ESA Letter: What You Need To Know

Emotional support animals (ESA) are wonderful companions that provide many different benefits to individuals who may be suffering from certain mental health conditions or disabilities and need extra support or comfort during their day-to-day lives. So if you are considering adding an emotional support animal to your treatment plan or you want to know more about these amazing companions, you might be overwhelmed by the amount of information surrounding ESAs.

Our article gives you detailed information on what an emotional support animal is, how they help certain individuals, and what you need to know about obtaining an official ESA letter.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional support animals are those animal companions that support and comfort their owners via their presence in their owners’ lives and the routine that caring for the animal brings daily. Emotional support animals can technically be any kind of animal, such as a bird, hamster, or horse, but the most common choice for ESAs are dogs and cats due to their availability at rescue organizations and shelters across the country and their relatively easy care needs.

Emotional support animals typically live with their owners and provide them with comfort or relief from certain symptoms of a mental health condition or disability. When combined with care from a licensed mental health professional and a stellar treatment plan, the presence of an ESA in someone’s life can significantly increase their comfort, happiness, and day-to-day enjoyment, all while decreasing stress levels and feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Is an Emotional Support Animal the Same as a Service Animal?

An emotional support animal is different from a service animal, though many individuals might accidentally use these terms interchangeably.

Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks that are directly related to an individual’s disability. They fall into the three main categories of mobility and guide service dogs, medical alert service dogs, and psychiatric service dogs, and they are permitted wide-reaching public access rights so that they may accompany their owner everywhere the owner needs to go.

On the other hand, emotional support animals are not trained in any specific way, and they are not permitted to access public or private facilities in the same way as service animals. They are granted some federal and state protections, such as the right for individuals to live with their emotional support animals. Still, you cannot bring ESAs into places such as restaurants, grocery stores, or other retail facilities where you may see service animals from time to time.

Additionally, service animals are exclusively dogs or miniature horses, while emotional support animals may be any kind of animal, such as a dog, cat, bird, or hamster. As long as the ESA provides some type of benefit to their owner’s mental health condition, they are allowed to be an emotional support animal.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal Letter?

An emotional support animal letter is an important letter that everyone wishing to add an ESA to their treatment plan must obtain if they want to be able to request accommodations and take advantage of their protected ESA rights.

Requirements for who composes this letter, what the letter must state, and diagnosis criteria vary by state. However, you can expect the majority of states to require that a licensed mental healthcare provider writes this letter and attests to an individual’s need for an emotional support animal.

It’s important to note that fake or scam ESA letters are common these days, and you must do your due diligence before requesting a letter from anywhere. That being said, if you are already diagnosed with a mental health condition or disability and have regular treatment or meetings with a licensed mental healthcare provider, you can safely speak with them about adding an emotional support animal to your life.

How Do I Obtain an ESA Letter?

There are a few steps to obtaining an ESA letter, and these steps might vary based on the state that you are living in, as jurisdictions tend to have varying laws or regulations. Make sure to check for any specific regulations in your state as one of your first steps in this process.

  1. The majority of states require that any individual seeking an emotional support animal be diagnosed with a qualifying mental health condition or disability. So if you aren’t already diagnosed and working with a medical professional, your first step is to seek out a licensed mental healthcare provider to receive a diagnosis.
  2. Once you have your diagnosis, you will need to speak to your mental healthcare provider about the possibility of adding an emotional support animal to your treatment plan. They will discuss the pros and cons of this and evaluate if you are capable of providing proper care to your emotional support animal.
  3. After your mental healthcare provider ascertains that an ESA is the right choice for you, they will write you an ESA letter. This letter may contain varying language based on your state, but it will typically state your need for an emotional support animal and provide the contact details of your therapist, doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

As soon as you have your official ESA letter, you may start the process of adopting an emotional support animal or requesting accommodations as needed for your ESA that’s already in your care.

You can turn a pet that you already have a bond with into an emotional support animal by using your ESA letter and requesting accommodations to ensure you always live with your ESA and can have them by your side when possible.

Who Might Qualify for an ESA Letter?

Anyone that has a qualifying mental health condition or disability and can benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal can receive an official ESA letter from their mental healthcare provider that verifies their need and allows them to request the ESA accommodations that are provided to them by both federal and state law.

Examples of the mental health conditions or disabilities that might qualify for an ESA letter and benefit from an emotional support animal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • PTSD
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Stress conditions or chronic stress

Of course, there are many other mental health conditions or disabilities that might qualify you for an emotional support animal.

The process of determining need and obtaining an ESA is highly personal, so speak with a licensed mental healthcare provider if you believe that you need a diagnosis or you want to speak about how an emotional support animal could improve an existing treatment plan.

State Regulations Surrounding ESA Letters

It’s important to keep in mind that states do have varying regulations when it comes to ESA letters, what language must be used in these letters, and how long you have been seeing the provider who writes the ESA letter for you.

In California, for instance, individuals must be established patients of their mental healthcare provider for at least 30 days before they are able to write you an official ESA letter. This is to reduce the amount of fake emotional support animals and scams that target individuals by providing an ESA letter instantly after some kind of fee is received.

Start with researching emotional support animal rights through the details listed on the ADA National Network’s website, and conduct additional research for the emotional support animal laws in your state to understand what your ESA letter must contain. You can also speak to your mental healthcare provider for more details on receiving your ESA letter and what this letter will state.

Your Protected Emotional Support Animal Rights

senior man sitting with companion dog on lap

While emotional support animals don’t have extensive public access rights like service animals do, they are still granted several federal rights that are often backed up by state laws and regulations. It’s important to understand your emotional support animal rights once you have one of these companions in your care so that you can ensure you have your ESA by your side as much as possible.

If you have questions about these rights or suspect that your ESA rights have been violated, your best option is to conduct state-specific research or reach out to a legal professional that specializes in disability rights.

Federal Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a well-known piece of federal legislation that covers rights for service animals, but the laws set forth by this act do not cover emotional support animals. It’s important to keep this in mind, as the ADA is what grants service animals their rights to enter almost any business or facility with their owners, even ones that don’t typically allow pets.

For emotional support animals and their owners, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is one of the most essential pieces of federal legislation to pay attention to. This act is designed to prevent discrimination when it comes to fair and equal housing, and a major part of this is ensuring that individuals can live with their emotional support animals or service animals as needed.

Under the FHA, individuals with emotional support animals can request accommodations to bring their ESA into their residence or rental property with them to live, regardless of whether or not the property allows animals regularly. These accommodations are typically requested by the individual providing their official ESA letter to the landlord or rental agency as needed, and reasonable accommodation requests must be honored.

State Rights

State laws typically uphold federal legislation when it comes to emotional support animals, but some states do add additional protections. The majority of states do ensure that individuals are able to live with their ESA as a minimum, upholding the protections set by the Fair Housing Act, and some states provide additional protections that allow individuals to take their emotional support animal into the workplace.

Check with your state’s laws by researching emotional support animals on your state or local government’s website to access appropriate legislation and understand your state-specific ESA rights.

Traveling Rights

Many individuals need to travel with their emotional support animals, and until recently, owners have been able to ensure their ESAs are treated like service animals aboard planes. However, updates to the Air Carrier Access Act passed in 2021 modified how airlines treat emotional support animals while upholding the protections that the act grants to service animals.

When trying to travel with your emotional support animal, the airline is now allowed to decide how they treat the ESA – they may allow you to register them as an ESA and avoid any applicable fees for traveling with an animal, or you may need to register your ESA as a pet and pay a fee for them to fly in the cabin with you.

It’s important that you check with the airline’s specific rules regarding emotional support animals before purchasing a ticket, as you need to know ahead of time if that airline accepts ESAs or cabin pets and what the process is for registering your companion animal to bring aboard with you.

Do I Need to Renew My ESA Letter?

Whether or not you need to renew your ESA letter depends on state laws, but you may find that you need to renew your ESA letter approximately every year. You can check your state’s laws to find this information or discuss ESA letter renewals with your mental healthcare provider after receiving your initial official ESA letter.

Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Support Animals

The following are the most frequently asked questions when it comes to emotional support animals and ESA letters. Our answers to these questions will help you understand more about emotional support animals and ensure that you don’t have any remaining worries about these companion animals or official ESA letters.

What Are the Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal?

Numerous scientific studies have been carried out on the positive effects that pets bring to their owners, and, more recently, studies that focus specifically on the benefits that emotional support animals might bring to those suffering from certain mental health conditions or disabilities are becoming more prevalent.

Through these studies, it’s been shown that emotional support animals help to decrease the stress levels of their owners and boost oxytocin hormones after the individual and their pet have an extended interaction. Emotional support animals are also highly beneficial when it comes to relieving symptoms of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and stress, and they provide a consistent routine for their owners as they care for their ESA, which further helps reduce the negative symptoms of a mental health condition.

Over time, emotional support animals help relieve the symptoms of a mental health condition or disability with their presence and allow individuals to lead a higher quality of life day after day.

Do I Need to Train My Emotional Support Animal?

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not required to complete specific disability-related tasks to be considered service animals. You will not need to train your emotional support animal, and they do not need to be able to perform any kind of skill or disability-related task for you to receive accommodations for them.

That being said, many emotional support animals will pick up on habits or routines you have and might become more sensitive to your needs over time as your bond strengthens. They may come to you when you are feeling down or anxious, or they may insist on cuddling you when you are dealing with strong emotions.

It’s also a good idea to ensure your emotional support animal does have basic manners training, if applicable, and is comfortable accompanying you in public when needed and allowed by state or federal law.

Will My ESA Need Identification?

You do not need to identify your emotional support animal, and many states are developing new legislation surrounding the purchase of service animal vests or other identification items for emotional support animals. You are not legally required to put a vest, marked leash, or harness on your ESA, and you do not need to carry certifications or ID cards for them – the only item you need to receive accommodations for your ESA is the official ESA letter you received from your mental healthcare provider.

However, some individuals prefer to identify their companion as an emotional support animal when out in public. This helps set expectations and allows others to know that your animal is a supportive companion. It may help reduce instances of individuals attempting to pet your animal or interrupting your animal’s focus.

Make sure that you do not purchase service animal identification items and put them on your emotional support animal, as this is misrepresenting your ESA as a service animal. Not only can this be dangerous, but it may be considered a crime in your jurisdiction.

Do I Really Need an ESA Letter?

If you want to ensure that you receive appropriate accommodations for yourself and your emotional support animal and that you can safely live anywhere with your ESA, you will need an official ESA letter. Many individuals know that their companion animal helps them, and they may or may not have an official diagnosis for a mental health condition or disability. A lot of the time, these individuals are happy with this, but if they encounter a situation where they need to move to a property that doesn’t typically allow pets, or they want to bring their ESA on an airplane with them, an official ESA letter is needed.

You need an ESA letter written by a licensed mental healthcare provider to properly request accommodations for your ESA and ensure you receive the protections you are entitled to as an emotional support animal owner.

How Do I Request Accommodations for My Emotional Support Animal?

Depending on where you are requesting accommodations from (such as a landlord, rental agency, or airline), there may be varying procedures that you have to go through to ensure you receive the accommodations you need. However, you can expect to contact the party that will be granting your accommodation, stating your need (such as the need to live with your emotional support animal), and submitting proof of your official ESA letter that attests to your need to live with your ESA and is signed by your mental healthcare provider.

Once your accommodations are granted, you are not required to adhere to any existing animal rules that a property has, such as breed and weight restrictions, and you will not be required to pay any special pet deposits or pet rent. With an airline, you will typically not have to pay the fee to have an animal with you on the cabin of a flight, but you may still need to register your companion as traveling with you.

Could My Accommodations Request Be Denied?

Your accommodations request may be denied by a landlord or rental property if the request isn’t reasonable, such as bringing several large dogs into a small studio apartment, because you would not be able to provide the animals with adequate care in a situation such as this. You might also find your accommodation request is denied if your animal provides a direct health or safety threat to anyone else on the property or if the animal is causing significant destruction that poses a financial burden on the landlord or rental agency.

On an airline, your accommodations request may be denied for a variety of reasons, and you may need to pay a pet fee to have your ESA with you in the cabin as you travel. Changes to the Air Carrier Access Act make it acceptable for airlines to accept emotional support animals or cabin pets on a case-by-case basis, and you should check directly with the airline you wish to travel with for more details.

If you believe that your ESA rights have been violated, you should speak with a legal professional in your jurisdiction that specializes in accommodations and disability law.

Can I Take My ESA With Me Anywhere?

While you have federal and state rights to live with your emotional support animal virtually anywhere, you may not be able to take your ESA everywhere. General public access rights are typically reserved for service animals that conduct disability-related tasks for their owners, such as guiding, medical alerts, and psychiatric service assistance.

You can take your emotional support animal in public in areas where animals are generally allowed but don’t expect to be able to take your ESA into areas such as restaurants, grocery stores, or other retail facilities.

Can I Call My Emotional Support Animal a Service Animal?

In the majority of states, it is illegal to misrepresent your emotional support animal as a service animal. Not only is this behavior dangerous, as many emotional support animals are not as extensively trained as service animals, but it makes it harder for individuals with service animals to access the facilities they need without dealing with extra stress and scrutiny from staff or business owners.

If you are found to be passing your emotional support animal off as a service animal via vests, identification materials, or by simply telling businesses and facilities that your ESA is a service animal, you may face fines or jail time.

What You Need to Know About ESA Letter Scams

young girl hugging a grey cat outside

Today, there are many different services that may offer you an emotional support animal letter after you pay a fee or give them access to your personal information. The letters that you receive from companies such as this are typically fake or scams, and they won’t be able to ensure you receive accommodations for your emotional support animal as needed.

Your ESA letter must be written by a licensed mental healthcare provider, you typically need to have a diagnosis of a mental health condition or disability on record, and the letter must contain contact information for your mental healthcare provider. Any other type of letter, a hand-written letter or a copy-and-paste ESA letter from an online company, will not allow you to obtain accommodations, as these kinds of letters aren’t official.

Tips for Avoiding Emotional Support Animal Letter Scams

Avoid ESA letter scams by following our helpful tips below:

  • Research any online company offering ESA letters for validity and legitimacy; check customer reviews, certifications, and other business information.
  • Never input significant personal information, bank details, or credit card details without first ensuring a website or company is legitimate.
  • Treat companies or organizations asking for huge fees or other instant ESA letters with caution.
  • Research state laws regarding what ESA letters must say and who is qualified to write you an ESA letter so you understand the types of ESA letters that will be official and grant you access to accommodations as needed.
  • Always speak with your mental healthcare provider as the first step in obtaining an ESA letter.

If you have any concerns about receiving an ESA letter, speak with your licensed mental healthcare professional about receiving one of these official documents and adding an ESA to your treatment plan.

Obtaining the Support Companion You Need With an ESA Letter

Emotional support animals are wonderful, helpful animals that benefit individuals with mental health conditions or disabilities. An official ESA letter is required if you want to take advantage of the housing and traveling accommodations that are granted to individuals with emotional support animals, and the first step in receiving one of these important documents is speaking with your licensed mental healthcare provider. From there, you can adopt an ESA or request accommodations for your current companion animal and ensure that you have your supportive animal always by your side.

black dog wearing ESA vest
Emotional Support Animal: Your Complete Guide
woman holding small dog outside
Emotional Support Animal Laws by State