Your Ultimate Guide to Emotional Support Animals - What Is An ESA?


If you have an emotional or psychological condition, an emotional support animal can be a great therapeutic option for you. Having comforting animals around has been proven to enhance dopamine levels. This means that keeping a furry friend at your side can decrease anxiety and stabilize your emotions. That is what having an emotional support can be a major asset for many people. 

While they can be a great source of support, dealing with the logistics of having emotional support animals can be tricky at times. There is a lot of confusion about the difference between emotional support animals and service dogs, as well as which places emotional support animals get access to legally. 

Has your doctor recommended a furry four-legged companion? Here is everything that you need to know about having an emotional support animal and getting set up with the right documentation.

Who Needs Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional Support Animal

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are those animals that have been recommended by a doctor and appointed to provide assistance. While they are different from service animals, they are recognized by United States federal law. Although service animals are limited to particular types of animals and breeds, a wide range of animals can be considered emotional support animals. These emotional support animals are used to treat issues like depression, anxiety, phobias, and other emotional or psychological conditions. 

Of course, the only way to determine if an emotional support animal is right for you is to talk to your doctor. If you have any of the above conditions, bringing up the idea of an emotional support animals to your doctor could be a great option. All you need to qualify for an emotion support animal is to receive a recommendation from your doctor or mental health professional. 

It is also important to note that any type of animal or breed of dog can qualify as an emotional support animal. If an animal comforts you, it could be a great option for providing you with the support that you need.  

Register An Emotional Support Animal

Conditions That Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

According to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a physical disability is “[a]ny physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine.”

Some of the common conditions that qualify for a service dog include autism, arthritis, asthma, blindness, deafness, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, paralysis, scoliosis, and seizures. On the other hand, emotional support animals are commonly recommended for conditions like anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, mood disorders, neurocognitive disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, psychotic conditions, and substance abuse problems. 

Access to Housing with Emotional Support Animals

Housing with Emotional Support Animals

According to the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), it is illegal to discriminate against someone with a recognized impairment. This law is relevant to emotional support animals because it means that housing rights must be given to those with emotional support animals. In other words, even if a property has a “no pets” policy, they must make reasonable accommodation to emotional support animals. This applies to public housing, college dorms, and any other accommodation. It is worth noting, however that this law does not override existing health codes. For example, some states have public health laws that prohibit dogs, including emotional support animals, in swimming pools

Generally speaking, landlords must accept emotional support animals but it is not always a clear cut situation. From a legal standpoint, a landlord is required to establish that a potential tenant has a physical or mental impairment that majorly impacts daily life. Secondly, you will want to show your landlord evidence that the emotional support animal is able to provide support to daily life. The majority of the time a letter from your doctor explaining your need for an emotional support animal. While “reasonable accommodation” must be made, there are some exceptions. Legally, a private club doesn’t need to accept emotional support animals. Likewise, a building with four or few rental units that is landlord-occupied does not need to need accept emotional support animals nor does a single-family home that is rented without a real estate broker.

Staying in an Airbnb with Emotional Support Animals

If you are staying in temporary housing via Airbnb, it is important to note that they have a clear policy of nondiscrimination. They require all of their Airbnb hosts to accept animals that accommodate any type of “physical, psychiatric, intellectual or mental disability.” Unless a host can demonstrate that the support animal provides a particular health or safety concern (i.e. the host is allergic to dogs), they must accept service pets, emotional support animals, therapy animals, and comfort animals. 

While Airbnb recommends informing your host that you will be staying with an emotional support animal, it is not actually required. It is also important to note that guests aren’t required to provide hosts with any documentation of a need for a service animal. If a host refuses a guest with an emotional support animal, Airbnb recommends that the guest file a complaint report with Airbnb to get the issue resolved and prevent the host from causing future issues.  

Flying with Emotional Support Animals

While some airlines don’t allow pets, it is always possible to fly with emotional support animals. According to the The Air Carrier Access Act, it is against the law to not allow disabled individuals access to a flight. It is essential to provide documentation, however, so come prepared. While you don’t necessarily need to contact the airline in advance, it is a good idea to plan ahead of time so there are no surprises.

Airline Pet Policies

Official Emotional Support Animals

It is also a smart idea to get an official certificate for your emotional support animal. Registering your emotional support dog isn’t legally required but it makes it makes your life easier. Registering with US Service Animals gives you a certificate that you can use for access to properties, airlines, and other essential spaces. One handy thing about getting registered is that you will get an identifying vest with a photo ID, certificate, and an entry in the largest Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal database in the United States. Another notable perk is that US Service Animals offers 24/7 legal professionals and support staff who can help you anytime that you may have issues with your emotional support animal.  

Start Your Official Emotional Support Animal Registration

If you are thinking about registering any emotional support animals, it is essential to keep your eyes open to scams. It is crucial to realize that getting registered with an emotional support animal shouldn’t be too easy. If you can get an instant approval, it is probably a scam. To give official documentation, it is essential to talk to a board-certified doctor. If a company offers to set you up with emotional support animal certification instantly and for a very low price, beware! Also, keep in mind that you will need a letter from your doctor every year for an emotional support animal so there is no such thing as a lifetime certification. 

Essential ID for Emotional Support Animals 

Emotional Support Animal ID And Certificate

Legally speaking, it is not necessary to have a vest, leash, tag, or collar for your emotion support animal. All you just need to have a note from your doctor for your emotional support animal to be considered essential.  While technically these are the rules, it is not always as easy in practice. To prevent confusion and ensure that you and your emotional support animal always have easy access to anywhere that you would like to go, it is often a good idea to have identifying information like a vest. By having this information visible, it clearly distinguishes your emotional support animal from a pet. This can often prevent you from even having to answer any questions or face any delays. 

Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals

Wondering about the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal? While people often confuse the terms, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has very clear definitions. To be considered a service animal, the owner must have a disability. According to the ADA, a disability is different from having an impairment. 

Typically, a mental illness is considered to be an impairment unless it leaves it significantly affects your ability to function. Of course, only a doctor can decide this and it is the doctor’s opinion that will determine your classification. It is also worth noting that pѕусhiаtriс sеrviсе animаlѕ fall under a different qualification as well. One key distinction is that pѕусhiаtriс sеrviсе animаlѕ and service dogs need to be trained. While emotional support animals can’t disturb people, they don’t have to meet any particular training requirements for their designation. 

Service animals are typically dogs or miniature horses. They usually work with people who are deaf, blind, suffering from seizures, or confined to a wheelchair. These service animals are specifically trained to manage the unique symptoms that come with these conditions. Service animals are trained to recognize and help to deal with symptoms as they arise. While they both provide valuable service, these differences are important.