What is an ESA dog exactly? An ESA dog is an emotional service animal, they provide comfort and support to their owners. ESA dogs are different than full service dogs in more than one way. The process for getting an ESA dog is wildly different than a service dog. The rights and protections for an ESA are also different than that of a service dog. 

In the world of working dogs, there are many types of service animals and support animals. In a previous blog, we talked about Pyschiatric Service Dogs and Service Dogs in general (insert link to PSD blog). In this article we are going to dive into the world of support animals, what they are, what they do, what rights they have, and how you can get one. 

What is an Emotional Support Animal, ESA

An emotional service animal is more than just a pet. ESA’s provide a level of comfort and support to their owners, and when properly prescribed by a doctor, are afforded minimal protections by the federal government. 

To obtain an ESA you need a prescription from a licensed medical professional, such as your doctor. Once you have obtained that prescription, you can move forward with the next steps on getting your ESA. In some cases, landlords or housing locations may require that written letter from a medical professional to come from a pyschologist or psychiatrist. 

If you already have a prescription from your doctor, all you need is the pet. Some owners chose to register their ESA animals with the US Service Animal website, an official website for the registration of all types of service and support animals. 

There are other companies you can go to that can get you a certificate for your ESA, but they are not necessary. All you need is a letter from your doctor or medical professional. 

What is the difference between an ESA and a Service Dog

An ESA and a service dog are very different in many ways. They have different rights and privileges, they have different levels of training, and different jobs. An ESA is an emotional service dog, they offer support, they do not need special training and they do not need to learn how to perform any tasks in order to do their job as an ESA. All you need in order to have a legitimate Emotional Support Animal, is a letter or prescription from your medical professional, and the animal you wish to haver as your ESA. 

When it comes to differences between ESA’s and service dogs don’t stop there. A service dog is completely and fully protected federally, and they are allowed to be in most any public location regardless of the pet policies. An ESA is not protected in the same manner. An emotional service animal is only protected as far as housing goes. If you have a prescription from your doctor and live where pets are not allowed, landlords or property managers must let the ESA have an exemption. But that is where the protection stops for an ESA. An emotional support animal is not allowed in stores, public locations like restaurants, or airplanes like a service dog is. 

ESA’s and Service Dogs are also different in the realm of training. An ESA doesn’t need any special training to perform it’s job, where as a service dog requires an incredible amount of training in multiple different areas. ESA’s also don’t need to perform any tasks for their owner, unlike a service dog. 

How can an Emotional Support Animal help me

An ESA is a great tool to help provide comfort and support at home. Many ESA’s are chosen because they provide additional support to their owners. While a regular family dog can provide the same comforts and support, without an official prescription from a doctor, that family pet isn’t protected like an ESA is by the Federal Fair Housing Act. 

Getting a letter or prescription from your doctor for an ESA is how you ensure that your emotional support animal is protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act. ESA animals are incredibly good at providing the emotional support especially for thoser suffering from depression, anxiety and even PTSD. They are used to provide a calming presence and an extra layer of support for those suffering from a wide variety of disabilities. 

ESA’s are a fantastic choice for people suffering from different disabilities, but don’t need a full on service dog. Not everyone who suffers from a mental illness like depression or anxiety are in need of a service dog, which often comes with a hefty price tag. ESA’s are great for people who just need the emotional support and comfort that an animal can provide, all without the hefty cost of extensive training that is required for any full service dog. 

What ailments and disorders can qualify me for an ESA dog with my doctor

There are a wide variety of disorders and illnesses that can qualify you for an ESA animal. These illnesses include: stress problems, social phobias, separation anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks, emotionally overwhelmed, dyslexia, depression, bipolar, autism, ADD, ADHD, anxiety, age related cognitive decline and any psychiatric condition, all fall in the category for ESA qualifications. 

ESA animals can be prescribed for many other mental conditions, even conditions like insomnia and OCD. These animals are often prescribed to give the owners a sense of peace, comfort and support when they are home. This can make a world of difference in many patients battling any of these disorders. 

You can qualify for an ESA with such a large number of disorders and illnesses, so long as your doctor feels that an ESA would benefit you and your treatment plan, that doctors letter is all you need to move forward. 

Do I need to Pay for a special certificate in order to have an official ESA

The short answer is no; all you need is that letter or prescription for an ESA from a licensed medical professional. However, many people opt to pay a small fee to register their ESA and obtain a certificate from an online company. This is not a requirement, however many feel it is necessary in order to prove their pet is an emotional support animal. The reality is that letter or prescription from your doctor is all you need to have an official ESA. 

There is an option to register your ESA with the US Service Animals; which is the official registration office for service and support animals in the United States. Having that official registration from the US Service Animals and a letter from your doctor is all the official proof you need to ensure you and your animal is protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act. When you present this information for your ESA, no housing is legally able to refuse your ESA from living with you, even college dorms are required to accommodate ESA’s that are properly documented. 


ESA’s or Emotional Support Animals are a type of support dog that are often prescribed to people suffering from a wide variety of mental illnesses that are severe enough to require treatment but not severe enough to warrant a full service dog. ESA’s are federally protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act, meaning that no landlord, apartment complex or dormitory can refuse a properly documented ESA from living with their owner. 

ESA dogs do not share the same protections under the American’s with Disabilities Act however, which is one of the biggest differences between a service dog, which is protected under the ADA, and an ESA, which is not protected by the ADA. 

ESA dogs are prescribed by licensed medical professionals to help offer support and comfort to their owners who suffer from any number of mental illnesses or disabilities. 

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Ara Hughey
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