What Is An Emotional Support Animal? Could My Dog Be Mine?

Animals can be a good source of joy and companionship. They can also provide emotional support to people with mental disorders or physical disabilities. Emotional support animals have become commonplace, but many still wonder what their purpose is.

What is an emotional support animal? An emotional support animal, or ESA, is an animal that offers companionship and additional benefits to an individual with a mental disorder or physical impairment. The animal often helps alleviate one or more aspects of the owner’s disabilities and will get help when its owner shows distress.

It is worth pointing out that emotional support animals differ slightly from service animals. While ESAs provide companionship and support, service animals are trained to help individuals with disabilities to perform specific tasks.

Differences Between ESAs and Service Animals

Below are just some of the things that can help you distinguish between emotional support animals and service animals.

Emotional Support Animals

  • Do not require any specialized training
  • Offer companionship to people with disabilities or emotional issues
  • Are covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act
  • Can be just about any type of animal

Service Animals

  • Are mostly dogs
  • Require specialized training
  • Offer companionship
  • Assist with tasks such as reminding owners to take medication or alert others to emergencies
  • Are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Common Emotional Support Animals

Dogs are by far the most common emotional support animals today. However, some people prefer cats while others may choose alternatives, such as:

  • Pigs
  • Ducks
  • Monkeys
  • Miniature horses
  • Bunnies
  • Birds
  • Hamsters
  • Reptiles

The main thing to remember when you see someone with an emotional support animal – no matter what the animal is – is to not approach the animal or try to pet it. ESAs are not meant to be shown off. They are actively supporting their owners.

Benefits of Emotional Support Animals

Many medical professionals attest to the fact that animals can provide significant help to people with disabilities including the blind and the deaf. However, further research has shown that animals can also be of great benefit to people who have emotional and mental issues.

Some of the specific benefits of having an emotional support animal include:

Anxiety Management

People who tend to get worried and experience panic attacks can easily manage the situation if they have a friendly animal nearby. By simply petting a dog or cat, an individual can start feeling relaxed and enjoy some sort of mood elevation.

Trauma Support

When a person experiences a serious tragedy they may end up being traumatized. Such people can have a hard time staying alone or engaging in certain activities without a companion. An emotional support animal can be a source of comfort in such situations.

Physical Health Benefits

Several studies have shown that emotional support animals help to lower blood pressure. They also help keep respiration rates within manageable limits and improve the individual’s ability to cope with pain. Overall, they offer physical health benefits to their owners.

Help Prevent Loneliness

Because an ESA provides round the clock companionship, it reduces the likelihood that a person will experience extreme loneliness. Keep in mind that some people live alone and may end up developing symptoms of depression and anxiety just because of loneliness.

Reciprocal Care

An animal such as a dog offers unconditional love to its owner. This makes it possible for the owner to know that, no matter what happens, there is someone out there that truly cares. In return, the owner also gets a sense of purpose by loving and caring for the animal.

Why Dogs Are Popular Emotional Support Animals

Dogs are undoubtedly some of the most popular of emotional support animals. This can be attributed to a variety of things including the following.

Friendly Nature

Dogs are naturally friendly to human beings. This means an individual can easily find a puppy and raise them to be the best of companions. Dogs are also quite loyal and are often willing to follow their owners anywhere they may wish to go.

Fast Learners

Dogs are among some of the easiest of animals to train. Even without any special knowledge on how to train a dog, an individual can quickly teach their emotional support animal basic commands. Dog often grasp basic commands like sit down, go outside, or rest. A dog will quickly learn with the daily routine of its owner which is key to ensuring proper support.

Keep Owners Active

Individuals that own pet dogs know exactly how much fun it can be going out for a walk with their dog or playing at the park. These animals are a great companion when it comes to staying active. With a playful dog by your side, you will never have a dull day. Additionally, you are likely to keep physically fit.


Dogs are generally loyal and will protect anyone they love. Having a dog as an emotional support animal comes with various advantages with one of the most beneficial ones being protection. A dog is likely to ward off any potential danger and help keep you safe.

No Special Requirements

A dog is a common domestic animal that does not require any special attention or environment to thrive. They can live in the city or countryside without any complications. Apart from requiring routine veterinary checkups and shots, they are not prone to illnesses and other issues that may cause distress to the owner.

How to Become an Emotional Support Animal Owner

For an individual to own an emotional support animal, he or she must have an emotional or mental disability certified by reputable authorities such as psychiatrists, psychologists, or other mental health care providers.

The owner’s mental impairment must be severe enough to cause a disability. If the mental issue simply causes discomfort, the individual may not qualify to have an ESA. Before getting a certified animal, the owner must prove that the presence of the animal provides a particular benefit.

It is worth noting that anyone is free to apply for ESA certification. However, approval depends on the issues noted above.

Regulations Regarding ESAs

An individual with a certified ESA is likely to enjoy certain privileges or rights in the USA. They are often allowed to board public transport vehicles, airplanes, and enter public places with their animals.

It is also common to find individuals with ESAs living in apartments where other people are not really allowed to have pets. Basically, the law recognizes that ESA owners need their companions to cope with certain situations and that is why they are provided with the right to live with their emotional support animal.

On the other hand, some people claim that ESA owners enjoy too many privileges at the expense of other people. For example, there are people who complain that ESA owners cause problems for individuals that are allergic to certain animals.

In Conclusion

Emotional support animals are like service animals in that they provide a service to their owners. However, the service they provide to their owners is not focused on physical help. Emotional support animals do exactly what their titles suggest – they provide emotional support.