Fact checked

How To Get An Emotional Support Animal

To get an emotional support animal (ESA) you need to first speak to a licensed mental health professional who can determine whether you have a mental health disability that could benefit from an ESA. If you qualify, they will then write you an ESA letter. Any animal can be an ESA, so the choice is yours on what pet to adopt!

Pettable Staff
May 15, 2024
February 2, 2023
12 minute read
Updated By
Grant Fiddes
April 25, 2024
Expert Reviewed By:
Kassie ClaughtonKassie Claughton
LCSW, Clinical Social Work/Therapist
February 2, 2023
August 18, 2021
12 minute read
April 25, 2024
Learn the official process to get a legitimate emotional support animal, vetted by a licensed mental health professional. Get an official ESA letter today.

Getting an emotional support animal doesn't have to be a difficult process if you have a good understanding of what's required. The first thing you need is an animal that helps alleviate symptoms of your mental health condition, this animal could be any domesticated pet, most popularly a dog or cat. Then, you need to consult with a mental health professional licensed in your state, they are the ones who can decide whether your animal qualifies as an ESA based on how they assist you from day to day. After the consultation, the clinician can write you a letter, called an ESA letter, which allows you to live with your ESA freely, even in no-pet apartments. That's the basics of how it works, pretty simple right?

Oftentimes the most difficult part of getting an emotional support animal is finding a clinician who can write you the essential ESA letter needed to prove your ESA's official status. That's where Pettable comes in, we can connect you with a licensed mental health professional who can assess your need for an emotional support animal, and write you an ESA letter. We take the stress of finding a provider out of the equation, plus we have a money-back guarantee which makes it a risk-free process.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

To get an emotional support animal (ESA), you need an ESA letter written by a licensed mental health professional. Only a mental health professional licensed in your state is legally eligible to assess whether you qualify for an ESA letter. Furthermore, an ESA letter is only legitimate if you attend a 1:1 consultation with the clinician, with some states requiring multiple consultations.

How Do I Qualify For An Emotional Support Animal?

The reason a person may need an emotional support dog is a little different than the reasons a person might need a service dog or psychiatric service dog. Anyone who wants to legally keep an emotional support animal with us at home to help with mental or emotional health symptoms needs to qualify for an ESA letter that we can show landlords and others. So how can we make sure we qualify for a support animal?

Hear from a Pettable client about how having a legitimate ESA letter helped them:

You Need To Have A Mental Health Challenge or Disability

While a psychiatric service dog and emotional support dog both give their owners the ability to cope with a mental disability or emotional struggle, they're a little different. Not everyone who needs an emotional support dog or pet will also need a psychiatric service dog. Psychiatric service dogs are individually trained to help people with specific tasks. Emotional support animals are not.

It's best to seek out guidance from a licensed medical doctor on which animal can best support you. Either way, you’ll need to work with a qualified professional if they want to live with an emotional support animal. That professional will help you understand whether you have a qualifying mental or emotional health. Those conditions include:

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Personality Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other mental and emotional health conditions

Your Animal Needs To Help With Your Mental Health Challenge or Disability

There isn’t a similar list of how emotional support animals help us, so you need to be able to tell a professional how your ESA helps you cope with mental health challenges. That gives them the information they need to understand what you’re dealing with and lets them prescribe an ESA letter to back you up. That letter will tell other people and businesses that your ESA is with you legally because they support you in dealing with the symptoms of your disability. 

And don’t worry, that conversation is protected. Only the professional you talk to will know the details of what you are dealing with and you don’t need to prove, or even explain, to anyone else how your pet helps you. No one else is allowed to even ask you to share that information.

Many People Benefit From An ESA, and More People Can Qualify Than You Think

Talking to a professional can help you understand whether you can be helped by having an ESA. While relatively few of us deal with the most severe forms of emotional and mental health disorders, researchers say about half of Americans have or will develop some form of mental or emotional disorder at some point in their life. For some of us, those conditions are severe and long-lasting. Luckily, for many of us, our struggles are more temporary and don’t happen all the time.

Either way, unfortunately, many of us are never formally diagnosed by a professional so we can take steps to help ourselves. They are still very real to us and for many more other people than you might think. It is worth it to find out if you are one of the people who can be helped by an ESA and how to protect your rights if you need that help by speaking to a licensed mental health professional.

A woman with her emotional support dog outdoors.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter? 

With Pettable, you can qualify for and receive an ESA letter in as little as 24 hours (California, Montana, and Arkansas will require a 30 day process). Simply follow the instructions below and we will connect you with a licensed mental health professional in your state who can assess your eligibility for and write you an ESA letter.

Take Our Brief Online Assessment

To get a legitimate ESA letter with Pettable, the first thing you need to do is take our short questionnaire. The assessment will have you answer some questions to help us better understand what your specific needs are, and pre-screen your eligibility for an emotional support animal.

At the end of the quiz, you can choose the ESA letter package that suits you best, and book a consultation with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) in your state.

Consult with a Licensed Mental Health Professional

On the date of your scheduled consultation, you will meet with a mental health professional who will determine your need for an emotional support animal. They will need to verify your mental health condition and that your ESA supports your mental health. If satisfied, the LMHP will then prescribe you with an ESA letter on their letterhead with all the legally required information.

Present Your ESA Letter To Your Landlord

The final step after receiving your ESA letter from your LMHP is to present the letter to your landlord. The landlord is then legally required to accommodate your ESA even if there is a “no pet” policy in place. A landlord can only deny “unreasonable” accommodation requests that may cause “undue hardship” on the landlord, the building, or its occupants. If your landlord attempts to illegally deny your ESA upon any other grounds we will support you through the process, or offer a full refund.

A man embracing his emotional support dog.

Who Can Write Me an ESA Letter?

An ESA letter is a legal document that says a qualified professional agrees that you can benefit from and should be allowed to have an emotional support animal living with and going places with you. 

A few different medical professionals are authorized to sign an ESA letter, but only if they are licensed to provide services in your state. Some of them are: 

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • Family Doctor With Experience In Mental Health
  • Licensed Professional Counselors
  • Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors
  • Licensed Clinical Psychologists

How Do I Know My ESA Letter is Legitimate?

Legitimate ESA services have to follow specific steps to make sure the ESA letter they provide follows all applicable laws at the time you get it and will protect your rights. That process includes:

  • Connecting you with a professional who is legally qualified to certify you are entitled to an ESA
  • Ensuring that you have a one-on-one in-person, phone, or video conversation with that qualified provider
  • Make sure the professionals they connect you with our experts and will include all necessary information (and only necessary info) in your ESA letter
  • Delivering the ESA letter to you in a timely manner
  • Providing support if you run into any difficulty exercising the rights that your ESA helps you pro
An example graphic of an ESA letter with the licensed clinicians information clearly stated.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal, or ESA, is any animal that offers comfort to a person dealing with a diagnosed emotional or mental health disability. ESAs are different from service animals – emotional support animals don’t need to be trained to perform specific, disability-related, tasks like service dogs are. Instead, emotional support animals provide relief for a mental health condition solely with their comforting presence. The companionship, unconditional love, and healthy routine an emotional support animal provides can be essential for someone coping with mental health struggles. ESA status is recognized legally only when someone speaks with a medical professional who can put into writing the importance of the ESA to their owner. As a result, to get an emotional support animal you need to receive an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).

How Are ESAs Different From Service Animals?

Although both emotional support animals and service animals can be invaluable aids for someone with a mental health disability, they do have some fundamental differences. These fundamental differences range from allowed breeds/animal species to legal rights, and even training requirements. Here's a breakdown of what the differences are between these distinct assistance animal categories:

Emotional Support Animals

  • Breed/Species Restrictions — No restrictions, can be any commonly kept domesticated pet, most commonly cats or dogs.
  • Training Requirements — No training is required, only general housing training/obedience training is recommended where applicable.
  • Suitable for — A wide range of mental health or emotional conditions, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder.
  • Where they can go — Only legally required to be accepted into housing, no special rights for transportation, air travel, or public places.
  • Applicable laws — The Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal law protecting individuals in the United States from discrimination in housing.

Service Animals

  • Breed/species restrictions — Generally service animals are required to be dogs, but miniature horses are permissible in some cases.
  • Training requirements — Must receive specialized training to help their handler alleviate a specific symptom of their disability. Are also required to be trained for public access (ie. must behave well in public places like grocery stores).
  • Suitable for — A huge variety of mental health (psychiatric service dogs) and physical disabilities, depending on training.
  • Where they can go — Housing, public places, transportation, and air travel.
  • Applicable laws — The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), The Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) all protect service animals legally in various ways.

What Animals Can Be Emotional Support Animals?

Many kinds of pets can be emotional support animals because a variety of animals are known to offer emotional support to people coping with mental health disabilities. Dogs and cats are the most common ESAs but people keep other types of animals as ESAs, including miniature horses, pigs, and various kinds of birds. Generally speaking, it is better to opt for an ESA that is a commonly kept domestic pet, as opposed to an exotic species. While you may be able to get a licensed mental health professional to sign off on an ESA letter for an exotic pet, getting housing accommodation is a different story.

Keep in mind that the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) that protects your rights as an ESA owner also says that your request for an ESA accommodation has to be “reasonable.” Landlords are well within their rights to deny accommodation for your emotional support alligator or tiger on the grounds of a safety issue, and will almost certainly do so. Landlords must accept emotional support animals that do not cause a safety concern or health concern to others. But a poorly behaved, destructive, or dangerous animal can give landlords a legitimate reason to say “No!” to your ESA request, even if you have a legitimate ESA letter.

What Are The Benefits of Having An Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional support animals provide lots of benefits to their owners. They give us unconditional love, keep us company, and give us something to focus on and take care of outside ourselves. Emotional support animals also help us cope with daily struggles that can arise as a result of an emotional disability.

  1. Live Anywhere with Your Animal
    Emotional support animals are legally protected across the United States under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA states that landlords must accommodate individuals with ESAs, even in the case of a “no pet” policy. Additionally, they can not charge any additional fees for having a pet such as pet rent. This means you could live in any apartment building, condo, or student residence with your ESA without any implications on your rent.
  2. Calming Comfort and Total Support
    All happy pets provide their human companions with boundless love and appreciation. Even when things are a little sour in our human day-to-day lives, these furry friends are always tuned to our moods, and having them in our lives helps us refocus away from our worries. For many of us, having that support is crucial to keeping balanced and productive. That’s why licensed mental health professionals and lawmakers recognize and support ESAs: they provide real help as we deal with emotional and mental health challenges.
  3. Reducing Anxiety with Help from an ESA
    An emotional support animal can help in a big way with anxiety simply because we have something that depends on us. We all need to feel needed, and our pets need us to be there for them. Shopping for, caring for, feeding, and exercising our pets can help us get out of our heads and keep moving. Emotional support animals also give us a routine that helps things stay consistent and reliable.
  4. Adding an ESA Equals Less Loneliness
    Loneliness is both a symptom and cause of many disabilities that ESAs can help with. Less loneliness means a fuller and more satisfying life. Besides being with us at home or when we’re out and about, ESAs help to lessen loneliness in other ways. Spending time outside is encouraged by mental, physical, and spiritual experts because of the health benefits we get from it. And, of course, our pets get the same benefits. Walking the dog or even just sitting on the patio watching the cat roll around is good for us.
  5. ESAs Can Help With Physical Fitness
    Just because a licensed medical professional recommends an emotional support animal to help someone struggling with a mental or emotional disability, that does not mean an ESA can’t also help with physical fitness. Being outside is good for us, but getting out and giving our bodies the chance to move and stretch as much as they can is even better for our bodies and our minds. And that doesn’t just apply to those of us dogs. A companion animal of any kind has the potential to get you moving about.
  6. Sleep Like a Cat or Dog
    Most pets are very good at resting, and we can learn from them. Besides being good role models, however, ESAs are also great at helping us get to sleep. Whether it is that bedtime walk, listening to a purr instead of a noise machine, or having your dog act as a weighted blanket, ESAs help many owners get the rest needed to handle life’s challenges.

Emotional Support Animal Laws You Should Know

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 voluntarily. Each airline will have its own policy and should be contacted directly for clarification.

State-Specific ESA Laws

California ESA Law (AB-468) — 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 at least two consultations with the therapist before they can qualify for an ESA letter. 

Montana ESA Law (HB-703) — Starting October 1st, 2023, a new law in Montana will affect emotional support animals and ESA letters. Much like in California, HB-703 will require Montana residents to establish a 30-day client-provider relationship before being issued an ESA letter. Unlike California, the Montana law applies to all ESAs, not only dogs.

Arkansas ESA Law (HB-1420) — Arkansas is another state that passed specific laws for emotional support animals that affects the process of acquiring an ESA letter. Similar to California and Montana, a 30-day relationship with the issuing licensed mental health professional is required before they are legally able to write you an ESA letter.


Do I need to register my emotional support animal?

No, there is no legal requirement to “register” or “certify” your emotional support animal with any organization. The professionals you work with through Pettable certify that YOU qualify for protection under the law. If you qualify, your pet is a reasonable companion where you want to live, and you have an ESA letter, any pet can be your ESA, no additional special papers are required for them.

Do I need any other documentation for my emotional support animal?

No. ESA certificates, id cards, or registration numbers are simply not a requirement to certify your emotional support animal. The only requirement is a legitimate ESA letter written by a licensed mental health professional.

Can my emotional support animal fly with me on a commercial airline?

Since the beginning of 2021, that depends on each airline’s rules. That’s when the U.S. Department of Transportation said that airlines no longer have to let emotional support dogs or animals fly with their owners in the cabin. While properly trained and documented SERVICE animals can still fly for free on almost every airline, only a few airlines operating in the U.S. still allow ESAs for free and some will only allow them to travel in the cargo hold with the luggage.

Since even ESA-friendly airlines might change rules and requirements before your next trip, make sure you contact them for the latest information well before you fly.

Where is my emotional support animal allowed to go with me?

The Federal Fair Housing Act gives qualified renters the legal right to have ESAs living with them, even in residences that don’t allow pets or have limits about sizes or the number or kind of animal you can have. Many private businesses, restaurants, and retailers are also happy to accommodate well-behaved ESAs, but they aren’t legally required to do that, whether you have an ESA letter or not.

Can hotels prohibit or charge extra for my ESA?

Current U.S. law only prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to qualified people who need an ESA living with them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include hotels or vacation rentals. They can say no to any pet that isn’t a trained service animal, including ESAs, or charge a pet fee on top of what other guests pay to stay there. But there are pet-friendly accommodations available nearly anywhere you might travel, so check with the hotel or property owner/manager for any special requirements and fees.

Can I have more than one ESA?

Yes, as long as you have documentation for each one. Pettable can help you get an ESA letter covering more than one animal.

Meet the author:
Pettable Staff

Pettable is the legitimate option for authentic ESA Letters prescribed by real Licensed Mental Health Professionals. In addition to helping people acquire a diagnosis for an emotional support animals, Pettable also provides psychiatric service dog training programs, as well as training programs for puppies and adult dogs.

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