Emotional Support Animal Requirements - A Complete Guide (2023)

Kristi Carignan
May 9, 2023
May 9, 2023
6 minutes
Understand the simple steps you need to take to get an Emotional Support Animal with Pettable. Get your ESA letter today.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide comfort and support to their owners. They help to alleviate a wide range of mental and psychiatric symptoms through their physical presence. ESAs can help owners through a range of mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, ADHD, and more. 

Emotional Support Animal Requirements

To qualify for an emotional support animal, you need to have a diagnosed mental or emotional disability. A licensed mental health professional must provide you with a recommendation letter, stating that your animal helps alleviate your symptoms. Airlines and housing providers may have additional requirements, such as proper documentation and training for your animal.

While ESAs are not recognized in the same way as service dogs or psychiatric service dogs (PSD) by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they do have certain legal provisions, especially when it comes to housing regulations.  

In this guide, we will explore the requirements for registering an ESA and explore how to streamline the process with Pettable.

What is an Emotional Support Animal? (ESA)

Emotional support animals offer therapeutic benefits to their owners by providing emotional support, companionship, and comfort to those struggling with mental health conditions. It is the animal’s ability to bring about relief and comfort with its presence rather than its ability to perform a specific task that makes it an ESA (rather than a service animal). 

Service dogs or psychiatric service dogs (PSDs), on the other hand, are those who have been "individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability." These tasks must be specifically related to the owner's disability, for example, a guide dog who helps their blind owner navigate the world or a PSD who detects that their owner is about to have a panic attack and calms them before it escalates.

While ESAs are hugely rewarding and comforting in times of distress, they are legally different from service animals. 

Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal?

The primary legal difference between a pet and an emotional support animal is a letter from a trained mental health professional. Owners qualify for an ESA letter if their emotional support animal offers them comfort or alleviates the symptoms of mental or emotional disabilities. While your pet might already feel like an ESA, it will not be legally recognized as such without a professional ESA recommendation letter by a licensed mental health therapist in your state. 

How Do I Get an Emotional Support Animal?

You can get your ESA from the same places where you would get a traditional pet. This could be your local animal shelter, a pet shop, a breeder, or even a friend whose dog has had puppies or a cat who has had kittens. 

ESAs are only recognized legally when you have an ESA letter. Any animal can be your ESA, so the best course of action is to find an animal who you connect with, whatever the species, and then consult a mental health professional. 

What Animals Can Be Emotional Support Animals? 

ESAs can be any animal that people are legally allowed to own and might include dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, rats, mice, or even reptiles. 

Federal Laws on Emotional Support Animals  

ESAs are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). Under this law, landlords should "reasonably accommodate" tenants who have ESAs. Under the FHA, ESA owners have the following rights: 

  • The right to have their ESA in their home (even if pets are prohibited in the housing complex).
  • Exemption from weight, breed, or size restrictions. 
  • Exemption from paying any pet-related fees (since ESAs are seen as assistance animals rather than pets). 

Landlords need to consider ESA requests in 10 days and are allowed to ask the prospective tenant for an ESA letter from a licensed mental health therapist. 

Unfortunately, due to changes in law, airlines are not mandated to allow ESAs onto flights. Certain airlines, however, do still allow ESAs on a voluntary basis. Each airline will have its own policy and should be contacted directly for clarification. 

California ESA Laws

Californian ESA laws changed in January 2022. Law AB468 stipulates that those who need an ESA letter for their dog must establish a client-provider relationship with the therapist 30 days before they get documentation. 

This means that they must have two consultations with the therapist before they can qualify for an ESA letter. 

Californian law also allows people to bring their ESAs to work, provided that they are properly trained and will not hinder workplace health and safety. 

Emotional Support Animal Checklist  

In the eyes of the law, an ESA is only legally recognized once you get an ESA letter from a mental health practitioner who is licensed in your state. Happily, Pettable can easily connect you with licensed mental health practitioners. The steps are simple and include the following: 

1. Speak with a Licensed Mental Health Professional 

Book a consultation with a licensed therapist. They will determine whether you have a qualifying mental health condition that would benefit from an ESA. 

2. Receive an ESA Letter  

Once you qualify, the therapist will write you an official ESA letter. It should be signed and dated and include the official letterhead from the therapist's licensed practice.

3. Present your ESA Letter to Your Landlord 

Once you have obtained your ESA letter, you can show it to your landlord. Based on the Fair Housing Act, a landlord cannot discriminate against you or your ESA under most conditions. A few exceptions do, however, exist and in these cases, the landlord may use their discretion. These include:

  • Buildings occupied by owners with four or fewer units. 
  • Housing that is operated by private clubs or religious organizations that limit occupancy to specific members of the club or group. 
  • Single-family housing options that are rented or sold by the owner privately without using a real estate agent. 

Psychiatric Service Dog Vs. Emotional Support Animal  

PSDs enjoy the same rights as service dogs as recognized by the ADA. ESAs are different from psychiatric service dogs in that they can be any species of animal. While psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform specific disability-related functions, ESAs simply soothe and calm owners with their presence. 

Psychiatric service dogs are allowed in any place that is open to the public (much like service dogs), including restaurants, places of worship, shopping malls, theaters, and on public transport. ESAs, however, are not always permitted in these places. They are, however, protected by the Fair Housing Act when you have an official letter. 

Do I Need to Register My ESA?  

For ESAs to be legally acknowledged, owners must have an ESA letter from a mental health practitioner who is licensed in their state. The ESA letter is the only required documentation and no other "registration" is necessary. 

Get Your ESA Letter with Pettable 

Pettable takes the stress and hassle out of obtaining an ESA letter. Just chat with us and answer a few simple questions. We will connect you with a qualified mental health therapist in your state and arrange a consultation. Once you've met with them and you qualify as needing an ESA, they'll send your ESA letter within 24-48 hours. If, for some reason, you do not qualify, we guarantee all your money back. 

Choosing Pettable is the zero-risk solution to getting a professional ESA Letter. 

The Bottom Line 

ESAs are vital to many people, helping them to navigate the complexity and stress of various mental health conditions. Protect your right to have an ESA and get a reputable ESA letter with Pettable.

Meet the author:
Kristi Carignan

Kristi Carignan is a seasoned freelance writer with over 20 years of experience crafting copy for global agencies and brands. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her furry companions, Sugar the PomChi and Rudy the Shiba Inu, and indulging in hobbies like crafting and home renovation.