Emotional Support Dogs – Everything You NEED to Know!

emotional support dog

Till not very long ago, the idea of having a functioning daily routine was unthinkable for a lot of people with anxiety issues and mental health problems.

But with the help of emotional support animals, this situation is changing rapidly. This is our top 10 Questions about Emotional Support Dogs Covered in detail below!

#1 What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal can be any of the commonly used animal companions to help people with physical and psychological disabilities in managing their day to day routines. 

Traditionally, emotional support animals or ESAs refers to dogs, but cats, miniature horses, ducks, monkeys, and turkeys can also be used. Naturally dogs are the most popular emotional support animals, because of the ease of training and better response from them.

While it’s not unreasonable to compare emotional support animals to service animals, there are very clear distinctions between the two. Emotional support animals provide companionship and serve as a medium to combat anxiety in patients.

 In contrast to this, service animals are animals that have received training in order to support a person who has a specific disability. This can range from being seeing eye dogs for the visually handicapped, to helping people with more intricate psychiatric disabilities or intellectual disabilities in navigating the world around them. This can include everything between reminding patients to take the medicine. and helping them cross the street or find their way home.

Emotional support animals do not necessarily receive this kind of training. Service animals on the other hand, often undergo extensive training before they are released into service. Emotional support animals and service animals are also available to patients under different laws.

#2 How Well Do We Know Emotional Support Animals?

The idea of emotional support animals is not entirely new. Assistance animals such as seeing eye dogs and helper animals for the physically handicapped have been around for decades. Right from back when the good doctor Sigmund Freud was still in practice, the benefits of animals’ presence was already known. His pet Chow Jofi was famously a ‘therapy helper’.

But the use of animals in therapy has also recently spiked. A study conducted recently with over 400 participants showed that in 83% of the cases, children undergoing therapy had more positive improvements as compared to children who didn’t have access to animals during the therapy sessions.

The use of animals in therapy has been backed by documented effects on mental as well as physical health. This extends across the horizon from people recovering from disease to people in management phases. In both cases, the presence of animals shows vastly improved responses. People suffering from a spectrum of disorders can benefit from emotional support animals. So if you are looking into one for yourself, here is what you should know.

#3 In What Conditions Can Emotional Support Animals Help?

Extensive studies are in place showing the effects of emotional support animals on their handlers. The two major conditions in which emotional support animals help are depression and anxiety. But these are only the two most well known in a very long list of conditions.

Emotional support animals have been shown to benefit people suffering from PTSD in stressful situations, mild to severe anxiety, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc. Studies show that emotional support animals can cause an 82% reduction in the symptoms of PTSD right from the first week of having them.

Additionally, in unusually stressful situations such as in people with agoraphobia when they are out and about, or people with aerophobia when they have to travel by air, overwhelmingly positive results have been recorded.

And this is besides the use of emotional support animals in animal assisted therapy for children and adults on the spectrum. Animal assisted therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder is a tool in teaching patience communication and social skills.

People on the spectrum and undergoing therapy respond much more enthusiastically with an animal present. While no concrete studies are present explaining the result, it is widely thought that people on the spectrum, especially in low functioning cases, feel comforted by the presence of an animal.

This is especially because animals provide a nonjudgmental source of affection and encouragement. The results are often more visible in children who are nonverbal or minimally interactive.

#4 What Are the Emotional Support Dog Requirements?

The baseline to qualify for having an emotional support dog is to have an emotional or mental disability that has been certified by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or any certified mental health professional. These include invisible disabilities such as visual or auditory handicaps for which the patient already uses aids which are not necessarily visible.

 Emotional or mental disabilities such as developmental disorders, learning or intellectual disabilities, disorders such as depression, ADHD, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and self harming disorders, etc. all can qualify a person to get an ESA.

Generally speaking, the extent of disability required to qualify for a therapy or emotional support animal must include at least one daily activity being severely limited. This can include activities such as eating, standing alone, working, or concentrating and learning. Also, it needs to be provable that the presence of your ESA helps in the management of the impaired activity.

A person who has documented illnesses can begin the process of getting an emotional support dog by talking to their registered mental health professional about the same. An ESA documentation letter has to be signed off by the professional in question. Bear in mind however, that mental health professionals are not obligated to sign off on an emotional support animal if they do not deem them necessary. 

Also, another important consideration to take into account is that emotional support animals are like any other pet. In this, an investment of time and money will be required for you to take care of them, while they take care of you.

#5 How Do I get An Emotional Support Dog?

To get an emotional support dog, you need to have a letter called an emotional support animal letter, or an ESA letter. This document qualifies you to have your emotional support animal with you at all times. You can get the letter issued by your own physician, or a psychiatrist or psychologist you have been referred to.

If this process seems deceptively simple, that’s because it’s not. Not all psychiatrists or therapists approve emotional support animal requests immediately. And if you don’t have a therapist to begin with, the process can take even longer.

In situations such as these,  online services can be used to find a therapist around you who will write you a legitimate letter.

Bear in mind though, that if you are using an online service to get an emotional service animal approval letter, this has to be a certified source. There are many websites that issue questionable approval letters, that later get rejected by housing authorities and travel authorities.

 Inform yourself about the responsible authorities in your state and country whose seal of approval is required for having a certified official emotional support animal. Without this, it is possible that you may not be able to travel with your emotional support dog later.

Under American law (Federal Fair Housing Act), emotional support animals are required to be accommodated in renting housing without additional charges for the same.

The same applies to air travel, where emotional support animals are not charged the same way as pets are (extra ticket costs vary from airline to airline, naturally). A recent study shows a 75% increase in the number of animals being taken on flights as emotional support animals- which is very drastic. Because of this, the parameters defining an emotional support animal are being defined more closely.

All of this tracks back to having an ESA approval letter issued from a reliable source, and obtaining further attestations on it, should your local health authorities require that.  

#6 Where Can I Get an Emotional Support Dog?

There are two ways to get an emotional support animal.

If you already have a pet such as a dog or a cat who you would like to get certified as an emotional support animal, you can start the process from here. Theoretically, all kinds of animals can be registered as ESAs. This includes small birds, rabbits, fish, hamsters, turtles, ponies, etc. (However not all of these are approved for air travel).

If you don’t already have a bed, you can adopt one from any local animal shelter or rescue organization. If you have a particular breed in mind, finding a responsible and ethical reader in your area is a good solution to this.

An important consideration is that an emotional support animal does not come already trained. And while it does not require the same amount of training as a support animal, there are certain requirements. Good socialization skills, leash training, swift response to verbal commands, and being comfortable in public places are only the basic skills that your emotional support animals should possess.

#7 Can Any Dog Be an Emotional Support Dog?

Yes, again in theory. Any dog can be an emotional support dog. Under law, landlords are not to make breed or weight restrictions on emotional support animals. So housing should not be a problem.

Also, it’s not necessary that you inform your landlord before you get an emotional support animal, although it is advised that you do so. You are also not required to disclose details of your medical condition to your landlord to justify your emotional support dog. This is where an emotional support animal approval letter will back up your case, should a problem arise.

The reasoning here is that ESAs do not fall under the category of normal pets. Landlords can therefore not restrict the presence of an animal companion who helps the owner live a better life. As an extension of this, any animal can be an emotional support animal. That being said it is advised that you choose a dog who does well in social situations.

#8 How Do I Prepare Myself for An Emotional Support Dog?

Preparing your home for an emotional support dog is not very unlike preparing for the arrival of a child. Or, under the circumstances, preparing for a first-time pet. If you are a first-time pet owner, take the following into account.

  • Make sure that you are well informed about the do’s and don’ts of the dog you will be adopting. If he belongs to a specific breed, study up on what their requirements are. Here, the Internet is your best friend.
  • Food and shelter are your first basics. You will need a doghouse, a dog crate, new dishes, as well as grooming supplies.
  • You will also need chew toys, leashes, bedding, and ways to keep your dog engaged when at home. If you’re adopting a puppy, you will need food and toys designed especially for puppies, who have different requirements.
  • If you have no experience with dog training, it’s highly recommended that you inform yourself on the same. A badly trained emotional support animal will reflect very badly on you. But generally speaking, a well-trained dog has a better quality of life than a dog who has received no training.
  • Puppy proof your house. Dogs, especially puppies are very curious, and will poke their nose into every corner of your house. This means that you should have no open electrical outlets, no unsecured devices that could inadvertently become chew toys, no toys that are easy to swallow, and food items placed well out of reach of a curious dog.
  • Make sure that your important devices and documents are stored well away from where your dog can get to them. Every first time pet owner will attest to headphones and earphones accidentally sacrificed to their pooch.
  • As an additional parameter, make sure that you take your dog to a vet and get him chipped and vaccinated at the first opportunity.

#9 Is an Emotional Support Dog Good for Anxiety?

Yes, emotional support dogs can be a massive help for people suffering with anxiety, whether it’s mild social anxiety, or severe anxiety.

One of the mechanisms behind this is that the presence of an animal, or simply putting an animal causes a release of serotonin in the human body. This, along with the release of prolactin and oxytocin, helps in elevating and otherwise depressed mood.

The presence of an animal companion, especially dogs, keeps people with anxiety mentally engaged. It helps directly in making them relax and in speeding up the recovery process. Some dogs can actually be trained to recognize an oncoming anxiety attack and help prevent it.

#10 What Else Can an Emotional Support Dog Help With?

It is widely documented that the presence of animals in recovery and rehabilitation helps with healing. Having a dog is directly linked with lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety, improving overall cardiovascular health, and even helping in eventually reducing the medications some people take.

People with anxiety have reported that the physical effects of their disorder were much easier to manage, simply because their ESA was with them. Breathing, focusing on your surroundings, and the manifestations of an anxiety attack or panic attack are physically lighter, when in therapy with a dog.

Similarly, people and especially children on the spectrum benefit massively from their dogs being there. The presence of dogs is directly related to the increased levels of Dopamine- the happiness hormone. This and the stabilization of the daily routine that owning a dog brings, makes sure that people with ESAs feel more relaxed, at ease, and have more regularization in their day to day life.

A part of this is the natural effect of being more active with your dog. But the emotional support provided by your dog also goes a long way in making sure that you are well rested, more in tune with your surroundings, and simply put, feel more loved. The companionship and unconditional love that a dog gives you is a rare and beautiful gift. An emotional support dog does just that for you.

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