Many people are curious whether they qualify for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) because emotional support animals offer comfort, stress relief, and more to people coping with mental health struggles. On top of that, you might wonder if you’re eligible to receive an ESA letter you can share with landlords or others who require these documents to accommodate your ESA companions. To help, we’ve built a quick quiz to give you a start on understanding whether you might qualify.
Do I Need an Emotional Support Animal?
The first step to determining if you should pursue getting an emotional support animal or companion animal is to check in with yourself. Consider if you’re ready to pursue this decision. An ESA can help you in a number of ways because they provide emotional support, comfort, and companionship. Another important note is that emotional support animals are different from service animals. Service animals, like a service dog, are individually trained to help people with a specific task like seeing, hearing, mobility, or other similar items. Emotional support animals help someone struggling with a mental illness or emotional disabilities. It may also help your mental health by providing motivation to care for a being outside of yourself, like an assistance animal.
After determining that you can care for an animal and have them officially designated as your ESA, you’ll need to consult with a licensed mental health professional to get their opinion on whether you need one. You may feel you need one, but your licensed healthcare professional has the final say on this. In fact, they’ll need to determine that you have a qualifying disability, like a mental or emotional disability, that would be benefited from having an ESA. These struggles with mental illness can affect day-to-day activities or be brought on my major life activities to qualify someone for an emotional support animal.
Should your LMHP determine that you do need an emotional support animal, they’ll write you an ESA letter to make it official. Keep in mind, most ESA letters expire after a year, so you’ll also need to commit to going back at least once a year to get yours renewed.
If you’re curious to learn more about ESAs and ESA Letters, read on below.
Can I Take a Quiz to See If I Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?
Our ESA qualification quiz will get you started and give you a decent idea if you might qualify for an emotional support animal to assist you with a disability. Then, you can work with Pettable to complete a few more steps required to get a real ESA letter.
This is important – Some ESA services claim they will provide you with an ESA letter after solely filling out a quiz or questionnaire, with no other requirements. Beware of these!
For an ESA letter to be legally enforceable, you have to do a live consultation with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) either over phone/video or in person. That will let you explain your situation and discuss details the LMHP will need to give you a legitimate, legal, ESA letter.
If you think you need an ESA letter for housing, travel, etc., our super quick quiz is a great place to begin. Check it out to get started.
What Is An Emotional Support Animal?
If you're considering obtaining an emotional support animal of your own, it's essential to understand exactly what emotional support animals are. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an emotional support animal is an animal companion that offers comfort, friendship, and sentimental assistance to those struggling with an emotional or mental disability. ESAs can come from any of the places that pets come from. An emotional support animal can be adopted from shelters, purchased from breeders or pet stores, or obtained from anywhere else that a pet could come from.
With an ESA Letter, emotional support animals can help those struggling with major life activities, who have difficulty falling asleep, are frequently worried, or whose life is severely affected by any mental condition diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional. An emotional support animal can provide unconditional love to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many other mental health illnesses.
While dogs are the most common type of emotional support animal, any species of animal can qualify to become a legitimate emotional support animal. As long as an emotional support cat, horse, bird - or any other domesticated animal - is proven to alleviate at least one aspect of a person's mental and emotional disorders, they can become their owner's official emotional support animal.
Emotional Support Animals vs. Pets
It's been proven that animals can help make people calmer, happier, and even more fulfilled. But are emotional support animals different from a beloved pet? So far, research from professionals remains inconclusive. While some suggest that emotional support animals may produce positive effects, support for the therapeutic effectiveness of emotional support animals tends to be scant.
For example, research has not been able to demonstrate that support animals provide significant benefits over what any regular pet would provide. According to a 2016 study published in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, it is not clear whether emotional support animals have any therapeutic effects beyond the positive benefits that animals provide on mental health in general. It states, "Little empirical data exists to support the conclusion that ESAs are effective in mitigating psychological disorders and related problems, and empirical research that does exist is inconsistent, sparse, and emerging."
While meticulous research cannot prove the mental benefits of having an emotional support animal, many people and psychologists will argue that the presence of an emotional support animal is significant to its owner's emotional and mental health and well-being. Taking their companion with them to run errands or go out of town can make many people's lives better and more meaningful, rather than keeping a pet at home and isolated.
Certified emotional support animals are protected under specific laws and are allowed in some places that average pets typically aren't, such as housing and travel. Therefore, emotional support animals differ from pets in some aspects, but they still mean a lot to their owners and are a medical necessity to provide the emotional support they need. Common ways an emotional support animal can support mental health are small events, panic attacks, anxiety, and intense fear.
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals
One essential factor to remember about emotional support animals is that they are very different from service animals. Understanding these significant differences is crucial to allow you to correctly choose and certify an animal that best satisfies your needs. Below are the significant differences between emotional support animals and service animals.
Service Animals Perform More Tasks Than An Emotional Support Animal
Many people believe that emotional support animals and service animals are interchangeable, but these two types of animals are trained for separate tasks. A service animal is specially trained to perform a function or job for an owner with a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability. An emotional support animal is more of an emotional companion for the owner to help with major life activities. A service animal may still be able to provide the comfort of an emotional support animal. Still, it has been trained to complete tasks that a support animal will not, such as checking blood pressure or alerting others if their owner's health or well-being is in danger.
Service Animals Are Protected Under Federal Law
Service animals are usually needed more frequently as they help the owner with physical tasks. Therefore, they are offered legal protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that emotional support animals do not get. You can take a psychiatric service dog almost anywhere you go, and they cannot legally be denied access. On the other hand, an emotional support animal doesn't share the same legal protections. It's important to understand that if you have an emotional support animal, they may not be allowed into all areas that a service animal will even with an ESA letter. Legal protection of an emotional support animal is limited to housing and air travel. However, there may be businesses that will allow you to bring your emotional support animal inside, so you'll have to check with them beforehand.
Service Animals Require Proper Certification
To obtain a service or emotional support animal, they must be certified. Any animal can become an official emotional support animal. However, only dogs are allowed to become certified service dogs if they have a letter written and signed by a licensed mental health professional. A service dog agency will help to find a specially trained dog to assist with a person's mental health disability. The person looking to acquire certification needs to have a disabling mental illness diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional and receive an emotional support animal letter or psychiatric service dog letter stating how the animal will be of benefit. Additionally, service dogs must wear distinctive vests or collars, distinguishing them as psychiatric service dogs, but it's not necessary for an emotional support animal. Both animals don't need to undergo specific training; however, personally training your emotional support animal or service dog to perform tasks and behave well in public can be incredibly beneficial.
Who Can Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal
America is in a mental health crisis, with 1 in 5 Americans experiencing mental health disabilities, disorders, or illnesses. For many people, an emotional support animal is an irreplaceable help in dealing with those challenges.
Below we'll cover the major kinds of mental health disabilities and disorders people can have that benefit and make them eligible to have an emotional support animal or companion animal.
What Mental and Emotional Disorders Benefit From An ESA?
To qualify for an ESA and get an emotional support animal letter, you need to be evaluated by a mental health professional. Then they need to certify you have a recognized emotional disability that can benefit from having an ESA.
Here’s a partial list of mental and emotional health issues that may qualify you for an ESA letter:
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Panic Attacks
- Eating Disorders
- Personality Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
A mental health professional can discuss the complete list of conditions that qualify.
Emotional support animals help people struggling with a variety of mental health struggles. The health issues listed above offer only a glimpse of the types of mental illness that can negatively affect a person’s life. Emotional support animals, in addition to your doctor’s other treatments, can be life altering in the best way. If you have a condition that an emotional support animal might help you deal with, it’s worth speaking with a licensed mental health professional about potentially getting an ESA letter.
How Does an Emotional Support Animal Help Your Mental Health?
The therapeutic effects a dog, cat, or other animal can have on their owners have been well studied. While a service animal helps individuals live an independent life with physical disabilities, emotional support animals can help people with a disabling mental illness. Many people with anxiety, depression, or other mental health illnesses benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal.
For some people, having a dog or pet as an emotional support animal can make a real difference in the quality and length of their life. Studies confirm that dogs and other pets improve people’s happiness and overall health and can even extend life for people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Emotional support dogs are companion animals that show a significant benefit in improving a person’s mental health.
Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets Help You Get Outside
One of the ways emotional support animals support their owners’ health and wellbeing is by helping people stay active. Caring for a pet keeps you busy and can help you get exercise and fresh air while walking a dog, taking a cat in for a check up, or running to the pet store for some treats. The combination of getting out in the world and getting regular exercise can have a big impact on many mental health issues.
Emotional Support Animals Help You Socialize
Having an ESA companion can also help people socialize more and create a broader support circle. There are many more people with ESAs than you might expect. When you discover other people who are helped by having an ESA, it can be much easier to connect with them and to talk about the good things your ESA does for you, too.
That can create opportunities to help other people living with a disability or to reach out to others who deal with anxiety or depression. For many people, being of service to others is a great way to feel part of a larger community and also help themselves feel better.
Emotional Support Animals Can Help Quiet the Mind
Caring for and thinking about the well-being of an ESA is often a real help for people dealing with emotional and mental wellness challenges.
Many folks who live with an emotional support dog, cat, or other pet find that having a companion helps them focus outside themselves. That makes it easier to avoid rumination (overthinking) and calm social or other anxieties that are often part of conditions ESAs can help people deal with.
Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals Give Unconditional Love
Another thing that frequently helps with a mental disability or emotional disorder is knowing you have a source of unconditional love and support. Often, ESA owners report that the love they get from their animal is some of the most effective treatment they’ve found for the emotional and other health issues they struggle with. For many people, getting an ESA letter that lets them live or travel with a loving companion is critical to improving their overall well-being.
Emotional Support Animal Laws that You Should Know
Before pursuing the path to obtain an emotional support animal, it’s a good idea to learn some of the ESA laws in our country.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) provides ESAs with federal protection when it comes to housing. Regardless of the building’s pet policy, your landlord must make reasonable accommodations for your ESA. The Fair Housing Act applies to all emotional support animals, regardless of your animal’s size, age, or breed. You also should not be required to pay any fees or deposits to your landlord in order to be allowed to live with your ESA.
Just make sure your accommodation request is reasonable (for example, you’re not asking to bring 5 Great Danes into a tiny studio apartment), and that your ESA poses no health or safety threat to others. You’ll also need to provide your landlord with your official ESA letter to prove your eligibility for your service animal.
Air Carrier Access Act
Prior to January 11, 2021, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) required airlines to allow passengers to fly with their ESAs for free. Unfortunately, The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has since altered these rules so that airlines are no longer required to allow ESAs on board.
Some airlines, however, still have their ESA programs in place. It’s a good idea to contact the airline ahead of time to find out their unique policies and if they may be willing to accommodate you and your emotional support animal, provided you send them a copy of your ESA letter and any other forms they may ask for.
If you’re unable to find an ESA-friendly airline, your animal will need to fly with you as any other pet would, including any applicable regulations or fees for flying with pets.
Who Determines Whether I Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal?
According to ESA rules and regulations, only a licensed mental health professional can determine if you qualify for and would benefit from an emotional support animal. Mental health professionals that are authorized to write an ESA letter for housing or travel (also called an ESA prescription) include:
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists
- Behavioral Therapists
- Addiction Therapists
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapists
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers
- Licensed Clinical Psychologists (note not all psychologists can write one)
- Doctors qualified to conduct mental health assessments
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers
- Licensed Professional Counselors
When seeking an ESA letter, make sure you confirm that the professional you consult with has the skills and is licensed to determine whether you qualify for an ESA and can write you a legally recognized ESA letter.
Who Can Write an ESA Letter?
An ESA letter can only be written by a mental health professional licensed in your state. This includes all the professionals listed above.
It’s recommended that you already have a relationship with a therapist or other mental health professional before asking them to write an ESA letter for you. This is because they’ll have a better understanding of your health history and circumstances, so they can help make the best decision for you.
However, this may not always be possible. Luckily, it is perfectly fine to have your ESA letter written by an LMHP who is just beginning to get to know you – as long as you have a live consultation with them to determine your eligibility for an ESA.
How to Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter
When seeking out an emotional support animal letter, scheduling a telehealth appointment with your LMHP is another perfectly viable option. In fact, it may be much more convenient than having to deal with physically going somewhere to meet in person.
When you work with Pettable, your first step is to complete our quick ESA quiz to help get an idea of your situation and match you with one of our licensed mental health professionals. Next, you’ll inform us of the type of ESA letter you’ll need – whether that’s a housing letter, travel letter, or a combination of the two. After completing some privacy and consent forms, you can schedule your consultation with one of our clinicians. Finally, you can receive your ESA letter as soon as 24 hours after your appointment.
How Do I Find Out If I Actually Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal
To determine if you qualify for an ESA, you’ll need to schedule a phone or video consultation with a qualified licensed mental health professional (LMHP). During the call, you’ll discuss the symptoms of your disability and talk through how they impact your life.
The LMPH will determine if you qualify for an ESA based on the information you share during your consultation. If you qualify, they will be able to write you an ESA letter. A legal ESA letter is the only document that legally classifies a dog, cat, or other pet as an emotional support animal.
What Other Types of Support Animals Can I Qualify For?
If an emotional support animal or service dog doesn't appeal to you or your situation, there are many other types of support animals out there that can assist with your specific disability. These include, but are not limited to:
- Allergy detection dog
- Autism service dog
- Diabetic alert dog
- Guide dog
- Hearing dog
- Mobility assistance dog
- Psychiatric service dog
- Seizure alert dog
Only dogs are allowed to be service animals. If you suffer from a physical, mental, or emotional disability and believe that the presence of any type of support animal could immensely improve the quality of your everyday life, schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health professional so they can perform mental health assessments to determine whether or not you can qualify for any of the support animals listed, or if another form of mental health treatment would be better.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Does Pettable Work with Me to Get An ESA?
Here at Pettable, we work hard to design the best ESA letter process for our users. One significant benefit of working with us is you won't have to show up in person at a medical clinic in order to get certified as needing an emotional support animal.
We also make sure all of our clinicians have deep experience writing ESA letters. They have seen pretty much everything you can imagine when it comes to helping people with ESA letters. Whatever you run into, they’ll be there to support you.
Fill Out Our Assessment
The first step is to fill out our online ESA assessment (click below to start taking it).
This assessment will ask for information that helps us match you with the right professional.
Pick From Our ESA Letters
Next, you'll let us know if you need a housing letter, a travel letter, or a combination of both. If you absolutely need your pet with you when you travel on any airline, you can also choose our psychiatric service dog letter option.
If you want more information on a psychiatric service dog, check out our article here.
Sign Off On HIPAA and Telehealth Forms
Once you book your consultation, we'll send you a few additional privacy and consent forms that allow us to connect you with one of our clinicians. As soon as you return them, you’ll be ready to start the process of certifying your emotional support animals.
Book Your Consultation
When we have all your forms, we'll connect you directly to the appropriate clinician to schedule an appointment to complete a mental health evaluation and discuss how your ESA will help you with your specific mental or emotional health and wellness issues.
Receive Your ESA Letter Within 24 Hours Of Your Consult
Once the assessment is successfully completed and the clinician agrees that your emotional support animals are a necessary part of your care, they will write a personalized and legally correct ESA letter. When you work with Pettable, you have the option of receiving that letter from your clinician within 24 hours of your consultation. There is a small fee for booking an express consultation.
Are There Any Other Fees Associated With Using Pettable?
Your one-time payment at checkout covers your consultation with your clinician and your letter certifying one or two ESAs. If you require a letter for additional ESAs, we are happy to evaluate your unique situation and write additional letters at cost if needed. In general, it’s a max of 2 animals per letter.
What If I Pay For A Consultation And Don't Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal Through Pettable?
Legitimate services that offer to help you get an ESA letter should provide you with a refund if you don't get approved for an ESA letter stating you qualify for an ESA after consulting with one of our licensed mental health professionals.
At Pettable, we go beyond that. We believe so strongly in the quality of our service that we guarantee your ESA letter will work for your specific needs. If it ever doesn’t, we’ll work to fix it and, if we can’t, we’ll refund your fee.
How Do I Start The Process To Get An ESA With Pettable?
It's easy to get started and be on your way to having your emotional support animals legitimized. The steps are:
- Fill out our assessment here
- Book your consult at the end of the assessment
- Sign off on the forms we'll send you
- Schedule a time with your clinician for a phone consult
- Get your ESA letter within 24 hours of your consult
What Protections Do I Have Under Federal Law
Housing-related protections are regulated by the Department of Health and Urban Development (HUD). According to the HUD regulations, if your letter is written by a licensed mental health professional who has made a diagnosis that you have a qualifying disability, landlords must accept your letter and make reasonable accommodations to have your ESA(s) with you.
A landlord can only take the following actions if you tell them you have a legal ESA letter:
- Ask to see your ESA letter
- Ask you to confirm you have a disability (but not what that disability is)
- Ask you if your disability is improved by having an emotional support animal (but not how they help)
- Contact your clinician to verify that you have consulted with them personally to determine that you are eligible to have an ESA
Which Emotional Support Animals Are Allowed On Planes?
Because of changing federal laws, assistance animals rules vary from airline to airline. Most emotional support animals allowed on planes are ones that are well behaved, don’t cause a health or safety hazard, and can likely fit at a person’s feet or in a paid seat. If your emotional support pet is a miniature horse, they will likely not let it fly with you. It’s best to call airlines ahead of time and ask about their specific rules. They may ask more about your pet’s training or breed. They may also ask for a copy of your letter to show that your pet is a legitimate emotional support animal.
Do I Need A Letter For A Service Dog?
Many people have physical disabilities requiring a service dog. Different types of service dogs include seeing dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and psychiatric service dogs. These service dogs help people perform a specific task as a result of their specific disability. Unlike service dogs, emotional support pets don’t usually help individuals with a visible disability. Most service dog owner’s don’t need a letter from a medical professional in certain situations because the medical condition is visible. But anyone who needs a service dog to assist them due to mental or emotional conditions that are not visible to other people might need a letter.
If you tell landlords, airlines, or others that you need to have a psychiatric service dog to assist in dealing with a medical condition that is not visible, you will likely be asked for a letter. The letter, which must be written by a psychiatrist or other licensed mental health professional, does not need to specify a diagnosis. But it does need to certify you have a disability and that the disability requires you to be accompanied by a service dog.
How do you qualify for an emotional support animal?
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must meet with a licensed mental health professional who determines that you a) have a mental health disability, and b) your condition is alleviated or reduced by the presence of your support animal.
Some common mental and emotional disabilities that may benefit from having an ESA include:
- Acute stress disorder
- Panic attacks
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Personality disorders
- Bipolar disorder
Once it’s determined that you meet these criteria, your LMHP can write you an official ESA letter.
How to get your dog certified as an emotional support animal?
Technically, there is no “certification” or “registration” for emotional support animals. However, some people use these terms to mean getting an ESA letter that legitimizes your animal as an ESA. Sites claiming to offer certification or registration for emotional support animals without having to meet with a licensed medical professional may not be legitimate.
To make your dog an ESA, you must obtain an ESA letter. To do this, you must have a live mental health evaluation with a licensed mental health professional. Following this meeting, if the LMHP determines you’re eligible for an ESA, they’ll write a letter stating that you have a mental health disability that is improved by having your emotional support dog with you.
How to get an emotional support cat?
Emotional support animals aren’t only dogs. Emotional support animals can be most kinds of animals, though it may be best to avoid owning an exotic animal to avoid added stress in your life. Emotional support animals can also be cats, hedgehogs, ferrets, and cats. Cats can make wonderful emotional support animals. If you already have a cat, you can make them an emotional support animal by meeting with a licensed mental health professional to determine your eligibility for an ESA letter.
If you have an ESA letter, but no animal, you might seek out a cat from a friend whose cat has just had a litter of kittens or consider rescuing one from an animal shelter.
How to get an emotional support dog?
If you’re ESA-approved and still don’t own a dog, you have a few choices. You can find a friend whose dog has had puppies, buy from a puppy farm, or rescue one from a dog shelter.
It’s best to avoid getting a dog from a puppy farm, as these tend to treat their animals quite poorly. This can sometimes lead to anxiety or even aggression in the puppies. In addition, buying from a puppy farm only gives them money to help keep them in business, and also tends to be much more expensive than caring for one that’s been rescued from a shelter.
Why Work With Pettable to Get an ESA Letter?
At Pettable, we are committed to helping people overcome the hurdles that landlords, airlines, and others can raise when you need an emotional support animal in your life.
Our combination of highly qualified mental health professionals, affordable fees, and our guarantee that the letter you obtain through Pettable will work for you gives you great value and peace of mind.
We can’t wait to help you. Get started today by taking our quick quiz.