An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal that provides therapeutic companionship for individuals with mental health or emotional disorders. For an animal to be considered an official Emotional Support Animal, a licensed mental health professional (psychologist, therapist, social worker, licensed counselor, registered nurse, etc.) must determine that an Emotional Support Animal is necessary for the patient’s mental health and well-being. Emotional Support Animals are most commonly dogs and cats, but they can be any small domesticated animal that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure.

If an LMHP determines that their client would benefit from having an Emotional Support Animal, they would write an ESA Letter that the client can use to have protections under federal law in housing and on flights.

If you believe you may be a good candidate for having an emotional support animal, your next step is to get an ESA Letter. If you would like our support in connecting with an LMHP, you may get started by clicking the link below.

Blue get started button with arrow

Do I qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?

If you are interested in seeing if you qualify for an Emotional Support Animal and want to learn more, you may find the information below helpful.

Do I qualify for an emotional support animal infographic

You may qualify for an ESA Letter if you experience emotional or mental health conditions for which an Emotional Support Animal relief. Examples of eligible emotional or mental conditions include:

If you experience any of the conditions described above, it might be time to work with your doctor or therapist to address your mental health issues and also see if you qualify for a real ESA Letter. It is important to work with a licensed health care professional that is familiar with Emotional Support Animals so they can support you in answering any questions you may have and help you deal with your landlord or airline. If it isn’t an option for you to see someone in person, ESA Doctors can help pair you with a licensed health care professional who is a specialist in this space to support you online.

Living with an Emotional Support Animal

Knowledge is Power: Understanding the Rules for Emotional Support Animals (ESA) to Make Informed Decisions for Your Mental Health & Wellbeing

One benefit of working with an LMHP to qualify your animal as an official ESA is to protect yourself against discrimination in housing. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords must provide “reasonable accommodation” for Emotional Support Animals regardless of whether or not a housing unit maintains a “no pets” rule for its residents.

Emotional Support Cat on kitchen table
Live with your Emotional Support Cat

If an individual with an ESA applies for a lease in a “no-pets” community, or is a current resident that is seeking to live with their ESA, they must disclose their ESA to the landlord and request accommodation for their ESA. The housing provider or landlord is allowed under Fair Housing rules to request reasonable documentation that establishes that the tenant has a disability, and that their Emotional Support Animal alleviates symptoms of that disability.

The tenant satisfies this requirement to provide documentation by presenting an ESA letter from their licensed health care provider. If a property manager unfairly denies an applicant, even with sufficient proof of an animal’s ESA status, that applicant may report and file an official discrimination complaint against the property manager/owner with the Department of Housing & Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

ESAs are not considered pets under Fair Housing rules, and policies that pertain to pets do not apply to ESAs. For example, landlords are not permitted to charge deposits and fees in connection with ESAs, or enforce breed or weight restrictions, even though such policies may apply to regular pets.

Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal

The federal Air Carrier Access Act protects Emotional Support Animals and allows them to travel inside the airplane with you. If you wish to travel with your Emotional Support Animals on flights, there are just a few steps you should be aware of when you are making your flight reservations.

Emotional Support Dog on a flight with handler
Fly with your Emotional Support Dog

To travel on an airplane with an ESA, you must provide documentation—dated no longer than one year prior to the scheduled flight and on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional—stating at least the following:

(1) You have a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; and

(2) You need the ESA as an accommodation for air travel

You should provide documentation to the airline at least 48 hours before the scheduled flight. It is worth looking up your airline’s rules and regulations to ensure you have properly submitted all the required documents. Many airlines will require additional forms to be submitted. It is also worth reading about the Department of Transportation’s latest guidance regarding ESAs on flights.

Going to school with an Emotional Support Animal

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice and the University of Nebraska at Kearney settled a civil rights lawsuit that determined Federal Law requires universities to accommodate students who need ESAs “in order to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of university housing”. As rates of anxiety and depression continue to soar on college campuses across the country, these legal protections have empowered more students to bring their Emotional Support Animal to live in on-campus housing.

Woman on college campus with Emotional Support Dog
Have your Emotional Support Dog with you on college campus housing

What’s the difference between an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and a Service Animal?

It is common to get ESAs and Service Animals confused. Unlike Service Animals, ESAs are not specifically trained to perform tasks directly related to an owner’s disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulates Service Animals and provides that all Service Animals may accompany persons with disabilities into all businesses open to the public, or “places of public accommodation.” Unlike a Service Animal, an Emotional Support Animal does not have automatic access to places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels and stores.

As previously discussed however, ESAs do have protections under federal law when it comes to housing and air travel.

While the majority of ESAs are dogs, a wide variety of animals can qualify, including cats, miniature horses, rabbits, small birds, hamsters, gerbils, rats, other rodents, fish, turtles and other small, domesticated animals. On the other hand, Service Animals are generally dogs.

Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Dog vs. Therapy dog infographic.

Steps to qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

  1. Determine your need for an Emotional Support Animal
  2. Contact your health care professional or connect with one online to request documentation for your animal
  3. Submit your ESA letter to your landlord and/or airline
  4. Have your landlord and/or airline verify and validate your ESA letter

Now that you know some of the benefits of having an ESA and the basic rules regarding ESAs, you can now feel confident and empowered to make your own decision about qualify for a legitimate ESA. You are not required to register your Emotional Support Animal, and certifications and licenses do not confer official status on your ESA. As noted before, the only way to obtain an ESA letter is through a licensed health care provider.

If you do not have a licensed health care provider or are having trouble finding one in person, you can reach out to ESA Doctors who can help connect you to a licensed professional online.

Three easy steps to get an ESA Letter with ESA Doctors
Start here button

Get the Love and Support you deserve!