that affects their day-to-day life, and must be able to show that the animal can provide a service that benefits the person’s specific illness. You will need to see a physician to request a recommendation to apply for a psychiatric service dog. There are specific requirements in place that the individual must meet before they can bring home a furry companion.

  • Have a physical disability, specific illness, or disorder.
  • You need to be present during your dog’s training.
  • You must still be able to give commands and care for your dog.
  • Your home environment must be stable.
  • Recommendation letter from healthcare provider.
  • Finances to care for dog.

Dog owners must be able to command and care for their service dog independently and provide a stable home environment for their animal.  Often, owners are required to be a part of their service dog’s training. 

How Much Does A Service Dog Cost

The help provided by a service dog may be invaluable to you, but the toll on your bank account may cause you to second guess.

Service dogs are expensive because of the training that is involved to get them to reach a high caliber. Training could cost anywhere between $30-$40,000. On top of this you have the regular food, grooming and vet costs each year. Some organizations will help individuals receive service dogs at little to no cost through fundraising. If cost is an issue for you, you aren’t immediately ruled out.

Service dogs can change your life and it is only fitting that every individual in need can be presented with that opportunity.

Can Your Dog Become My Service Animal

You may already have a dog and think that you can put it through training to become your service animal, but this isn’t how it works. Dogs that have already been trained as pets can’t be trained as service animals.

What If You Don't Qualify For A Service Dog

Some individuals may greatly benefit from having a trained animal companion, but they may not meet the specific requirements for a service dog.

These individuals aren’t out of luck. They still have the possibility of being able to obtain an emotional support dog. Those with anxiety are typically given the go ahead for these animals. In most cases all that is needed to obtain an emotional support dog is a letter from your medical professional. It may sound silly, but this letter is literally a prescription for an emotional support dog. Imagine if every prescription prescribed involved animals, what a crazy world we live in!

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are a great option for people who suffer from a milder form of anxiety and may not need the level of support a psychiatric service dog provides. Emotional support animals are easier to obtain and more cost-efficient than service dogs. Unlike service animals, strictly limited to dogs, there are many animals which can be considered emotional support animals, including dogs, cats, horses, pigs and even hamsters. However, service dogs are covered under more laws that allow them to be exempt from rules regarding where and when these animals are allowed access. Emotional support animals undergo less intensive training, and existing pets can often be trained as emotional support animals. The main role of these animals is to provide emotional support and comfort throughout the day and in times of distress.  Pet owners also need a letter from a physician to have an emotional support animal. 

If you suffer from anxiety or another mental illness, a psychiatric service dog may be the right treatment for you. Whether your anxiety is debilitating and something that hinders your everyday life, or a more mild disability, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to discuss the possible treatment options that could be right for you.