When you certify your pet as an emotional support animal (ESA), you can open more options for affordable housing. Many pet owners feel unfairly burdened by no-pet rules, pet fees, and breed/size restrictions. 

Fortunately, if you qualify for an emotional support animal you’re freed from all these limitations! And most importantly, your furry friend can continue to support your mental health and provide you with love, without housing anxiety. 

It’s easy to certify your pet as an emotional support animal (ESA), and all you need is an ESA letter from a health professional licensed in your state. The guide below is broken out into 3 sections to address any concerns and questions you have about the certification process.

What are Emotional Support Animal Certificates?

An ESA certificate is a document that some organizations sell to pet owners that states their pet is an emotional support animal. These documents often feature an official-looking seal or stamp and represent that the animal is an ESA.

However, there is no formally recognized certification program for emotional support animals.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) actually addressed this issue in their latest set of ESA rules. This is what HUD had to say about ESA certificates:

Some websites sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents for assistance animals…In HUD’s experience, such documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.”

That means ESA certificates can be used as an accessory by an ESA owner, but you can’t just buy a certificate and legally call your pet an emotional support animal. 

ESA certificates do not make pets an ESA
ESA Certificates can be used as an accessory, but it is not sufficient to legally make your pet an ESA.

The Right Process to Certify Your Emotional Support Animal 

To designate your pet as a legally protected emotional support animal, a healthcare professional has to certify that you need one. In every state across the U.S. the document you need is the same: an ESA letter from a licensed therapist or doctor. 

The process to certify an emotional support animal looks like this:

  1. Seek out a qualified mental health professional. This could be your current therapist, counselor, or doctor. You can also use online ESA specialists. 
  2. Have the provider evaluate your mental health. They will need to determine whether your condition is eligible for an emotional support animal. 
  3. Get an ESA letter that certifies your need for an emotional support animal. The letter should be signed, dated, and contain the provider’s license number. 
  4. Submit the ESA letter to your housing provider. Once your housing provider accepts your ESA letter, you will be entitled to all the legal benefits of owning an emotional support animal. 

You can qualify for an ESA letter if you have a mental health disorder like depression, chronic anxiety, or PTSD and you feel better when you’re around your dog, cat, bird, or other pet. You can also get an ESA letter before you adopt your animal. You don’t necessarily have to own a pet already to qualify for an ESA letter. 

If your landlord asks you to prove you own an emotional support animal, an ESA letter is the only proof they can legally request. They can’t ask you for a certificate in addition to or instead of an ESA letter. 

Can You Certify Your Emotional Support Animal Online?

HUD specifically endorses ESA letters that are obtained from online professionals. Here is what they had to say:

“…. many legitimate, licensed health care professionals deliver services remotely, including over the internet. One reliable form of documentation is a note from a person’s health care professional that confirms a person’s disability and/or need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual.”

This means you can turn your pet into an emotional support animal without ever leaving home. With an online service like ESA Doctors, you can be evaluated for an ESA letter remotely. 

The providers that work with ESA Doctors ensure that your ESA letter not only complies with the latest federal rules, but also the rules of the state you live in. For example, California, New York, and Florida all have special rules for emotional support animals that must be followed. 

Click here to get started on qualifying for your ESA letter.

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Benefits of Having a Certified Emotional Support Animal 

Once your pet is a certified emotional support animal, you will have multiple legal and emotional health benefits.

Once your pet is validated as an emotional support animal, you gain access to several legal benefits, including the following:

  • The right to live in no-pets residential buildings. 
  • Exemption from no-pets lease provisions. 
  • Waiver of pet deposits and pet fees. 
  • Exemption from animal breed, size, and weight restrictions. 

Owners of emotional support animals are protected by the Fair Housing Act. That means no matter where you live in the United States, your rights as an ESA owner are always protected.

Mental Health Benefits

Having a certified emotional support animal can help with numerous mental health issues. Owning a pet has been scientifically proven to have beneficial effects on mental health. 

These are just some of the health benefits of having an ESA:

  • ESAs can provide a sense of calm and safety, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals suffering from anxiety disorders. 
  • For those dealing with depression, ESAs can offer companionship that combats feelings of loneliness and isolation. 
  • Interacting with pets has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, and to increase the production of oxytocin, which is a hormone associated with bonding and affection.
  • The companionship of an ESA can enhance overall well-being and mood. This can be due to the increase in dopamine and serotonin levels, neurotransmitters that play a part in regulating mood and emotion.
  • ESAs can be particularly beneficial for individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by providing a feeling of security.
ESAs are beneficial for mental health
Emotional support animals can have several beneficial effects on mental health.

Frequently Asked Questions about Certifying an Emotional Support Animal

Who can certify my pet as an ESA?

To certify your pet as an emotional support animal, you need an ESA letter from a healthcare professional. That means someone like a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, social worker, nurse, marriage and family therapist, or doctor. The person should be licensed to practice in your state and be qualified to evaluate your mental health. 

Where can I go with a certified emotional support animal?

Emotional support animals have the right to live with their owners in most forms of housing, including buildings that prohibit pets. ESAs, however, do not have wide-ranging public access rights in places like stores, restaurants, and hotels. However, many businesses and hotels will still accommodate emotional support animals as a courtesy, even though they are not legally required to do so. 

Is there a government entity that issues emotional support animal certifications?

No, there is no official government ESA certification program. There is also no private organization that issues legally recognized ESA certificates. To certify your pet as an emotional support animal, you need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health provider. 

Do you need a training certificate for an emotional support animal?

You do not need any type of training certificate for an emotional support animal. ESAs provide support just by being a reliable presence for their owners. Unlike service dogs, they are not required to be trained to perform any special tasks or jobs for their owners. 

It’s a good idea, however, to provide basic training for any animal you own. Just because your pet is an emotional support animal does not mean a landlord cannot remove it if it causes major property damage or harms another tenant. Emotional support animals are expected to be good tenants like all other humans and animals living in the building. 

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