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The Basics You Should Know About Emotional Service Animals

emotional support animal cartoon with signs about basics

Over the past few years, you may have noticed that more people are choosing to bring their animals along with them to various places such as the grocery store or even on an airplane. Unlike service animals who are animals trained to perform tasks for physically disabled people, emotional service animals (also known as emotional support animals or ESA’s) are those who have been prescribed to provide comfort and reduce negative symptoms of an emotional disability. If you are interested in making your pet an emotional service animal because of a mental disability, you will need to be aware of the laws regarding your pet.

In this article, we’ll talk more about emotional support animals (ESA’s), the reasons you may need one, common misconceptions, and frequently asked questions and answers.

Reasons You May Need an ESA

If you are wondering if you could benefit from an emotional support animal, here are a few things to consider. It does require some action on your part to ensure that you are following all laws regarding these types of support animals.


In order to quality for an emotional support animal, a person must be diagnosed as emotionally disabled by a professional in the mental health field such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. The evidence stating this is often written in a formatted prescription letter. These types of letters are typically not written by a medical doctor, even though some places do accept a verification letter if it has been filled out by a family doctor. MyPetCerts has it made it easy to qualify for an Emotional Support Animal online, by providing access to a network of therapists, who can approve and write your ESA letter in a matter of minutes!

Common Emotional Disabilities

Emotional support animals provide and give comfort to those with a common emotional disability. Common emotional disabilities where many people can benefit from having an emotional support animal range from depression to phobias. These emotional disabilities often make it difficult for people to live their lives and so they can benefit from having a support animal. We’ll discuss the most common emotional disabilities in detail below.

Anxiety Being anxious is a normal emotion. However, those with anxiety disorders can struggle to lead a normal life. The constant fear and worry are overwhelming, often disabling. People with anxiety disabilities commonly suffer from panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or phobias.

Depression Depression is a mental mood disorder that commonly causes a loss of interest and feeling of sadness. It can affect how you think, feel, and behave. It can even lead to a variety of physical and emotional problems. It is a weakness that you can’t just “snap out” of.


PTSD Post-traumatic stress disorder (known as PTSD) is a potentially disabling condition that can occur in those who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, terrorist incident, accident, war, violent assault, death of a loved one, or another traumatizing event. People with PTSD are commonly anxious or depressed for months or even years after the event.

Social Phobia Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, is the overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social events. Often, this anxiety is based on the fear of being judged by other people or doing something embarrassing that will lead to ridicule.

ADD/ADHD While it is commonly known as something that affects children, ADD/ADHD can affect adults as well. If you have ADD/ADHD, you are probably commonly disorganized, constantly late, forgetful, and overwhelmed by your responsibilities. You probably struggle to listen and struggle to complete tasks.

Panic Attacks Panic attacks, also known as panic disorders, can suddenly strike when you least expect them. Those with panic attacks have feelings of terror, chest pain, sweating, heart palpitations, or even the feeling of choking. To some, it can feel like a heart attack. This type of mental disorder is particularly debilitating.

If you are currently suffering from a mental illness and think you can benefit from having an Emotional Support Animal, you will want to determine if you qualify first. Try the Free Online Quiz to see if you qualify for an ESA.

Common Misconceptions About ESA’s

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there are quite a few misconceptions about emotional support animals. Here, we will set the record straight on these myths you might have heard.

“Emotional support animals and service animals are the same”

It can be easy to mistake one for the other. However, emotional support animals are not considered “working” service animals. One big difference between the two is that working service dogs are trained to do certain specific tasks, such as assisting a blind person. Also, emotional support animals have less legal protections. Service animals are often allowed in more places than emotional support animals.

“Emotional support animals are fake service dogs”

Emotional support animals are most certainly not fake service animals. They are legitimate and legally allowed to assist in emotional disorders. They have major legal differences.

“Emotional support animals are okay to pet”

It may be tempting to want to reach out and pet that cute, friendly-looking dog. However, don’t touch a service animal unless you have direct permission from the owner first. This applies to emotional support animals and “working” service animals.

“You have to disclose why you have an emotional support animal”

As an emotional support animal owner, you are protected by federal law from being asked probing questions that may violate your privacy. The only questions you can be asked are, “Does your dog provide a service?” and “What is your dog trained to do?”

“Emotional support animals can only be dogs”

Emotional support animals don’t have to be just dogs. Any type of domesticated animal can qualify as long as they are not a nuisance and can be managed in public areas. The animal will undergo an individual assessment to determine if it poses a threat to the public.

“ESA’s must be trained”

No, ESA’s do not need specialized training. Their role is to provide companionship, emotional comfort, friendship, and affection to their handler or owner. Just their presence is enough to mitigate the stress associated with the owner’s emotional disability. However, the animal must generally be well-behaved and not a safety issue to others.

“ESA’s are covered by the ADA”

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not granted access to places of public accommodation under the ADA. These places include local government buildings, businesses open to the public, public transportation, and non-profit organizations that are open to the public.

FAQs About ESA’s

Now that we have cleared those misconceptions up, let’s look at the frequently asked questions and answers about ESA’s.

Where are Emotional Support Animals allowed?

One of the biggest questions about emotional support animals is where they are allowed. ESA’s are allowed in fewer places than traditional service animals. They do not have special rights to access any business, except where individual states have changed this right.

Camps, motels, and hotels are treated as businesses and emotional support dogs are treated as pets. Therefore, the business can determine what animals they will allow. However, the FHA (Fair Housing Act) notes that a person can keep an emotional support dog in housing that otherwise notes a “no pets” policy.

What protections are provided by the FHA for ESA’s?

The Federal Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on certain factors, such as national origin, race, color, gender or handicapped persons. Not only it is illegal to discriminate, but a landlord must make reasonable accommodations in order for the handicapped person to enjoy and use a dwelling unit, including common use and public areas. If the tenant has provided a letter from his mental health physician stating that the renter has a mental disability, explaining that the animal is needed to lessen the effects of the disability and requesting that the animal be allowed in the rental unit as reasonable accommodation, it is unlawful for the landlord to deny or discriminate on that basis.

Can you have more than 1 ESA?

Regarding multiple animals, the case for reasonable accommodation would still be the same. For example, if someone was claiming the need for multiple emotional support animals, the person would need to provide documentation supporting this need from a medical professional. There will need to be proof that each support animal will alleviate some symptom of the disability.

What documentation is needed for an ESA?

Owners of emotional support animals will need to have documentation from a doctor or other healthcare professional. A psychiatrist, physician, social worker, or any other mental health professional can provide documentation. The document must say that the animals provides emotional support and alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms of an existing disability. It is typically a note from your doctor.

Can breed restrictions be put on ESA dogs?

No. There is to be no breed, size, or weight limitations on assistance animals. However, housing providers may determine if a specific assistance animal poses a threat to the safety and health of others. This determination of threat must be based on evidence of the animal’s conduct. Breed alone does not result in the in the determination of a threat.

What if my city or county has a ban on certain breeds of dogs?

HUD (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) specifies that weight, size, and breed restrictions are not applied to assistance animals. A housing provider will need to see if the assistance animal in question poses a threat to other residents.

Should you have to pay a pet deposit for your ESA? 

According to HUD, housing providers may not charge a “pet fee” for an assistance or emotional support animal. These types of animals are not considered pets and are not subject to pet fees.

Is an Emotional Support Animal allowed on on-campus or university housing?

Many colleges or universities have “no pets” rules in regards to their housing. However, one case noted that on-campus housing does meet the definition of “dwelling” in the FHA (Fair Housing Act). Because of this, it ruled that the college was required to make reasonable accommodations for disabled students in on-campus housing. Many universities and colleges have adopted policies for assistance animals in their on-campus housing.

Who can write an ESA letter that is valid?

Any Qualified Mental Health Professional who is licensed in any jurisdiction or state can write a valid ESA letter. In order for the letter to be valid, the professional must provide their licensing information and confirm their license is up to date. With the growing demand of Tele-Medicine, you may even use online services to access these professionals to obtain ESA letters. If you would like to  determine if you can qualify for an ESA in a matter of minutes, try this Free Online Quiz.

What happens when you fly with an ESA?

Federal Law recognizes that those suffering from certain types of psychological or emotional issues should be allowed to have their ESA’s with them while they fly. However, the person must be supported by a Qualified Mental Health Professional’s diagnosis and prescription.

When flying with an animal, you’ll need to present your Emotional Support Animal letter to the ticket agent along with other flight documents such as your ID. As long as your letter is not more than one year old, the airline must allow you to bring your animal on board.

Do ESA’s need identifying badges, etc?

No, it is not necessary to buy a uniform or a badge for your ESA. However, it is wise to register your pet as an ESA with a Service Animal registry.

Does an ESA prescriptive letter expire? 

If you require a prescriptive letter for flying, it is valid for one year after the date it was issued. When the letter has expired, a new assessment is required before another prescriptive letter can be issued.

Is there a size limit to ESA’s? 

No, there is no size limit or discrimination when it comes to ESA’s. Airlines are required to allow ESA’s to accompany you to your seat regardless of the size of your animal.

Qualify for an ESA

Over the years, many people have found that they can benefit greatly from having an emotional support animal. If you are interested in seeing if you qualify for an ESA, you can find out by taking this Free Online Quiz. We will do our best to assist you and help you in getting the support you need for whatever disability you are struggling with.


Emotional Support Animals holding signs


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