Fact checked

Emotional Support Dog Vests: Does My ESA Need One?

No legal requirement mandates that an emotional support dog must wear a vest. However, some owners choose to use vests as a visual cue to signify their animal's support role, although this is only applicable in their private housing, and does not permit ESAs to enter public places where pet dogs aren't allowed.

Susana Bradford
May 6, 2024
May 26, 2023
10 minutes read
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
May 26, 2023
August 18, 2021
10 minutes read
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Though emotional support animals are not legally required to wear a vest, some choose to use them. Find out if an ESA vest is right for you.

Emotional support dog vests let the public know your dog is a working dog. Vests can vary in color and identification. Some come with "Do Not Pet" on them, while others say, "Service dog." The need for a service dog vest is determined by what task the dog does for the owner. It can be tricky deciding which vest is best for your emotional support animal (ESA) or if you even need one to identify your ESA correctly. Keep in mind that ESA legislation protects only permanent housing and does not require public places to accommodate ESAs. With or without a vest, your emotional support animal will not be permitted into some public areas such as stores or restaurants.

Do Emotional Support Dogs Wear Vests?

Emotional support dogs are not legally required to wear vests, but it's recommended to have one for easy identification as a support animal. However, certain places such as airlines may require vests as part of their policies. Ultimately, it's up to the owner to decide whether their dog needs a vest or not.

The Bottom Line

  • What's an emotional support dog vest? A vest helps the public identify and understand that your dog is necessary to your well-being and that you have a medical reason for having the dog.
  • What's the difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs? Emotional support dogs (ESDs) are dogs that keep their owner emotionally calm while service dogs perform a specific task or job helpful to their owner.
  • Does my ESA need an emotional support dog vest? Legally, no. No federal laws require service dogs or ESAs to have vests or any identification on them. However, it may prove valuable to have one, as it can eliminate confusion in public places.
  • The rules about vests for your emotional support animal: While there are no federal laws saying vests are required, there are some things to consider when getting one for your dog. Things such as climate, size of the dog, and what you want out of a vest are all to be considered
  • Other accessories and where to get them: If vests are not something you are interested in, a leash or even a harness may be your best bet. If neither of those sounds like a good fit, there is the option to receive a tag to attach to a dog's harness or collar that helps to identify it.
  • How to get an ESA Letter today: With Pettable's online option, it is easy to receive an ESA letter within 24 hours after meeting with a licensed mental health provider who can determine if a support animal best fits you.

What is an Emotional Support Dog Vest?

An emotional support dog vest is worn by a dog similar to a regular harness. The vest identifies to the public that your dog is a working dog and can specify things such as "Do not touch" or "Therapy Dog." This can help the public be aware that your dog is a medical need and allow places that generally have a "no pet" policy to let your dog on their property, such as restaurants and even housing opportunities.

Does My ESA Need an Emotional Support Dog Vest?

Currently, no federal laws state that ESAs or service dogs are required to wear a vest or have a form of identification. Having a vest can allow the dog into places that may not usually have pets, or it can aid in traveling by having the pet accompany you in the airplane cabin without any extra fees.

Rules About Vests for Your Emotional Support Dog

While it is not federally required for ESAs to have vests, it can be beneficial in the long run, especially in public areas. While service dog vests are easy to get, some places may still ask for identification that the dog is therapy or assistant animal. Having the paperwork, such as an ESA letter, is also beneficial, along with the vest, in identifying your dog as working.

ESA Letters

Emotional support animal letters can be easily obtained through Pettable with just a few clicks. After filling out some privacy forms, Pettable connects you with a licensed mental health provider who determines your needs. Within 24 hours, you can obtain your emotional support animal letter through email.

While there are no federal rules stating vests are required for ESAs, if it is something you are interested in, there are some rules to follow regarding obtaining a vest.

Correct Identification

One of the essential things in looking for an ESA vest is ensuring the identification is correct. Suppose your emotional support animal is not a therapy dog. In that case, it is critical to remember to get a badge or patch that says explicitly "service animal" or "service dog" rather than "therapy." It can also be equally essential to have the correct paperwork available.

It is also possible to have specific patches on your ESA vest. These patches can say:

  • Do Not Touch/Pet
  • Service Dog
  • Therapy Animal
  • Emotional Support Animal

Correct Paperwork

This can include anything from dog ownership to the medical or ESA letter stating the dog is needed for your medical and emotional well-being. It is also essential to have your ESA letter on hand, should it need to be shown.

While legally, someone cannot ask you to prove your disability or the need for your emotional support animal, you can be met with complications when entering public areas or places where animals are not allowed.

Best Fit for Your ESA

Something that could be looked over when finding a vest for your animal is the correct size and measurements. It can be challenging to know what size to get your animal. However, most are adjustable to fit a size higher or lower than needed, as each dog is different in shape and size.

It is also important to be wary of the material the vest is made from and to consider what you want out of the vest, as there are different kinds to choose from, including material and style. It also can depend on the amount of fur your animal has and how the animal moves to assist you in a day-to-day manner.

How to Make Sure You Have the Right One for Your Emotional Support Dog

Determining the best size and style vest for your emotional support animal can seem complicated, but it is pretty straightforward. The first step is to measure, then pick out the best material and style for you and your animal.

To measure your animal, take a flexible measuring tape and wrap it around the dog's widest part of the rib cage. That measurement will tell you how big or small of a vest to receive.

There are four different materials to choose from when it comes to vests:

Mesh material: Breathable mesh materials are perfect for hot and humid climates, as they are breathable and easy to move in. A mesh vest is ideal for dogs with a heavier fur coat or who may be outside.

Cotton material: A cotton material vest is suitable for all types of climate and weather and should not make them too hot or cold, depending on the season and type of fur coat when they wear them. These are similar to a lightweight winter jacket for a human.

Padded Vests: Padded ones are created heavier and are best for colder climates, as they offer extra padding to the ESA's fur when they wear them. They are not suitable for hot and humid climates.

Backpack Vest: If you are traveling or seem to have a lot to carry, backpack vests may be your best option. With various pockets containing anything from extra leashes, treats, portable bowls, and more, these can aid in traveling. Backpack vests are also ideal for storing first aid kits for long camping, backpacking, or hiking trips. These are typically better for larger dogs, as the weight could be a bit much for tinier ones.

While there is no right or wrong color for a service dog vest, three of the most popular options are red, blue, or forest green.

Other Accessories for Your Emotional Service Animal and Where to Get Them

If a vest isn't something you are interested in for your service dog, it is possible to receive other accessories that let the public know your dog is working. Anything from collars and leashes to identification tags can offer the same help a vest does.

There is no official website that supplies emotional support animal accessories and any website that states you require a vest, id tag, or certificate for your ESA is fraudulent. ESA accessories should only be purchased for purely cosmetic or informational purposes, and cannot be presented as proof that your animal is an ESA. The only valid proof of an emotional support animal is a legitimate ESA letter written by a licensed mental health professional.

  • Lanyards: Wearing a lanyard instead of having a vest can aid in the same way, except the individual wears it instead of the service dog.
  • ID Tags: An ID tag that clips or hangs with the rest of the tags on the service dog's collar can be an ideal option that alerts others if something happens to it.
  • Care Cards: Should something happen to you where you are unable to care for your emotional support animal or are unconscious, carrying around a care card can be helpful. The care cards from Working Service Dog states your name, address, pet names, emergency contact details, and physician details.

How to get an ESA Letter

Obtaining an ESA Letter can be as easy as reaching out to your physician for one or as easy as taking Pettable's online assessment, being matched with a licensed therapist, and receiving your letter within 24 hours!

Complete Our Assessment

The first step to receiving your ESA Letter from Pettable is completing a quick assessment. This evaluates your situation and the needs of emotional support animals. You will then be prompted to select the type of letter you need, whether it is housing, travel, or a combination of both.

Consult with a Therapist

After filling out privacy and consent forms that authorize Pettable clinicians to work with you, you will be matched with a licensed mental health professional. A link will be sent to your email to book a live consultation, where you will meet and complete an evaluation. This will determine if you qualify.

Get a Psychiatric Letter

Upon the Pettable clinician determining assistance, the animal is essential to your care and well-being, they will write a legally recognized ESA letter specifically for you. You will have the option of receiving the letter within 24 hours of your consultation, with the exclusion of California residents.

Your satisfaction is important to us. In the unlikely event that your ESA letter does not work for you, we will provide a 100% refund.

Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Support Dog Vests

The process of obtaining emotional support vests can be confusing and filled with questions such as where to get one, do they hurt the assistance animals and more. Luckily, Pettable found answers to these and more:

What stores sell emotional support dog vests?

They can be bought at any pet store in person or online, through Amazon or a specific retailer.

Do support dog vests hurt animals?

No, if measured correctly and adjusted to fit around the dog comfortably, they should not hurt the pup wearing them. Most come with adjustable straps that fit comfortably around the front legs.

Can anyone buy an emotional support dog vest?

Yes, however, when taken into public an individual may legally be asked by any manager or owner of private property or govt property what task the dog is trained to perform and if the dog is required because of a disability to determine whether they are allowed on the premises. They cannot legally ask for a letter stating the need for a service animal or ESA unless it is for permanent housing purposes.

What color vests do ESDs wear?

The color can vary from preference to even state-to-state. The most popular colors are red, blue, and green, yet some may choose a bright color, and some may choose a dull one.

What's the difference between ESDs and service dogs?

Emotional support animals benefit an individual by their presence. They are not trained to do a specific task, whereas service dogs are trained to aid the individual in a particular way that mirrors the disability of the individual.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

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