Fact checked

Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Registration: How to Qualify

Many believe that an emotional support animal (ESA) must be registered in a national database – but this is not the case and no official US emotional support animal registration exists. Read on to learn what it takes to make your pet a legally recognized ESA.

April Brightman
May 15, 2024
October 25, 2023
10 minute read
Updated By
Matt Fleming
April 2, 2024
Expert Reviewed By:
October 25, 2023
August 18, 2021
10 minute read
April 2, 2024
Make sure you are following the correct process for getting an emotional support animal and avoid these unnecessary and illegitimate ESA practices.

Many websites promote emotional support animal registration for a fee. These sites often make false claims that registering your emotional support animal is sufficient proof to present to a landlord for housing purposes or allow you to fly on an airplane with your pet. It's important to be wary of using these services, as they may result in your accommodation request being denied by your landlord, and in some states is a misdemeanor to have a letter without proper evaluation. Instead, take the legally recognized path to registering your emotional support animal by getting an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional.

Emotional Support Animal Registration

Emotional support animal registration is not a legal requirement. While it can offer some benefits, the only essential step is obtaining an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. This letter grants your pet emotional support privileges.

What is Emotional Support Animal Registration?

Emotional support animal registration is the practice of entering a pet's information into a database and providing an emotional support animal registration number. This practice is often used to misrepresent a pet as an emotional support animal without the proper documentation. Contrary to common belief, there’s no legally recognized way to ‘register’ an emotional support animal and there is no official website for emotional support animal registration.

The only legal, legitimate way to certify an emotional support animal is to obtain an emotional support animal letter, often called an ESA letter. The only people who can provide a legitimate ESA letter are licensed health professionals like doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and licensed mental health professionals (LMHPs).

Is There an Official ESA Registry?

Despite what some organizations or companies may suggest, there is no official registry for emotional support animals (ESAs). The U.S. federal government has no such requirement for ESAs or service dogs, but in some cases, a state or locality may have specific requirements for dog or general pet registration.

Is it Necessary to Register an Emotional Support Animal?

No, it is not necessary to register your emotional support animal. There is no official registry or database for emotional support animals. Any agency that claims to ‘register’ your ESA for a fee without providing an emotional support animal letter written by a licensed health professional is a scam. Some sites also offer additional services, such as certificates, ID cards, and emotional support animal vests, none of which are necessary to purchase for your emotional support animal.

Other Unnecessary ESA Products to Look Out For

Some companies and organizations sell products that may look official but are not requirements for having an emotional support animal (ESA) in your home. These include:

  • Emotional Support Animal Certificates: If a company tries to sell you an ESA certificate, as opposed to an ESA letter, it’s peddling an unnecessary product.
  • ESA ID Tags, Vests, or Badges: Since your ESA is not permitted in public spaces, there is no need for special ID tags, vests, or badges.

Difference Between ESA Registration and Certification

Certification and registration, while unnecessary, are two separate products. ESA certification provides you with a superfluous document that simply states that your pet is an assistance animal. Registration, on the other hand, is the promise of adding your and your ESA’s information to a central database; this is a voluntary addition to individuals who already have an official ESA letter — the only document you need.

While there are some conditions for an animal to be considered an official ESA, there are no requirements for registration or certification.

Woman sitting with a dog on her lap.

How to "Register" Your Emotional Support Animal the Right Way

Getting a legitimate emotional support animal is a process that’s well worth the peace of mind knowing your rights to live with your companion animal are protected when your ESA is legitimate. The only legitimate way to obtain an emotional support animal is to get an ESA letter from a mental health professional licensed in your state. Having an ESA letter ensures that you and your emotional support animal's rights are protected under federal law.

What Documentation Do You Need for an ESA?

To ensure that landlords, housing managers, and airlines accept your animal as an ESA, you must have an official ESA letter, written and signed by a licensed mental health professional who currently practices in your state. This is the only document you need to prove that your pet is an emotional support animal.

What is an ESA Letter?

An emotional support animal letter, referred to frequently as an ESA letter, serves as a sort of prescription, or doctor's note, for folks with mental health conditions or disabilities. The ESA letter is written by a licensed health professional, like a social worker or therapist. It states that the individual the letter is being written for has a documented, qualifying disability for an emotional support animal and that having one is part of their plan for managing their condition. 

If you live or plan to live in rental housing, presenting a valid ESA letter to your landlord will exempt you and your pet from any pet fees or restrictions. This is due to the recognition of emotional support animals as "assistance animals" under the Fair Housing Act. According to this federal law, an ESA letter is the only legally valid way of proving you need an emotional support animal. ESA registration numbers, ID cards, badges, or certificates are not sufficient and your landlord can deny your request.

An example image of an ESA letter with the issuing clinician's licensed information.
A legitimate ESA letter should be written by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) and contain their name, license number, and state of license.

How to Get an ESA Letter

If you want to make your canine companion, feline friend, or scaly sidekick an official ESA, Pettable makes the process easy. To start, complete our online ESA assessment; this helps us determine your needs and match you with one of our LMHPs practicing in your state. Next, you’ll meet with the LMHP, who will evaluate you and make an official diagnosis; in states where a 30-day patient relationship is required, we will make the process seamless. Once you’ve been diagnosed with a mental or emotional health disorder, the LMHP will write your official ESA letter.

1. Take our Assessment

Start by taking Pettable’s brief assessment so we can get a better idea of your current status and future needs around getting an emotional support animal. The assessment generally only takes about 3 minutes and will have you on your way to an ESA letter in no time!

2. Consult with a Licensed Mental Health Professional

Once we gather more information, we’ll match you with a mental health professional licensed in your state and you’ll attend a phone consultation, scheduled at a time convenient for you. Depending on the requirements of your state, like for those who live in California or Montana, you may be required to consult with your LMHP more than once over 30 days. 

3. Receive Your ESA Letter

After meeting with a health professional and determining your specific needs, they’ll provide you with a legal, legitimate ESA letter guaranteed to meet your needs. Show your ESA letter to your landlord to be exempt from pet policies and fees, to your employer to request reasonable accommodations, or to one of several airlines that allow emotional support animals to travel with their owners. 

Illegitimate ESA Letter Practices to Be Aware Of

While reputable companies like Pettable provide legal, legitimate emotional support animal letters to individuals in need, there are also companies out there that seek to take advantage and do not follow the proper procedure for issuing ESA letters. Here are a few ways to spot illegitimate ESA letter practices.

Lack of Consultation

Consultation with a licensed health professional is required to obtain an emotional support animal letter in all 50 states. Any agency that doesn’t require you to have a consultation before providing documentation probably isn’t legitimate. Some states have even more strict policies and require that individuals attend more than one consultation, or develop a minimum relationship with the professional providing the ESA letter. 

Instant Turnaround

Getting a legitimate ESA letter is a process and takes time. Be wary of companies offering instant turnaround or immediate access to a printable document. These aren’t legitimate ESA letters and won’t be helpful to you without the required information to be considered authentic in the eyes of the law.

Unlicensed Mental Health Professionals

Clinicians or consultants who don’t hold a valid license in your given state can’t provide a legitimate ESA letter. There are no federally licensed health professionals, meaning there’s no one license that allows a person to provide care in every state. Doctors, psychiatrists, and LMHPs must be certified by each state they practice in, and the ESA letter they provide must include their license number.

Older woman cuddling with her cat.

What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that provides companionship and comfort to a person with a mental health condition or disability. ESAs are different from service animals and psychiatric service animals, who are individually trained to do work and perform tasks that directly support an individual with a disability, whether physical, cognitive, or mental health-related. Emotional support animals don’t have to be trained but instead, provide support simply with their presence, love, and affection. 

What Are the Benefits of Emotional Support Animals?

There are several benefits to having an emotional support animal. First and foremost, the presence of emotional support animals reduces stress, increases social connections, gives their owners purpose, and reduces anxiety. They provide companionship and significantly reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation for their humans.

Most humans and their pets are inseparable, but not all housing rentals allow pets. A major benefit of emotional support animals is that they are protected as assistance animals under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), meaning they can live anywhere with their owners and be exempt from no-pet policies, size or breed restrictions, and expensive pet fees.

Emotional support animals also help to create a routine for their humans. Meeting their needs around exercise, feeding, vet care, and of course attention can be very grounding for folks with mental health conditions.

What do Emotional Support Animals Do?

Emotional support animals provide relief for people with a mental or emotional disability. Unlike service animals, ESAs do not need any specific training or need to perform specific tasks. Emotional support animals provide benefits for a mental or emotional disability solely with their comforting presence. Even something as simple as creating a healthy routine throughout the day for their owner can provide a significant boost to mental health and is one of the largest benefits of having an emotional support animal.

Due to how emotional support animals provide their support, just about any animal can be an ESA. Though the most common are emotional support dogs and cats, many individuals have rabbit, fish, or reptilian emotional support animals.

Woman lounging with two pets on a couch.

Where Can Emotional Support Animals Go?

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are only legally protected to stay with you in your primary residence. ESAs are not able to go out into public places where pets are typically not allowed. Here's a quick overview of the rules on where emotional support animals are allowed:

Emotional support animals can... stay with you in your primary residence, exempt from pet restrictions, fees, and deposits. This is protected under the Fair Housing Act.

Emotional support animals are sometimes allowed... on flights with certain airlines. The Air Carrier Access Act no longer protects ESAs on flights meaning most airlines no longer allow emotional support animals to fly for free.

Emotional support animals are not allowed... to join you in public places where pets aren't allowed, such as grocery stores, malls, or restaurants. Only service animals are afforded this right under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal?

There are two basic requirements for someone to qualify for an emotional support animal:

  1. They must have a mental health disability that affects their ability to go about their day-to-day lives.
  2. Having an emotional support animal present must alleviate at least one of the symptoms of their disability.

Any mental health condition can qualify for an emotional support animal, the only way to know for certain if you qualify is to consult with a mental health professional. Some examples of conditions that qualify are anxiety, depression, bipolar, PTSD, and ADHD.

Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals

Although both can be highly beneficial for individuals with mental disabilities, service animals are considered “working animals,” while ESAs are considered standard pets with fewer protections. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals and their service dogs in public settings, including restaurants, shopping centers, public transit, and more.

On the other hand, ESAs are not permitted to accompany their owners in public accommodations, but the Fair Housing Act (FHA) permits them to live with their owners in most rental housing situations. Also, while the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows most service dogs to fly in-cabin with their owners, ESAs are not guaranteed the same right across the board; it’s up to individual air carriers to make the call.

Do Service Animals Need Registration?

Just like with ESAs, service animals are not required to register with any sort of federal database or organization-specific registry. Any registration requirements are state-specific and typically apply to most or all pet dogs.

FAQs on ESA Registration

Here's the answer to any of the commonly asked questions about ESA registration:

What is ESA registration?

ESA registration is the process of submitting pet details to an online database for a fee in return for an ESA registration number or certificate. This is not the correct way to get an emotional support animal and will not protect your rights as an ESA owner. Beware of companies or sites offering ESA registration as they may mislead you. Make sure to speak with a licensed mental health professional and get an ESA letter.

Where do I register an emotional support animal?

You don't need to register your emotional support animal with any specific organization. To get an emotional support animal seek out mental health professionals licensed in your state who can write you an ESA letter.

How do I register an emotional support animal?

To register an emotional support animal you need to seek out a licensed mental health professional such as a therapist or social worker. They can determine if you qualify for an ESA and write you the necessary documentation.

Is there an emotional support animal registry?

No, there is no official emotional support animal registry. Any site or company presenting themselves as an official registry is misleading you and should be avoided.

Are emotional support animals service animals?

No, an emotional support animal is different from a service animal. Service animals, service dogs, and psychiatric service dogs all require specific training and are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service animals are also legally allowed into public places and airplanes, unlike ESAs.

What disabilities qualify for an emotional support animal?

All mental health and emotional disabilities qualify for an emotional support animal. To find out if you qualify you need to consult with a licensed healthcare professional.

Do landlords have to accept emotional support animals?

Generally speaking, yes, landlords must provide reasonable accommodations to anyone with a valid ESA letter. A landlord may only deny an ESA accommodation request if accepting the animal would cause undue hardship financially, to the building, or its tenants.

What animals can be emotional support animals?

Any animal commonly kept as a domestic pet can be an emotional support animal so long as it alleviates a symptom of a mental health or emotional condition. Common types of ESAs include dogs, cats, and rabbits.

04/02/2024 Update: Article was reviewed for accuracy by Jennifer Bronsnick, a licensed mental health professional and expert on emotional support animals. The article was updated to include information on the illegality of having an ESA letter without receiving a proper evaluation by a licensed mental health professional.

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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