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The 8 Best Types of Emotional Support Animals

While the most common types of emotional support animals are dogs and cats, any commonly kept domesticated pet can be an ESA. Some other popular types of emotional support animals include guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, and hamsters.

Matt Fleming
January 12, 2024
May 3, 2023
5 minutes
Updated By
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Grant FiddesGrant Fiddes
SEO Associate
May 3, 2023
August 18, 2021
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Any domesticated animal can be an emotional support animal. Find the right ESA for you with Pettable.

Individuals struggling with various mental health disorders might be surprised to learn about the many types of emotional support animals available to them. But many don’t even know what an emotional support animal (ESA) actually is or how they can enhance their everyday lives, let alone which animals qualify for the duty.

What Animals Can Be Emotional Support Animals?

While standard service animals are limited to dogs, any domesticated animal can be an ESA. This includes cats, rabbits, hamsters, certain birds, miniature horses, and pigs. The primary requirement is that the animal is under its owner’s control in public and isn’t a nuisance in the home. 

Simply put, an ESA is an animal that provides a therapeutic benefit, such as emotional support, comfort, or companionship, to a person with a mental health disorder or psychiatric disability. Unlike a service dog, an ESA is considered a pet rather than a working animal, so it doesn’t have some of the same protections — but that shouldn’t minimize its value in helping those in need. While service animals are permitted in most public places and settings, ESAs usually can’t accompany their owners in restaurants or stores. They are also excluded from the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and are considered pets for air travel purposes. 

Let’s take a look at the eight best types of ESAs and how they can help those with emotional and mental health challenges.

1. Dogs

The most common type of service animals, dogs can provide a wide spectrum of support for anyone living with a mental health disorder. As an ESA, a canine companion provides support and comfort to individuals dealing with mental and emotional disabilities. Whether it’s their physical touch, loving demeanor, or loyal companionship, dogs make for a great ESA. You can even train your current pet dog to become an ESA to make the experience even easier.

Unlike their service counterparts, dogs serving as ESAs are not required to be trained to perform any specific tasks — they simply provide mental and emotional relief. 

Dogs certified as ESAs are protected by the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which means housing providers are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with emotional support dogs, even if they don’t typically allow pets. 

2. Cats

Cats are the second-most common type of ESA, and they make terrific companions for individuals with emotional and mental health challenges. Their independent nature makes them a low-maintenance alternative to dogs, and studies show that spending time with cats can reduce stress levels and promote mental and emotional well-being. However, like their canine counterparts, these feline friends are not considered service animals and don’t have the same levels of federal protection.

3. Guinea Pigs

It may surprise you that domesticated rodents can qualify as ESAs, and guinea pigs are among the best of the pack. In fact, guinea pigs are one of the most effective animals for supporting people with emotional and psychological struggles. Not only are they surprisingly intelligent, but their attentive and loving nature can also provide joy and companionship in a small package. They have unique personalities, are friendly and playful, and are generally low maintenance, making them ideal for anyone who can’t handle the commitment to a dog or cat’s needs.

4. Rabbits

Though they may not be as clever and humorous as Bugs Bunny, rabbits also make excellent ESAs. They are gentle, playful, and most of all, extremely cute. Individuals with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can benefit from their relaxed demeanor and joyful behavior. They take up little space, are easy to care for, and are receptive to training, so they could be ideal for anyone who needs a small bundle of sunshine in their lives.

5. Birds

Many people keep domesticated birds, such as parrots, cockatoos, and parakeets, and as intelligent and empathetic animals, they make great ESAs. Domesticated birds often have a longer lifespan compared to other animals, are relatively inexpensive to feed, and are ideal for smaller spaces like studios and apartments. Plus, some birds, including the popular parrot, have vocal skills that can help with socialization.

6. Hamsters

Another small rodent that makes a great emotional support pet is the happy-go-lucky hamster. These little bundles of joy are already popular pets for kids thanks to their ease of care and compact size, not to mention their fluffy cuteness and adults with mental health struggles can benefit, as well. Like other ESA-friendly rodents, hamsters require minimal space and upkeep, making them a great choice for someone who wants emotional support in a small package.

7. Miniature Horses

On the opposite spectrum of size, miniature horses make great ESAs for those who have the space to support them. While they may not be the first animal anyone thinks of when they consider an ESA, mini-horses are great for animal-assisted therapy (AAT) thanks to their calm nature and affectionate attitude. Activities such as petting, brushing, and washing their manes and coats can be therapeutic and meditative, helping to relax and boost an individual's mood.

8. Pigs

Maybe one of the most unlikely of ESAs, small or potbellied pigs have been popular as pets for years, and they can provide outstanding support and affection. They have great temperaments and long lifespans and can help those with mental or emotional challenges socialize in new environments. They’re also well-behaved and intelligent, making them easy to train.

Choosing the Right Emotional Support Animal for You

When it’s time to determine which type of support animal you should adopt, you’ll need to consider how one can fit into your lifestyle, what kind of support you need, your budget, and any allergies. Large dog breeds and mini horses may require more care than smaller animals, cats may trigger allergic reactions, and some people might not care for the smells associated with small rodents. Think about your needs and which type of ESA would provide you with the most joy while remaining practical for your life.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal Letter

Once you’ve chosen the best animal to support your emotional and mental health, as well as to fit your lifestyle, you’ll need to get an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). Thankfully, with Pettable, the process is easy and straightforward.

Complete our Assessment

To get started, just complete our ESA assessment to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal. You may be eligible for an ESA if you live with a mental or emotional disorder, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

These and other disorders can qualify you for an ESA and our professionals are here to help make it a reality.

Consult with a Therapist

After you’ve determined your eligibility, you’ll need to consult with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker, or behavioral therapist, to diagnose your disorder and write your ESA letter. 

Get an ESA Letter with Pettable

The friendly team at Pettable can make getting an ESA letter and starting your support animal journey simple and comfortable. We guarantee that the letter you receive will do everything you need for your specific needs — or your money back. We can connect you to the right mental health professionals and provide unparalleled customer service and legal support. Get started today and discover the peace of mind an ESA offers.

Meet the author:
Matt Fleming

Matt is a Midwestern-based writer and devoted dog dad, living with a sweet mixed-breed pup named Robin. A life-long dog lover, he had the pleasure of growing up with several German Shepherds, a Cocker Spaniel, and a Black Labrador. He is a full-time editor, as well as a musician and poet, who loves basketball, birdwatching and listening to The Cure and Nick Cave.

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