Emotional Support Animals – More Than Just Pets

Also known as comfort animals, emotional support animals provide emotional support to an individual experiencing an emotional disorder. Not only do these animals provide company to a person but also are also affectionate and fun, which in turn helps lower stress levels and increases activity. Emotional support animals do not have to be professionally trained, unlike service animals, but they must be housebroken and well-behaved. These animals should wear a tag indicating their status as an emotional support animal, but are not required by law.

What Is The Purpose Of An Emotional Support Animal?

ESAs can be any domesticated animal that offers its handler comfort and relief from emotional pain. These animals, especially dogs, can assist with dealing with emotional disorders that include:

  • Suicidal tendencies/thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders
  • Phobias/fears
  • PTSD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

Moreover, emotional support animals, whether a dog, cat or a hamster, are great for alleviating loneliness, which is especially beneficial for people whose brains work a little differently. A lone sole tends to over think, and becomes more aware of his miseries and problems. On the other hand, a person who has to run around a dog and follow a schedule will have less time for negative thoughts and therefore will be happier.

Loneliness is more serious than it seems. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. People who are emotionally distressed and lonely will have more suicidal tendencies and poor mental health. These animals act as a constant companion for their owners/handlers and are a reminder that even if the world turned against them, they will always be there to goof around and be supportive. Emotional support animals are often used as a means of therapy for suicidal people as they give them a reason to stay behind and enjoy life.

When you no longer feel alone and are happier, you are at a higher chance of healing, whether from an injury or an illness. The great thing about these emotional support animals is they neither judge nor complain, a quality that is deficient in human beings. You can be your truest self around your pet and still be loved and accepted by them.

The purpose of an emotional support animal is to be an emotionally challenged person’s constant companion who loves him/her unconditionally and without any demands. Although they cannot respond, these animals, especially dogs and cats, detect pain and discomfort and try in their own special way to comfort their handler. This in turn relieves stress and the feeling of uselessness and improves overall health. Research suggests that emotional support animals help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels and improve heart health.

Besides reducing boredom and anxiety, an emotional support animal can also help increase socialization. Dog walking and dog parks can be a great way to make new friends and broaden your social circles. Animals also are a great topic of conversation and can sprout long-lasting friendships and even relationships.

ESAs are widely used in pet therapy to improve the patient’s social, mental and emotional functioning with animal support. Besides, they are also used in schools and hospitals and after disasters in order to give consolation to the patients and the victims.


Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Animal?

There are many different ways a person might be qualified to own an Emotional Support Animal and that  can receive an ESA letter for their usage. Here is just a few of the disorders that a person may be prescribed an ESA:

  • Anxiety (both adult and children)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Depression
  • Social Phobia
  •  Many other disorders as well- talk to a qualified professional to determine if a particular disorder would qualify

Getting a pet Certified as an Official Emotional Support Animal and having an official letter that verifies this special status will often allow individuals special consideration when it comes to housing or use of the support animal in public areas or places that would other wise not allow the keeping of a “pet”. The process of getting this letter is often times made easier by using private companies that understand the laws governing the use of ESA’s, and are able to process the applications very quickly, many times in as little as 72 hours.


Author Bio: Brad Smith is an avid animal lover and content enthusiast living in Philadelphia. He spends most of his time freelancing content writing and volunteering at his church.

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  • Emotional Support Animals do not require certification, only a doctor’s note verifying that you have a mental illness that would benefit from a pet. The only access ESA are allowed are on airplanes and no-pet housing. Online certification holds no legal standing, nor do tags identifying them as such. They are great for those who need them, but are not to be confused with SD or therapy animals- all three are vastly different with different laws and criteria for them. So, while they’re a great tool, do a lot of research before you throw yourself into it.

    • Good info – thanks for sharing. Seems like an excellent idea to do a lot of research into anything like this to see what the benefits might be or what the best way to go about doing it before doing anything impulsive.

  • I had an ESA dog. I lost him in Oct 2015 and now everyday once again has turned me suicidal with no reason to stick around.

    • Hang in there – have you looked to adopt another dog? I found that mine gets me out of the house and makes me happier. I would highly suggest getting another one!

      • “Hang in there.” That’s the best you’ve got?
        You have zero understanding. I have a service dog (not emotional support)..he’s for real, doctor prescribed. It’s not necessary for them to be professionally trained. Read the official ADA service dog requirements. It’s not necessary for him to wear anything identifying him as such. There are no valid “certificate programs”…many money making scams tho. Again, read the official ADA service dog info.

  • I couldn’t agree more with David. There are so many beautiful rescue dogs out there looking for a loving home. I myself also own a dog and I couldn’t wish for a better companion . I only lost my oldest last year in August at the age of 13 and her death really hit me hard. I am so glad that I still have another one who helped me going through these difficult time.

  • I lost my dog 10/20/16. While he wasn’t an ESA dog he was my baby. I have enormous guilt about his death. He got sick (myasthenia Gravis), and I tried to get him better, but he died in his sleep. I’ve been depressed for 20+ years, and the eight short years I had my dog were some of the best. Since his death my life has turned to shit. I lost my job, got another then just quit it, so now I’m jobless again. I would love to get another dog but my BF won’t let me.

    • I agree with Anne. If having a dog will help give you the companionship you need, and help to alleviate your depression, then you should do what is best for YOU. Does your boyfriend know about your depression? Either way, try explaining your reasoning for wanting a dog to him. If your boyfriend doesn’t understand this, then he is a crappy boyfriend. Besides, dogs are better than people, anyway.

  • I had a golden retriever she was my emotional support pet i was 16 when i had my first eating disorder anorexia and i think im the reason she died because she knew i was so sick she felt my emotions too deeply but she was a healthy 14 year old dog… Now I’m 30 i have a pet rabbit and i feel she’s exactly like my dog…a rabbit! I love my bunny she’s 4 years now. My baby!

  • What if your physically unable to care for a dog, I am house bound and am unable to take for walks or to even get him outside to relive themselfs.

    • It is emotional support animals- not emotional support dogs. Cats are common, as well as ferrets and other animals. Not everybody wants or enjoys animals- and all animals require some care and add some expense- so it is not an answer for everybody- but for many people they do help.

    • I am physically disabled and in a wheelchair and I can’t walk a dog either. I have a cat. She is wonderful and extremely affectionate and I love her just as much as I would have loved a dog. All I have to go is pour food and water in a bowl and scoop out the litter box a couple times a week. She’s really easy. It’s a myth that cats aren’t as loyal or affectionate as dogs. Get a cat.

  • I’ve been wanting an emotional support dog for a while. I already have the certification in place. But no dog. My dad has said we can get one sometime this year, we even went to a pet fair. But he just isn’t taking it seriously. I’ve talked to him several times about it only to receive the same response. I don’t know how to make him take me and the matter seriously. There were plenty of animals right in front of us and he still can’t commit to the decision. I’ve been depressed for too long and haven’t been able to get the help I need fast enough. I never thought I would contemplate suicide until now. I don’t want to go down that road and I honestly think a dog will help.

  • I would not be alive today if not for my dog. I have been depressed my entire life but a few years ago i hit rock bottom hard. After 25 years of marriage, my husband left for another woman, i lost my job and was about to lose my house. I tried to kill myself and was but into a mental hospital for a week. While there my adult daughter took pictures of my dogs to bring to me. My jack russel looked so sad, she said she had to take 20+ pictures to get one that didn’t look like he wanted to run infront of a car. He would not eat or even go outside the whole time i was gone. I knew no matter how bad things were i couldn’t leave him again. I went though a complete nightmare but i made it thanks to him. I still fight my depression daily but he keeps me going. I do worry about when he is gone through.

  • My son is bi-polar and can suffer from severe depression and anxiety. He has a dog who is 14 now, who he loves. He doesn’t have a lot of friends. Just a few he can call when he’s lonely. He has told me his dog has saved him from suicide many times. Im so afraid when his dog dies, my son will give up. I’ve suggested he get another dog now, but he feels it would hurt his current dogs feelings. He loves this dog so much, but the dog has gone deaf and has in increasing disabilities related to age. My son is on disability, is in his 40’s and lives alone. What should I do?

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