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ESA Certification Guide: What You Need to Know

You need to make sure you have the proper documentation for your emotional support animal (ESA) to ensure your rights are fully protected. The emotional animal certification requires you to get an ESA letter, essentially a recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional. Despite common belief, registration numbers, identification numbers, "certificates", vests, or ID cards are not valid forms of identification for an emotional support animal.

April Brightman
February 12, 2024
October 27, 2023
7 minute read
Updated By
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October 27, 2023
August 18, 2021
7 minute read
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There is often confusion about how to legitimately acquire an emotional support animal. Find out the correct process with this comprehensive guide.

Navigating the process of getting an emotional support animal can come with a pretty big list of questions. Here we’ve gathered everything you need to know about ESA certification, registration, and making sure your ESA needs are met.

Emotional Support Animal Certification

Emotional support animal certification is not legally required in the U.S. Instead, you'll need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. This letter is your key to enjoying the benefits of an ESA, including housing and travel accommodations.

What is Emotional Support Animal Certification?

Emotional support animal certification is the process of "certifying" or validating your need for an emotional support animal. It can be confusing figuring out the correct way to do this as many organizations offer different, often illegitimate methods to certify your emotional support animal. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides guidance on how to legally certify your animal as an ESA. Emotional support animal certification requires a consultation with a licensed mental health professional who can then write an emotional support animal letter (ESA letter). An example of what these letters should look like can be found on the HUD website.

How to Certify An Emotional Support Animal

The only way to legally get an emotional support animal is to get a legitimate emotional support animal letter. In order for an ESA letter to be considered legal and legitimate (in other words, for your ESA to be considered ‘certified’) it must be written by a licensed health professional, include their license number, and specify that you have a disability that qualifies for an emotional support animal.

What is an ESA Letter?

An emotional support animal letter is a legal document that states your need for and certifies your assistance animal as an ESA. It serves a similar purpose to a medical prescription which you can’t pick up medication without. Without a legitimate ESA letter, your rights to live with your emotional support animal or receive reasonable accommodations for employment aren’t guaranteed.

Woman at the doctor with a dog.

Improper ESA Certification Methods

Unfortunately, there are some companies out there that aim to exploit those who have a legitimate need for an emotional support animal and who are seeking a legitimate ESA letter. Here are a few things to look out for when shopping for an ESA letter provider.

ESA “Certificates”

There’s really no such thing as an emotional support animal ‘certificate’ The only way to prove an emotional support animal is legal and legitimate is an ESA letter. Any other document that claims to ‘certify’ your emotional support animal doesn’t hold any legal weight.

Emotional Support Animal Registries

There is no such thing as an emotional support animal registry, nor is there any type of database of assistance animals that yours can be added to. A company that promises to ‘register’ your ESA is likely a scam. The only legitimate way of registering an emotional support animal is by getting an ESA letter.

ESA ID Tags, Vests, or Badges

While these items can help distinguish your companion as an assistance animal or a service animal, there’s nothing they can wear that serves as a certification. This includes identification cards, ID tags, badges, vests, or harnesses. Companies that offer these items in exchange for ‘certification’ or ‘registration’ of an ESA are simply selling products and not legitimate emotional support animal services. 

Instant ESA Letter Turnaround

An instant turnaround for an emotional support animal letter is another indicator that a company isn’t legitimate and that the services they’re offering may be a scam. Getting a legitimate emotional support animal letter requires a consultation with a licensed mental health professional, which takes time and can’t be done instantly. If a company doesn’t require a consultation before providing documentation, you can probably bet the documents aren’t legitimate. 

Woman playing with her dog in the living room.

How to Get an ESA Letter

Getting an emotional support animal letter is the best way to make sure your rights to live, work, and travel with your ESA are protected. Pettable’s seamless process for providing legal, legitimate ESA letters to clients in need makes certifying your ESA as simple as completing a few easy steps. 

Take Our Assessment

Pettable’s 3-minute assessment is step one on your journey to getting an emotional support animal letter. It helps us get more information about you and our needs to determine the best course of action and get you on your way to your legit ESA letter.

Consult with a Licensed Mental Health Professional

Pettable works with licensed mental health professionals (LMHPs) all over the U.S. who can legally provide care in all 50 states. Consultations with a health professional are required to obtain an ESA letter, and our network of providers is fully vetted and compensated per consultation, not per approval — meaning they have no motivation to approve you other than pure need.

Receive Your ESA Letter

Once you’ve met with one of our professional, licensed clinicians you’ll be ready for the final step: receive your ESA letter! Pettable’s team works to make sure that every letter provided contains the necessary information, and guarantees your letter to work for your needs — whether they’re to have an emotional support animal for housing, employment, or travel — or your money back. 

What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

An emotional support animal — often shortened to ESA — is much more than a pet. ESAs provide companionship to their owners and relief from one or more symptoms associated with mental health conditions or disabilities. ESAs are different from service animals when it comes to laws and regulations, but are still essential assistance animals for many individuals. 

Woman holding her dog in a field.

Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal?

To qualify for an emotional support animal, an individual must be diagnosed with a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and experience symptoms that an emotional support animal can provide relief for. Qualifying conditions include but aren’t limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Chronic stress
  • Depression
  • Learning challenges like ADD and ADHD
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Emotional Support Animal Rights

Emotional support animals are considered assistance animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), but the differences between ESAs and service animals mean that they aren’t necessarily afforded all the same rights when it comes to public access and travel. Individuals who require an ESA can rest assured, though, that their housing rights are protected. 

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a set of federal laws in place to prevent discrimination against people seeking rental housing, seeking housing assistance, buying a home, or getting a mortgage. 

When it comes to emotional support animals, the FHA protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to live with their emotional support animal in rental housing that doesn’t typically allow pets, has restrictions on size or breeds of pets, or charges additional fees for pets. Legal, legitimate emotional support animals are exempt from all of these since they are considered medical tools necessary for managing a disability — not pets.

Meet the author:
April Brightman

April Brightman is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for traveling and hiking with her rescue pup, Marley. She's written for pet-centered sites like Outward Hound, as well as outdoorsy adventure brands like BearVault, Hipcamp, and Explorer Chick.

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