Emotional Support Animal Requirements

If you or a loved one is considering getting an emotional support animal (ESA) or having a pet officially recognized as one, it is important to understand any requirements, regulations or rules that may affect you and your pet’s role as an ESA.

What Exactly is an Emotional Support Animal?

An ESA is an animal that has been prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to provide a health benefit to a person with an emotional or mental disability.

Why You Want Your Pet to be an Emotional Support Animal

Aside from the therapeutic value, as an ESA your pet has rights that typical animals don’t, such as:

  • Access to almost all types of housing, even those with no-pet policies
  • Access to the cabin of almost any airplane so they can travel with their owners
  • Landlords/property owners and airlines cannot legally charge additional fees for housing or airplane access

Requirements to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

To qualify for an ESA, a licensed mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist, must indicate that you have an emotional or mental disability as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • AD/HD
  • Cognitive disorders
  • Social anxiety disorder

This diagnosis, including the indication that the presence of an animal helps your condition, must be written in a signed and dated document (letter) on the mental health professional’s letterhead. ESA letter requirements include:

  • Contact information
  • Their license type and number
  • The issue date for their license and the state where the license was issued

Training Requirements for Emotional Support Animals

Unlike service animals, your ESA does not require any specialized training. However, some training is necessary, so your ESA:

  • Is well-behaved and under your control
  • Will not harm people, other animals or property
  • Will not cause a disturbance

While ESAs do not legally require specific training, service animals do. Service animals have extensive training so they can perform specific tasks to compensate for their owner’s disability.

Registration Requirements

Your ESA does not need to be registered beyond your basic community animal/pet licensing requirements. Although some owners choose to register their pets to get a card that helps justify the presence of the animal, the only legal requirement for housing and air travel is your ESA letter.

ESAl Identification Requirements

ESAs are not required to display any ESA identification such as a vest. Some owners like to have their emotional support animals easily recognized, such as have their ESA dog wear an ESD (emotional support dog) vest. Some feel that this identifies their pet as a working animal and eliminates curiosity and questions when encountering the public.

Identification should not misidentify an ESA as a service animal or a certified therapy animal. These animals have different requirements than an ESA.

Emotional Support Animal Access Requirements

By law, your ESA is allowed to live in “no pets” policy housing and travel in the cabin of an airplane with you. Both access situations are available at no extra cost to you.

Unlike with a service animal, restaurants, markets and other places that serve or sell food are not required to give your ESA access. Other public places are also not legally required to allow emotional support animal access, including hotels, medical offices, libraries and malls.

Animal Size, Weight and Breed Requirements

There are no size, weight or breed restrictions on ESAs.

For example, both Yorkshire Terriers (very small) and Great Danes (very large) can be emotional support animals. And, a Pit Bull, although a commonly discriminated against breed can, along with any other breed of dog, be an ESA.

No-Hassle ESA Letter Services

Since there are many specific requirements for a proper ESA letter, obtaining the letter is often a point of worry for people who feel they need an emotional support animal to live and/or fly with them. With our years of experience and extensive mental health professional referral network, the DOGtor can help you with your ESA letter with our surprisingly fast, simple and affordable process.

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