How Can I Make My Pet An Emotional Support Animal?

For those who need it most 💕

Emotional support animal

Your pet provides you with tons of love and support. But ever wonder if that qualifies her to be an emotional support animal (ESA) — or wonder what an ESA even is?

While you can’t technically “register” your pet as an ESA, your pet can qualify as an ESA if you have a letter from a licensed healthcare professional.

Getting an ESA letter is a fairly easy process and can help people who suffer from anxiety, depression and other conditions keep their best friends by their side in situations where pets normally aren’t allowed.

If you’re looking to have your dog or cat (or even chicken) become your trusted ESA, here’s everything you need to know.

What is an emotional support animal?

The job of an ESA is to comfort his or her owners who suffer from some type of disability. This could be mental, like anxiety, or physical, like arthritis.

Emotional support animals can be prescribed as a part of a treatment plan for a range of conditions, including depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, autism and panic attacks, Dr. Rachael Silverman, a board certified psychologist based in Florida, told The Dodo.

And when you have an ESA, you’re able to do things that most pet owners can’t.

For example, under the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA), your ESA can live with you even if the property doesn’t normally allow pets. You also don’t need to pay a pet deposit of any sort when your pet is an ESA (though you will need to pay if your ESA damages the property — and maybe get your ESA some training).

ESAs used to be allowed to travel in cabins during flights as well — but complaints from passengers that people were taking advantage of the rule recently led to changes to the Air Carrier Access Act, and airlines no longer need to accommodate people with an ESA.

There are a few airlines who kept their ESA programs, like Air Canada and WestJet, but the majority of major airlines (sadly) are no longer recognizing ESAs.

Who can be an emotional support animal?

Basically any type of domesticated animal can be an ESA. Examples of animals who can be ESAs include dogs, cats, hamsters, pigs, birds, rabbits — and yes, that peacock who wasn’t allowed on a flight a few years ago.

There are no rules for which animals can and can’t be an ESA. But keep in mind that this animal must provide you with some sort of emotional support — and you need to be able to reasonably prove this to your doctor (and landlord).

Also, while this goes without saying, the ESA of your choosing shouldn’t be reactive to other people or animals and should be easy to manage in public (if your dog likes to bark at kids, good luck convincing anyone he’s good at lowering stress levels).

What are the benefits of an emotional support animal?

Our pets pretty much live to make us feel special and loved. And for people who suffer from a disability, this kind of support can be priceless.

“It helps so much to have an emotional support animal,” Dr. Silverman said. “[ESAs] offer a sense of comfort, unconditional love, as well as teach responsibility and act as a distractor of stress.”

Here are some benefits an ESA can provide to their owners:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increase pain tolerance
  • Sense of community
  • Unconditional love
  • Lower levels of anxiety
  • Increase relaxation
  • Trauma support
  • Elevated mood

Emotional support animal vs. service dog

ESAs are often confused with service dogs and other service animals, but they’re pretty different.

Service dogs are specially trained to help their disabled owners with specific tasks, like helping a blind person navigate or reminding their owner to take their medication.

On the other hand, the only job requirement of an ESA is basically to provide lots of love, companionship and the occasional cuddle.

Service dogs have a lot more rights than an ESA. Service dogs are protected by law and are allowed in places like malls and restaurants, and can usually fly in the cabin with you, no problem.

How do I qualify my pet as an emotional support animal?

In order for your pet to qualify as an ESA, you’ll need a letter from a licensed mental health professional or qualified physician.

The letter should include proof that you have a mental or physical disability, confirmation that this disability prevents you from going about your life normally and a case for why your ESA will help you function day-to-day.

The letter also has to include the provider’s license number, their signature and the date the letter was signed — so you can’t fake it. In some states, falsely claiming your pet is an ESA is illegal.

There is no official animal registry for ESAs, even if you think you found one online. You don’t need to register an ESA by law.

There are a ton of sites on the internet that offer ESA letters in exchange for money. While some of these will technically qualify your pet, the best prescriptions are ones made as a part of a larger treatment plan.

“I prescribe emotional support animals when [the patient] is actively involved in treatment,” Dr. Silverman said. “I don’t prescribe emotional support animals as the treatment.”