How to Certify Your Pet as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

Written by: Loren Seldner



Time to read 12 min

For individuals grappling with emotional and mental health disabilities, the companionship of an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) can provide tremendous relief.

While dogs and cats are the most popular choices for ESAs, any animal can fulfill this role. From hamsters and guinea pigs to snakes and birds, a diverse range of creatures can offer emotional support. Some people find solace in the company of exotic animals like peacocks and lizards. However, obtaining an emotional support animal can be challenging and lengthy, involving shelter visits, financial considerations, and adoption procedures.

Thankfully, if you already have a faithful canine companion, you can turn them into your ESA with a few simple steps. In this guide we’ll explore every aspect of Emotional Support Animals, focusing on dogs. So read on to learn what’s needed for your pet to become an ESA.

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What’s the Difference Between An Emotional Support Dog and a Service Dog?

Emotional support animals and service animals are very different from each other. Service animals (also called assistance animals) have different rules and laws protecting them that are vastly different from the laws surrounding support animals.

For example, emotional support dogs are not individually trained. Support dogs help relieve symptoms of emotional or mental disorders with their presence. In contrast, service dogs are trained to do various tasks, such as fetch medication, turn lights on and off, apply deep-pressure therapy during seizures, etc.

Another one of the core differences between service dogs and ESAs is that not all emotional support animals are dogs. There is a multitude of different domesticated animals which can be classified as emotional support animals, including: cats, rabbits, birds, mini pugs, and hedgehogs, among others.

These animals are not trained to do specific tasks like emotional support dogs. They are meant to provide comfort for their individuals with their presence.

Meanwhile, service dogs perform tasks and are specially trained to be well-behaved in public while handling their owner's needs if they suffer any panic attacks or have any safety concerns that can lead to them having to deal with undue hardship.

Emotional support animals are allowed to live in specific locations that pets wouldn't be allowed to live in due to the therapeutic benefits they provide. Meanwhile, service animals are accorded fewer restrictions on the type of public locations they can enter. Service animals are allowed in all areas where members of the public are allowed, including offices and workplaces.

How Can I Get A Psychiatric Service Dog?

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To get a Psychiatric Service Animal (PSA) or many also interchange with the naming Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) , you must have a verified mental illness or psychological condition in which an animal / dog is trained to service properly. This must be verified by a licensed mental health provider and then confirmed that a PSA would help you deal with a condition such as reminders to take medication for mental health disease such as depression, anxiety, phobias, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, ADHD or schizophrenia, or more open/move about with you to assist in some form of need to physically assist in what is referred to as Tactile Pressure Assistance.

While any condition for an emotional support dog also qualifies for a PSD, a PSD differs significantly from an emotional support dog. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to do work that allows people with psychiatric disabilities to function in everyday life.

Psychiatric service dogs can be trained by anyone, there is no need to hire a professional dog trainer. However, if you want to fly with a PSD, a qualified trainer must certify that your dog has been trained to perform the specific tasks required by your condition.

If you want to train your own dog as a PSD, check out Felicitails’s online training program. The online video course material is led by our certified Master Trainer, can be completed at your own pace and will assist you in training your own dog.

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How to Transform Your Pet into an Emotional Support Animal

Certifying your pet as an emotional support animal involves obtaining an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. This letter serves as an official document confirming your need for an ESA to alleviate symptoms of your mental or emotional disorder.

By obtaining this certification, you can gain increased access to travel with your ESA and ensure their companionship in several places. 

How to Certify Your Dog as an Emotional Support Animal

Step 1: Understand the Law

Most states recognize the need for emotional support animals and have specific laws governing their recognition and protection.

Emotional support animals are also covered by the federal Fair Housing Act, while service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Step 2:  Understand the importance of an ESA Letter

To establish your dog as a state-recognized emotional support animal, you need an emotional support animal letter. This letter certifies that your dog is necessary to alleviate symptoms related to your mental or emotional disability.

Step 3: Apply for an ESA Letter

First, you need to complete a short pre-qualification quiz to determine your eligibility. Next, you have to schedule your therapy consultation with a licensed mental health professional. They will assess how an emotional support animal can benefit your specific condition and prescribe a treatment plan which includes the support of an ESA. At Felicitails, we can help with that by CLICKING HERE to begin the process.

After a successful evaluation, you will receive a valid ESA letter. You can usually receive the letter within 24 hours of the consultation.

What Access Rights Does an ESA Have?

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Having an ESA letter only guarantees access to some public spaces or your workplace. State and local laws protect service animals, but employers, for example, are not obligated to allow emotional support animals if it contradicts their workplace policies.

While sharing your ESA letter with your employer is beneficial, it doesn't guarantee permission to bring your emotional support animal to work. It can facilitate a conversation, but the decision ultimately rests with the employer.

What Laws Protect Emotional Support Dogs?

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The Fair Housing Act and Housing Rights with an ESA

  • Fair Treatment: The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 ensures landlords cannot discriminate against tenants based on their need for a therapy animal including emotional support animals (ESAs) or service dogs.

  • Requesting Reasonable Accommodations: With an official ESA letter, individuals have the right to have their emotional support animal live with them in any housing, even if it generally prohibits pets. This request for reasonable accommodation protects the rights of ESA owners.

  • Exemption from Pet Fees: Landlords are prohibited from charging pet fees or deposits for emotional support animals, service animals, or psychiatric service dogs.

  • Overcoming Pet Restrictions: If you have an official emotional support animal letter, your landlord cannot prevent you from keeping your dog in an apartment with a "no pets" policy or breed restrictions. Additionally, weight or breed restrictions usually do not apply to emotional support dogs.

Air Carrier Access Act and Travel Rights with an ESA

  • Historical Context: Previously, under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), air carriers were required to allow emotional support animals to fly in the cabin without additional fees. However, the DOT amended the law in January 2021, leading to significant changes.

  • Current Status: The ACAA now only protects trained service animals, while emotional support animals are no longer covered. Airlines can allow ESAs, but many have discontinued their ESA programs or implemented new restrictions

  • Confirming with Airlines: It is crucial to check with your airline before flying to determine if you can bring your ESA into the cabin. If not, your emotional support animal may need to travel as a pet in a carrier placed in the cargo compartment.


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What is an ESA Letter?

An emotional support animal letter is the official document signed by a licensed mental health professional. It’s similar to a prescription from a medical doctor – it recommends a legal treatment for a specific condition. In this case, the “treatment” is your ESA. This letter is how your dog becomes certified as an emotional support animal.

What Makes an ESA Letter Legitimate?

You need to keep in mind a few key criteria to ensure that your emotional support animal letter meets the criteria laid out by federal law. You need to speak with a mental health professional licensed to get your pet certified as an emotional support animal.

Diagnosis Based on Live Consultation

That mental health professional needs to evaluate you, typically over a phone call, video call, or in person, and determine you have a mental health disability (mild, moderate, or severe) and that your symptoms benefit from having a pet.

Letters Must Meet HUD Criteria

If you get approved, you’ll get an ESA letter from your licensed mental health professional, and it must contain all the following elements:

  • License information from your mental health professional
  • Business & contact info
  • Official letterhead
  • Specifically, note that you have been determined to have a mental health disability that benefits from having an emotional support animal

There are many untrustworthy websites out there, so it's paramount you work with a compliant service.

How Do I Get An ESA Letter?

At Felicitails, through our Free My Paws Emotional Support Animal Certification Program we can help you get certified to enjoy the benefits of an emotional support animal! Here is what you get with our service:

  • World-Class Mental Health Professionals - are paid per consultation regardless of the outcome, so you are guaranteed legitimate, unbiased healthcare.

  • Legitimacy & Transparency - The only ESA provider offering complete transparency about their team and founders.

  • Excellent Service - 24/7 customer service and a legal team ready to support you.

  • Can Meet Any Timeline - Our service can guarantee delivery within 24 hours with the exception of residents of California under law AB 468, keeping your family together in an emergency and helping you get your dog certified as an emotional support animal.

How Do I Know My ESA Letter Will Work?

Felicitails is also the only certification service with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. We believe in our service, and we want to make sure that if you get approved for an emotional support dog or cat, it works for your specific needs.


Where Can I Get an Emotional Support Dog?

If you already own a dog, they can become your emotional support animal once you get that ESA prescription. However, if you’re ESA-approved and still don’t own a dog, you have a few choices. You can find a friend whose dog has had puppies, buy from a puppy farm, or rescue one from a dog shelter.

It’s best to avoid getting a dog from a puppy farm, as these tend to treat their animals quite poorly. This can sometimes lead to anxiety or even aggression in the puppies. In addition, buying from a puppy farm only gives them money to help keep them in business, and also tends to be much more expensive than caring for one that’s been rescued from a shelter.

What re the Requirements for an Emotional Support Dog?

Your dog does not need to be registered, as there is no official registry. But you will need an ESA letter for them to become an official emotional support dog.

Your pet must be well-behaved around others, under your control at all times, and must not pose any threat to the health and safety of others. Also, though not required, it’s a good idea to get them spayed or neutered to prevent the arrival of an unexpected puppy litter, as well as any aggressive behaviors related to mating.

Do I Need to Train My ESA?

An emotional support dog requires no specific training, legally. They do, however, need to be “housebroken,” under your control in public (preferably with a leash), and up to date on their vaccines.

You can train on your own at home by implementing a routine and rewarding good behavior with treats. Or, if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, you can hire a professional trainer to train your dog.

Is an Emotional Support Dog a Service Dog?

No, Service dogs require specialized training to complete specific tasks that aid the owner with a physical or mental disorder. An emotional support dog requires no special training beyond basic training for general good behavior, and simply offers a comforting presence for the owner.

Can emotional support dogs go anywhere?

While a service dog can generally go anywhere in public, an emotional support dog cannot. Emotional support animals are required by law to be allowed in any residence, regardless of whether that place typically allows pets or not. But only some airlines allow ESAs. Local government agencies cannot require airlines or other places to allow ESAs.

Other public places, such as restaurants and stores, have no obligation to allow your ESA to enter. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and some places may accommodate emotional support animals if you simply show your ESA letter. An emotional support dog does not receive the same benefits as a service dog, either. Service dogs can fly with their owners while emotional support pets may not, depending on the airline.

Can a landlord refuse an emotional support dog?

Essentially, an emotional support dog is legally protected in all places of residence. The only circumstances that allow a landlord to refuse an emotional support animal are if accommodations for the ESA would be unreasonable (such as a large dog breed that there is simply no room for in a small apartment), or if the dog poses a threat to the health or safety of others.

Can any dog be an emotional support dog?

Any size or breed of dog with general good behavior has the potential to become an emotional support dog. Certain breeds have characteristics that can help a person stay calm and experience feelings of stress relief. Some dogs offer comfort and love while other dogs may cause stress with loud barks or excitable behavior.

What airlines allow emotional support dogs?

The following airlines still allow emotional support dogs on their flights:

  • Latam Airlines
  • Volaris
  • WestJet
  • Air France
  • Asiana Air
  • China Airlines
  • KLM
  • Lufthansa
  • Singapore Air
  • Norwegian Air
  • Virgin Australia

Can emotional support dogs fly in the cabin on airplanes?

Since the recent policy changes no longer require airlines to accommodate ESAs, only the airlines listed above have stated that they will accept emotional support animals on their flights. Service dogs, however, are still required to be allowed on any flight with any airline.

Can emotional support dogs go on cruises?

While a select few cruise lines may allow for pets on board, most will not accommodate any animals – not even ESAs – except service dogs.

Can hotels refuse emotional support dogs?

As there is no law protecting an ESA’s right to public access, hotels are not required to allow emotional support dogs. However, it may be worth asking the hotel before you book if they will accommodate your support animal. You can have a copy of your valid ESA letter on hand in case they want a copy, but there's no guarantee they'll offer reasonable accommodation for ESAs. Otherwise, seek out a pet-friendly hotel to stay at, instead.

Can I take my emotional support dog to Walmart?

Only service animals are allowed inside Walmart – no pets or ESAs can enter.

Can Pitbulls be emotional support dogs?

Yes, Pitbulls can make excellent emotional support dogs. If you are interested to know which are the best dog breeds for ESAs, we highly recommend you read another article we wrote by clicking here.

Which Animals Besides Dogs Offer Emotional Support?

While dogs have traits that make them excellent support pets, other animals can also be support animals. An ideal companion animal is one that offers comfort and love to its owner without causing extra stress in a person’s life. It’s best to avoid animals that can cause extra stress like a very large animal or an exotic animal. Support animals don't need to be individually trained as long as they are generally well-behaved.

Interested in certifying your pet as an Emotional Service Animal? Let Felicitails guide you through the process and make it easy for you. Click here to learn more.

Stay Pawsitive!