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7 Things To Know About Emotional Support Animals

I used to underestimate the power of support from companion animals.

Everything you need To Know About Emotional Support Animals

It wasn't until I recently witnessed how pets comfort people by lying next to them and licking away their tears that I started asking a certified mental health professional how emotional support animal (ESA) can help a friend who is feeling alone and isolated.

The psychiatrist told me that emotional support animals can help people who are experiencing psychological or emotional difficulty live productive and happy lives by providing unconditional support and companionship. After consulting other licensed mental health care providers for the last few weeks, I can confirm that emotional support animals can help my friend weather the storm.

If I had to guess, you’re probably reading this right now because you have no idea what the term “emotional support animal” even means. Like, is it a companion animal? Or pets that support people with emotional and psychological problems? To be honest, it’s a bit of all two.

Emotional support animal, in a nutshell, is a pet that is prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias.

And if you’re new to emotional support animals or you still think it’s just any animal that helps people with disability, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do, starting with some facts that you (and everyone else) need to know.

7 Things To Know About Emotional Support Animals (ESA)

Although emotional support animals are known to comfort those dealing with challenges that might otherwise compromise their quality of life, there are other important things you should know about them.

1. Emotional Support Animals Are Often Prescribed By A Licensed Mental Health Professional

In order to be legally considered as an emotional support animal, the pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to its handler. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient.

2.  Emotional Support Animals Can Reduce High Level of Stress

High levels of stress is harmful to the body and mind. It can cause damage to our physical bodies, minds, moods, productivity and our relationships.

Those who go through high level of stress can show some mental or cognitive symptoms such as poor concentration, memory loss, anxious thoughts, constant worry, persistent negative thoughts, and even poor judgement skills.

Thankfully, emotional support animals are effective at stopping this high level of stress. According to one study, interacting with a dog appears to lower the levels of stress hormones (cortisol) in humans.

Happy hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins which is released while petting or staring at a dog can improve mood and affect happiness, according to Veterinarian, Dr. Marta Vieira (

3. Emotional Support Animals Are Often Allowed In Any Housing Unit

While you may not be able to enter some houses with pets, emotional support animals are allowed in any housing unit ranging from apartment, house, college dorm, etc. This is because they are there for people with emotional, psychiatric, or psychological needs.

4. Emotional Support Animal May Require No Specific Training

Many people are able to train their emotional support animals. But unlike Service Dogs, ESAs require no specific animal training. They just need to have a warm heart. Fortunately, some state and federal laws regard ESAs as an important part of mental health treatment. As a result, official Emotional Support Animals have specific travel and housing rights even without being trained.

5. You May Not Be Allowed To Fly With Your Emotional Support Animal In Some Airlines

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, emotional support animal are no longer considered to be a service animal. Because of this, more robust rules are now put in place to restrict people from flying with an emotional support animal. These include a letter from a doctor, vet record, along with confirmation the animal will behave in public. Most airlines prohibit exotic pets and animal that growls, jumps on passengers, relieves themselves on board or in waiting areas, barks excessively, etc.

6. Many Pets Can Provide Emotional Support

You've heard of dogs giving support to people living with mental health problems, but what about other types of pets? According to Emotional Pet Support, “all domesticated animals may qualify as an ESA (cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, birds, hedgehogs, rats, minipigs, ferrets, etc.) and they can be any age (young puppies and kittens, too!)”.

7. Emotional Support Animal Is Different From Service Animal

There is a key difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal. 

A service animal must undergo training for a specific disability, while an ESA doesn't have to be trained in order to comfort and calm its handler.