9 Steps to Turn Your Pet into a Certified ESA

Written by: Loren Seldner



Time to read 9 min

Emotional support animals (ESAs) play a significant role in providing comfort and companionship to individuals struggling with emotional or mental health challenges. These animals are more than just pets; they offer therapeutic benefits that can greatly improve the well-being of their owners. In this article, we will explore what sets emotional support animals apart from regular pets and clarify the distinction between ESAs and service animals.

Emotional Support Animals vs. Regular Pets: While both emotional support animals and regular pets offer companionship and affection, ESAs serve a distinct purpose. An emotional support animal is prescribed by a mental health professional to individuals dealing with conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other emotional challenges. ESAs provide therapeutic support through their presence and interactions, helping to alleviate symptoms and provide a sense of emotional stability.

felicitails blog, emotional support animal, woman holding rabbit, felicitails founded by lindsay giguiere

ESAs - The Basics

Before explaining the process of turning a pet into an emotional support animal, here are some basics about the concept of an ESA.

ESAs and Service Animals are not the same. It's important to differentiate between emotional support animals and service animals. 

Service animals are highly trained to perform specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities, such as guiding the visually impaired or alerting someone with hearing loss. 

ESAs, on the other hand, do not require specialized training for specific tasks. Their presence alone offers emotional comfort, making them valuable for individuals experiencing emotional distress. 

Confusing emotional support animals with service animals can have consequences. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks to aid individuals with disabilities, and they are granted certain privileges in public spaces. 

Misrepresenting an ESA as a service animal can lead to misunderstanding and challenges for both individuals with genuine disabilities and businesses that must accommodate them.

Legal Protections for ESAs.  Emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA)  This means that individuals with emotional or mental health conditions have the right to live with their ESA in housing that may otherwise have a "no pets" policy. These legal protections recognize the therapeutic benefits that emotional support animals bring to those in need.

Benefits. Emotional support animals provide invaluable emotional and psychological support to individuals facing mental health challenges. They offer comfort, companionship, and a sense of security to their owners, contributing positively to their overall well-being. Understanding the distinction between emotional support animals and regular pets, as well as recognizing the differences from service animals, is crucial to ensuring the rights and well-being of both individuals and their animal companions.

Medical recognition. Emotional support animals (ESAs) have gained recognition for their remarkable ability to provide comfort, companionship, and emotional relief to individuals dealing with mental health challenges. Backed by research and real-life experiences, ESAs play a pivotal role in improving the well-being of their owners. In this article, we delve into the various benefits of having an emotional support animal and how they can positively impact the lives of those in need.

What are the benefits of having an ESA?

felicitails blog, emotional support animal, paws and hands holding pad, felicitails founded by lindsay giguiere

Emotional support animals offer a unique form of therapy through their unconditional love and companionship. The presence of an ESA can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and loneliness, creating a sense of calm and security for their owners. Studies have shown that interactions with animals trigger the release of oxytocin and serotonin, commonly known as "feel-good" hormones, which can contribute to improved mood and overall emotional well-being.

While emotional support animals do not require specialized training like service animals, they can still perform certain tasks to assist their owners. For example, a dog might nuzzle or provide deep pressure therapy during moments of distress, while a cat's soothing purr can have a calming effect. Some ESAs are trained to sense changes in their owner's emotional state and respond with comforting behavior. These small but meaningful actions can make a significant difference in managing emotional challenges. Among these benefits are:

  • Reduction of Symptoms -  ESAs have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Their presence can provide a sense of purpose and a distraction from negative thoughts.

  • Improved Social Interaction - Emotional support animals can facilitate social interactions, acting as conversation starters and helping individuals connect with others.

  • Increased Physical Activity - Owning an ESA encourages regular exercise, promoting physical health and contributing to a more active lifestyle.

  • Enhanced Emotional Regulation - The soothing presence of an ESA can help regulate emotions and provide a sense of stability during times of emotional turmoil.

  • Sense of Responsibility - Caring for an ESA fosters a sense of responsibility and routine, which can be especially beneficial for individuals struggling with daily life tasks.

The American Psychological Association (APA) acknowledges the therapeutic benefits of emotional support animals in managing psychological and emotional challenges. Moreover, a recent study explains that universities have long been responsive to the needs of students with physical disabilities, facilitating the presence of guide dogs and other service animals. However, in recent years, there has been a growing trend among students with mental disabilities. These students have approached colleges with strict no-pet policies, seeking permission to have their animals accompany them on campus. The rationale behind this request is to have a companion or emotional support animal that can provide comfort, alleviate stress, combat loneliness, and mitigate feelings of depression and anxiety, ultimately enhancing their college experience. Emotional support animals are proving their worth more everyday.


felicitails blog, emotional support animal, hand holding guinea pig, felicitails founded by lindsay giguiere

Emotional support animals (ESAs) come in a variety of species, each offering their own unique forms of comfort and companionship to individuals in need. While dogs and cats are the most common choices, several other animals can also serve as effective emotional support companions. Here are some of the possible types of emotional support animals:

  • Dogs are among the most popular and versatile emotional support animals. Their loyalty, intuition, and ability to provide physical comfort make them ideal companions for individuals dealing with anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
  • Cats offer a soothing presence with their gentle purring and affectionate behavior. Their quiet companionship can be especially beneficial for individuals living in smaller spaces or those who have allergies to other animals.
  • Birds like parrots, canaries, and finches can provide a sense of calm with their melodious songs and colorful plumage. Their presence can create a peaceful environment and encourage mindfulness.
  • Rabbits are known for their gentle and affectionate nature. They can provide comfort through cuddling and create a soothing atmosphere with their quiet presence.
  • Guinea Pigs, these small rodents are social and low-maintenance, making them great companions for those seeking a gentle and interactive ESA.
  • Miniature Horses, while less common, miniature horses can serve as ESAs for individuals with larger living spaces. They offer physical comfort and companionship, particularly for those who benefit from tactile interactions.
  • Aquariums filled with colorful fish can have a calming and mesmerizing effect, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
  • Reptiles like turtles, snakes, and lizards can offer companionship for individuals who have a strong affinity for these animals and find solace in their unique behaviors.
  • Ferrets are playful and curious animals that can bring joy and laughter to their owners. Their energetic antics can be a source of entertainment and distraction.
  • Potbellied Pigs. These intelligent and affectionate animals can offer emotional support through their companionship and interactions.

It's important to note that the choice of an emotional support animal should be based on individual preferences, needs, and the living environment. Regardless of the type of animal chosen, the bond formed between an emotional support animal and their owner can provide immeasurable comfort and companionship, contributing to improved emotional well-being.


Turning a regular pet into an emotional support animal (ESA) involves a thoughtful process that ensures both the well-being of the owner and the animal. ESAs provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support to individuals dealing with mental health challenges, but it's important to understand the steps and requirements involved in making this transition.

  1. Assessing Suitability.whether your current pet is suitable to become an emotional support animal. While most pets can offer comfort, not all are well-suited for the role. Consider the animal's temperament, behavior, and compatibility with your needs.

  2. Consultation with a Mental Health Professional: Before designating your pet as an ESA, it's recommended to consult a licensed mental health professional. This could be a therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They will evaluate your mental health condition and determine whether an ESA would be beneficial for you.

  3. Obtain an ESA Letter. If the mental health professional believes an ESA would be helpful, they can provide you with an ESA letter. This letter is a crucial document that certifies your need for an emotional support animal. It should be on the professional's letterhead, include their contact information, and state that you have a diagnosed mental health condition that requires the presence of an ESA for therapeutic benefits.

  4. Inform Landlords. An ESA letter provides legal protection for housing. The Fair Housing Act  allows individuals with ESAs to live with their animals. However, it's important to inform your landlord  in advance, providing them with a copy of the ESA letter.

  5. Understand Legal Rights and Responsibilities. Once your pet is recognized as an ESA, you're entitled to certain rights, but you also have responsibilities. Your ESA should be well-behaved, house-trained, and not pose a threat to others. You're responsible for the animal's care, ensuring it doesn't cause damage or disruption.

  6. Address Health and Training Needs. ESAs should be healthy and well-behaved. Ensure your pet is up-to-date on vaccinations and receives regular veterinary care. If your ESA requires training to improve its behavior, consider investing time in obedience training to ensure it's calm and well-mannered in public spaces.

  7. Document the Transition.  Keep records of your pet's transition from a regular pet to an ESA. Maintain a copy of the ESA letter, records of veterinary visits, and any training certifications. These documents can help validate your ESA's status if required.

  8. Respect Public Spaces. While ESAs enjoy certain privileges, they are not granted the same access rights as service animals. ESAs are typically allowed in housing, but they may not have access to all public spaces. Always check local laws and regulations before taking your ESA to public places.

  9. Maintain Open Communication.  If you're living with others, whether family members or roommates, it's important to have open communication about your ESA. Discuss its presence, behavior, and needs to ensure a harmonious living environment.

Turning a regular pet into an emotional support animal can be a positive step toward improving your mental well-being. By following these steps, you can ensure that the transition is smooth and that your ESA provides the comfort and companionship you need. Remember that the ESA letter is a crucial document that grants you legal rights, so be sure to obtain it from a licensed mental health professional.

felicitails blog, emotional support animal, mental therapy, felicitails founded by lindsay giguiere


The journey of turning a regular pet into an emotional support animal (ESA) is a process that involves careful consideration, professional guidance, and a commitment to the well-being of both the individual and the animal. Understanding the distinction between an ESA and a regular pet is essential, as ESAs are recognized for their therapeutic contributions to individuals dealing with mental health challenges.

The key steps to this transformation begin with assessing the suitability of your pet for the role of an ESA. Consulting a licensed mental health professional is pivotal, as their expertise will determine if an ESA would be beneficial for your specific condition. Obtaining an ESA letter is the cornerstone of the process, providing legal protection for housing and air travel. This letter not only certifies your need for an ESA but also outlines your rights and responsibilities.

Once your pet is officially recognized as an ESA, it's vital to uphold its health, behavior, and training standards. Regular veterinary care and proper training ensure that your ESA is a positive presence in both your life and the lives of others. As you navigate public spaces, remember that while ESAs have certain privileges, they are not equivalent to service animals in terms of access rights.

By following these steps and guidelines, you can successfully transition your beloved pet into an ESA that provides comfort, companionship, and emotional support during challenging times. Remember that the journey is not only about legal recognition but also about building a strong bond between you and your ESA, fostering a relationship that positively impacts your mental and emotional well-being.

If you want more information on how to certify your pet, need advice on how to travel with your ESA, or anything related to emotional support animals, click HERE!