Everything You Should Know About Emotional Support Dogs for Anxiety
Emotional support animals can be very helpful for individuals with emotional or mental disabilities. Anxiety, whether it’s generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or another type of anxiety, is a mental illness that affects many people. Fortunately, there are several possible treatments for anxiety, including therapy and medication.
However, another fantastic resource for people with anxiety is an emotional support animal (ESA). Dogs, cats, and other animals are extremely helpful for many individuals living with mental or emotional disabilities. ESAs provide comfort with just their presence.
Dogs are particularly popular as ESAs to help with anxiety. Read on to learn more about emotional support dogs for anxiety and find out how to get your own dog certified as an ESA with an official letter from Pettable.
What Is an Emotional Support Dog?
An emotional support dog is a dog that provides comfort to an individual with an emotional or mental disability. Any breed of dog can be an ESA, and no special training is required. Emotional support dogs can help with a wide range of mental illnesses:
- Social anxiety
- Bipolar disorder
- Generalize anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
There are many other conditions that ESAs can help with. While any type of dog can be an ESA, that doesn’t mean that all pet dogs are automatically ESAs. There are a few steps you need to take to verify that your dog is an official emotional support animal.
Can an Emotional Support Dog Help With Anxiety?
Yes. Anxiety is one of the many conditions that an emotional support dog can help with. ESAs don’t need to be trained to perform specific tasks, but there are several ways that an ESA dog can help a person with anxiety:
- Providing a calming and soothing presence
- Offering affection through cuddles
- Distracting from anxious thoughts
- Encouraging healthy activities like walking outside
Many people find that they can better cope with symptoms of anxiety when they have the responsibility to feed, care for, and walk their ESA dog every day.
Can Any Dog Help With Anxiety?
Dogs are amazing creatures, as any owner knows. They offer unconditional love and support, and they can help their owners feel comforted, safe, and encouraged. Any pet dog can provide these benefits to their owner, but an ESA is a dog who helps in an “official” capacity.
Any type of dog can help with anxiety, and there are no restrictions on what breed of dog can be an ESA. The key is to choose a dog that you can bond with and that makes you feel safe and less anxious. While Labs and Golden Retrievers are very common ESA dogs, any breed can be an effective helper for a person with anxiety.
Dogs and Mental Health
Dogs can significantly improve mental health. Dozens of scientific studies agree with countless anecdotal stories of people feeling happier, calmer, less lonely, and less stressed when they have a dog.
People with dogs often have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. Just being around a dog can elevate positive hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. The benefits that a dog provides can counteract the symptoms of many different mental disabilities:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Social anxiety
- Panic disorder
Having a pet dog can provide countless mental health benefits. Getting your dog recognized as an ESA gives you the legal right to keep them with you wherever you want to live without having to worry about pet restrictions and fees.
Psychiatric Service Dogs and Anxiety
While dogs (both pets and ESAs) can provide comfort and support for a range of anxiety-related mental illnesses, there are also psychiatric service dogs (PSDs). A PSD is considered a service animal (like a guide dog) by the government. Service animals have many legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Unlike ESAs, PSDs do need to have special training. A psychiatric service dog is trained to perform one or more tasks that are directly related to their owner’s mental disability. Here are some things that PSDs can do:
- Remind a person to take anxiety medication at specific times
- Soothe an individual during a panic attack
- Interrupt self-harm behaviors during an anxiety attack
- Detect a panic attack before it happens and follow alert procedures
- Prepare a room (checking for safety issues, turning on lights) before entry by an individual with PTSD
- Call for help during a panic attack
There are many other tasks that a psychiatric service dog can perform to help their owner reduce the debilitating symptoms of anxiety-related mental illnesses.
Under the ADA, PSDs are recognized as service animals and have the right to stay with their owner in most places, including homes, shops, restaurants, workplaces, schools, airplanes, and hotels. Service animals cannot be denied entry based on pet restrictions.
How Do I Get My Dog Certified as an Emotional Support Animal?
Both ESAs and PSDs have legal protections under federal law. The Fair Housing Act gives you the right to keep your ESA in your home regardless of the housing provider’s pet restrictions. Psychiatric service dogs can accompany their owners basically anywhere under the ADA. In order to ensure you get these accommodations, you need to have documentation proving that your dog is an ESA or PSD.
The document you need for your ESA or PSD is a letter written and signed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). The easiest way to get one is to go through Pettable. This online service helps you understand whether you meet the eligibility requirements for an ESA or PSD and then connects you to an LMHP for a telehealth evaluation.
During the consultation, you can discuss your symptoms so the LMHP can determine if you have a qualifying mental or emotional disability. If so, you can get your official signed ESA Letter or PSD Letter.
You can show an ESA Letter to a landlord to ensure you and your emotional support dog are accommodated according to the Fair Housing Act. With a PSD Letter, you can take your dog with you on airplanes, to work or school, and in most public places.
To get started with Pettable, take the quick pre-screening quiz. If you meet the eligibility requirements, you’ll have the chance to connect with a licensed mental health provider who can evaluate your condition and write you an official ESA Letter or PSD Letter for your dog.