Woman sitting on a couch with her lungs highlighted lovingly holds her cat in her lap

Emotional Support Animal

Last updated: September 2021

I have often seen service animals and I’m sure you have too. For example, you may see them in the mall or at a park or the store. They wear leashes, or harnesses, and sometimes they wear something that says they are a Service Animal.

I always thought that Service Animals were just for people who needed physical support. In particular, Service Animals I had seen had before often helped people walk, reach lights, or get medicine. In addition, it never occurred to me that there are animals who only offer emotional support.

Animals who do not provide physical support, but who do provide emotional support are called Emotional Support Animals. Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals are very different. Their goal is the same: to help their owner.

This year, my husband and I saved a small kitten during a snow storm. We took her to the vet, nursed her back to health, and she became part of our family. During this time, I felt like our cat had helped lighten some of the effects of my anxiety and depression.

Soon after, I told my therapist how I felt and she had the idea of making my cat my Emotional Support Animal. In our session, I explained that I did not know what an Emotional Support Animal was. Until then, I had only known about Service Animals. My therapist explained the difference to me. After she did some research she gave me a letter explaining that my cat was my Emotional Support Animal. This letter was important to have in case someone needed to make sure my cat was my Emotional Support Animal.

What is the difference between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal?

A Service Animal is a dog that has been trained to perform certain tasks for someone with a disability. In addition, Service Animals go through training to learn the different tasks. The tasks that the service dog performs must be related to their owner’s disability.1 For example, a guide dog helps blind and visually impaired people in their surroundings.2

An Emotional Support Animal is an animal that provides comfort to help relieve a symptom or effect of someone’s disability. In addition, Emotional Support Animals are not pets and are normally not restricted by species.3 Just about any animal can be an Emotional Support Animal such as a rabbit, a cat, a bird, or a snake.

How do Emotional Support Animals work?

Emotional Support Animals look different for each person. For example, having an Emotional Support Animal can serve as a distraction. As their owner takes care of the animal, it can help with mental and emotional stress.4 These animals can provide comfort and relief. Also, these animals help people who have a disability deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. Likewise, they can also help with other emotional and psychiatric needs.5

How do you get an Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional Support Animals are not pets. A mental health specialist must prescribe an Emotional Support Animal. An example of a mental health specialist is a therapist or a social worker. If you are seeing a one, they might think you would benefit from having one.

If your mental health specialist thinks it will benefit you, they will be able to provide you with a letter. This letter will be given when you get an Emotional Support Animal. This will confirm that your animal is not a pet and also gives approval for your Emotional Support Animal. For example, people who own an Emotional Support Animal may be able to live in housing that may not be open to pet owners.2

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals are an important part of many people’s lives. There are duties with owning an Emotional Support Animal. Those duties may help distract from mental and emotional stress. The animal may also bring good emotions to people's lives, like joy. Speak with your mental health specialist if you want to learn more about Emotional Support Animals . They would be able to help you find out if having one would help you.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Cystic-Fibrosis.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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