Emotional Support Animal Registration 2023: How To Get ESA Letter?

Amelia Smith, MFA
Dr. Kimberly Langdon, MD
Discover the differences between emotional support animals and psychiatric service animal, their roles, and how they assist individuals.
Emotional Support Animal Registration 2023
Learn how to get an ESA letter. Photo: Shutterstock & Team Design

Emotional support animals[1] (ESAs) play a crucial role in providing comfort and support to individuals dealing with mental health conditions. Understanding the ins and outs of ESAs is essential for those considering their use or registration. This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about emotional support animals and how to register them.

ESAs are distinct from service animals as they are not trained to perform specific tasks. Instead, their presence offers therapeutic benefits to individuals with mental disabilities. To ensure the rights of ESA owners, it’s important to be aware of the Fair Housing Act, which protects against housing discrimination, and the Air Carrier Access Act, which allows ESAs to accompany their owners during air travel.

Emotional Support Animal Registration

To obtain an ESA, it is necessary to consult a licensed mental health professional who can provide an emotional support animal letter. This letter serves as proper documentation and facilitates the registration process. We will explore the requirements and procedures involved in obtaining an ESA and debunk any misconceptions.

By familiarizing yourself with the laws, regulations, and registration process, you can confidently navigate the world of emotional support animals. This article aims to equip you with the knowledge needed to understand the importance of ESAs and their role in promoting mental well-being.

How To Register For An Emotional Support Animal?

The registration process for ESAs does not involve a formal or official registry. To register for an emotional support animal (ESA), here are a few steps to follow:

Consult With A Mental Health Professional

Schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They will assess your mental or emotional condition and determine if an ESA would be beneficial for you.

Obtain An ESA Letter

If your mental health professional determines that an ESA would be helpful, they will provide you with an ESA letter. This letter serves as official documentation and verifies your need for an emotional support animal. The letter should be on the professional’s letterhead, include their license information, and state your condition and the therapeutic benefits of having an ESA.

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Research Local Laws And Regulations

Familiarize yourself with the specific laws and regulations regarding ESAs in your area. Understand your rights and responsibilities as an ESA owner, such as housing and travel accommodations, as laws may vary between countries, states, and cities.

Notify Your Landlord Or Housing Provider

If you live in rented accommodation, inform your landlord or housing provider about your intention to have an ESA. Provide them with a copy of your ESA letter and discuss any necessary documentation or requirements they may have. Be aware of fair housing laws that protect your rights as an ESA owner.

Consider Training And Socialization

While training is not a legal requirement for ESAs, it is beneficial for their behavior and well-being. Consider enrolling your ESA in obedience classes to ensure they are well-behaved and can adapt to various environments. Socialization with other animals and people can also help them remain calm and confident.

Acquire Necessary Supplies

Prepare for your ESA’s arrival by purchasing the necessary supplies, such as food, water bowls, bedding, toys, and any other items they may require. Create a safe and comfortable space for them in your home.

Inform Airlines And Travel Authorities 

If you plan to travel with your ESA, contact your airline or travel authorities well in advance to understand their specific requirements and policies regarding ESAs. Some airlines may require additional documentation or have specific guidelines for in-cabin travel with an ESA.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal? 

Emotional Support Animal Registration 2023
Dog as emotional support animal for seniors in the nursing home. Photo: Shutterstock

An emotional support animal[2] (ESA) is a companion animal that offers comfort, support, and therapeutic benefits to individuals with mental health conditions or emotional disorders. This article aims to comprehensively understand the concept of emotional support animals and their significance.

ESAs differ from service animals as they are not trained to perform specific tasks. Instead, their primary role is to provide emotional support and alleviate symptoms associated with mental health issues. Licensed mental health professionals often prescribe ESAs based on their assessment of the individual’s needs and determine that the presence of an animal is beneficial for their mental well-being.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) are important legislations that protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, including mental health conditions, and their right to keep an emotional support animal in housing and travel with them on flights. These laws ensure that individuals receive reasonable accommodations and have the necessary support for their emotional well-being.

ESAs can be domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, or even miniature horses. The choice of the animal depends on the individual’s preferences and requirements.

It’s important to note that while ESAs offer valuable support, they are not considered service animals and do not have the same legal rights in public spaces. Understanding the distinction between ESAs and service animals is essential for individuals considering the use of an emotional support animal to ensure they comply with applicable laws and regulations.

By gaining a comprehensive understanding of emotional support animals, individuals can better appreciate the role these animals play in providing comfort, companionship, and therapeutic benefits to those with mental health conditions.



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Emotional Support Animal Vs. Service Animal

  • Emotional support dogs and service dogs have distinct roles and legal protections.
  • Emotional support dogs (or emotional support animals) provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support to individuals with mental health conditions.
  • Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities.
  • Emotional support dogs do not require specialized training, while service dogs undergo rigorous training.
  • Licensed mental health professionals prescribe emotional support dogs.
  • The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) provide accommodations for individuals with emotional support dogs.
  • Service dogs are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and have public access rights.
  • Emotional support dogs generally have a different level of public access than service dogs.
  • Understanding the distinctions between emotional support dogs and service dogs is crucial when choosing the appropriate assistance animal.
  • Compliance with relevant regulations ensures the appropriate legal status and access for emotional support dogs and service dogs.

Emotional Support Animal Are Not Psychiatric Service Animals

In the realm of assistance animals, it’s important to differentiate between emotional support dogs and psychiatric service dogs[3]:

Emotional Support Dogs: Emotional support dogs offer their owners comfort, companionship, and emotional well-being. They provide invaluable support to individuals with mental health conditions but are not trained to perform specific tasks or actions.

Psychiatric Service Dogs: Psychiatric service dogs undergo extensive training to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a psychiatric disability. These tasks are tailored to assist individuals in their daily activities and manage their specific symptoms.

Recognizing the distinction between emotional support dogs and psychiatric service dogs is crucial in understanding their varying roles in supporting individuals with different needs.

Service Animal And Emotional Support Animal Laws

Emotional Support Animal Registration 2023
Emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act. Photo: Shutterstock

To protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and promote equal access to housing and public spaces, there are specific laws governing service animals and emotional support animals. Understanding these laws is crucial for individuals and housing providers alike.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)[4] defines service animals as dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. These animals are granted access to most public areas, including restaurants, stores, and transportation, to assist their handlers in daily tasks and activities.

On the other hand, emotional support animals provide comfort and emotional support but are not considered service animals under the ADA. However, they are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which allows individuals with disabilities to have emotional support animals as reasonable accommodations in housing settings.

By adhering to these laws, individuals with disabilities can ensure their rights to access public spaces with their service animals. At the same time, housing providers can understand their obligations to accommodate emotional support animals under the FHA.

In summary, service animal and emotional support animal laws work hand in hand to ensure that individuals with disabilities have the necessary support and accommodations to lead fulfilling lives. Understanding these laws helps foster a more inclusive and accessible society.

Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed On Flights?

For a long time, emotional support animals (ESAs) were permitted on flights under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). However, recent regulation changes have impacted the allowance of ESAs on flights. This article aims to provide an overview of the updated rules regarding emotional support animals on flights.

Previously, the ACAA required airlines to accommodate ESAs and treat them similarly to service animals. However, as of January 11, 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a revised rule that no longer recognizes emotional support animals as service animals under the ACAA.

Under the revised rule, airlines now have the discretion to treat emotional support animals as pets or establish their own requirements for their transport, such as imposing fees and requesting specific documentation.

It’s important to note that individuals with disabilities still have the option to travel with trained service dogs that perform specific tasks to assist them. These service dogs recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are allowed on flights with their handlers.

Given these changes, it is essential for individuals planning to travel with emotional support animals to check the policies and requirements of the specific airline they intend to fly with. Each airline may have their own guidelines, restrictions, or allowances for emotional support animals.

What Types Of Pets Can Be An Emotional Support Animal?

  • Dogs: Dogs are the most common and widely recognized type of emotional support animal. Their loyalty, companionship, and ability to provide comfort make them ideal candidates for emotional support roles.
  • Cats: Cats are also frequently chosen as emotional support animals. Their calming presence, independent yet affectionate nature, and ability to offer companionship make them well-suited for providing emotional support.
  • Birds: Certain bird species, such as parrots or cockatiels, can serve as emotional support animals. Their melodious songs, vibrant colors, and engaging personalities can bring joy and comfort to their owners.
  • Rabbits: They possess gentle and social qualities that make them excellent emotional support animals. Their soft fur, peaceful demeanor, and ability to form close bonds contribute to their suitability in providing emotional support.
  • Small mammals: Various small mammals, including guinea pigs, hamsters, or mice, can serve as emotional support animals. Their small size, gentle nature, and ease of care make them suitable companions for emotional support.
  • Reptiles: While less common, some individuals find comfort and emotional support through reptiles such as turtles or snakes. These animals can provide a sense of tranquility and a connection to nature.

It’s important to remember that the specific type of pet that can be considered an emotional support animal may vary depending on the regulations and policies of housing providers, transportation services, and relevant authorities. Always consult the appropriate guidelines to ensure compliance and understanding of the permitted types of pets for emotional support roles.

Qualifications For An Emotional Support Animal

emotional support animal registration
Unconditional support in one look. Photo: Shutterstock

Qualifying for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) entails meeting certain criteria to ensure that individuals with emotional or mental health challenges can receive the necessary support and companionship.

Here are few of the requirements to be met:

Valid ESA Letter

A legitimate ESA letter is an essential requirement for an emotional support animal. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist with appropriate licensing must draft and sign this letter on behalf of the patient.

It should explain clearly that you have a mental or emotional impairment and that an ESA is recommended as part of your treatment plan, together with the professional’s contact information and license information.

Mental Or Emotional Disability

To be eligible for an ESA, you must have a diagnosable mental or emotional disorder as listed in relevant medical documents.

This disability must significantly impact your daily life and must be the reason you require the emotional support provided by an animal.

Therapeutic Benefit

Your ESA must provide you with emotional support, comfort, or relief from the symptoms of your mental or emotional disability. The presence of the animal should alleviate or reduce the effects of your condition, promoting a better quality of life.

Prescribed Treatment

An ESA is considered an integral part of a prescribed treatment plan for your mental or emotional disability. The ESA letter should explicitly state that the presence of the animal is necessary to help alleviate your symptoms and improve your emotional well-being.

Well-behaved Animal Companion

While there are no specific training requirements for ESAs, unlike for service animals, they should exhibit good behavior and not pose a threat to others. Proper training and socialization can contribute to your ESA’s ability to adapt to various environments and behave appropriately in public.

Appropriate Species

Due to their deep emotional relationships with owners, dogs, and cats are commonly approved as ESAs. Other animals may also qualify as ESAs based on individual circumstances and the discretion of the mental health professional providing the ESA letter.


In conclusion, emotional support animals play a crucial role in providing comfort, companionship, and therapeutic benefits to individuals with mental or emotional conditions. With the proper qualifications and documentation, individuals can benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal in their lives. Understanding the distinction between emotional support animals and service dogs, as well as the applicable laws and requirements, is important for those seeking support from these remarkable animals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an emotional support animal (ESA)?

An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides comfort, emotional support, and assistance to individuals with mental or emotional conditions.

How is an emotional support animal different from a service dog?

Emotional support animals do not undergo specific training to perform tasks like service dogs. They provide emotional support through their presence and companionship.

Can any pet be an emotional support animal?

While dogs are commonly used as ESAs, pets such as cats, birds, rabbits, and small mammals can also serve as emotional support animals.

Do I need special certification for my emotional support animal?

There is no official certification for emotional support animals. However, you may need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional to validate your need for an ESA.

Can I bring my emotional support animal on an airplane?

As of 2021, many airlines no longer recognize emotional support animals. Some may accommodate them as pets with additional requirements, but policies vary.

Can I live with my emotional support animal in a housing that doesn’t allow pets?

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), individuals with a valid ESA letter may be entitled to reasonable accommodation in housing, even if it has a no-pet policy.

Can I take my emotional support animal into public places?

Emotional support animals do not have the same public access rights as service dogs. They are generally not granted access to public places where pets are not allowed.

Can my landlord deny my emotional support animal?

In most cases, landlords must provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with ESAs under the FHA. However, exceptions may apply depending on certain housing types or if the animal directly threatens others.


  1. Brooks, H., Rushton, K., Lovell, K., Bee, P., Walker, L.M., Grant, L.E. and Rogers, A. (2018). The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. [online] 18(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2.
  2. Anthrozoös. (2023). Emotional Support Animal Partnerships: Behavior, Welfare, and Clinical Involvement. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08927936.2023.2166711.
  3. Lloyd, J., Johnston, L. and Lewis, J.B. (2019). Psychiatric Assistance Dog Use for People Living With Mental Health Disorders. [online] 6. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00166.
  4. West, J.E. (2022). The Americans With Disabilities Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act: Intersection, Divergence, and the Path Forward – Jane E. West, Virginia L. McLaughlin, Katharine G. Shepherd, Rebecca Cokley, 2022. [online] Journal of Disability Policy Studies. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/10442073221114113.

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