ESA vs. Service Animals | What Do You Need?

Pets are our greatest companions in the animal kingdom. As such, it?s no wonder why people put so much care and consideration into loving their pets and giving them the best life possible. While they are often with us for a short time, their presence makes a huge impact.

Not only do we care for animals, but they offer us care and affection in return. Emotional Support Animals (ESA) and service animals even more so. However, despite the fact that they both benefit humans with challenges, there are differences between the two. Here is what you need to know about ESA and service animals, and understand which one is better for your needs.


What is an ESA?

An ESA is an animal of your choosing that is designated to offer support and assistance as a form of occupational therapy for a mental disorder or illness. In most cases, this is the type of animal you require. You can choose what type of animal you want as an ESA, but you should be mindful of where you want to be able to bring them. You may be a horse lover and find that working with horses is very soothing. However, they won?t be able to accompany you on an airplane to help your flight anxiety.

Many people choose lap animals– dogs, cats, rabbits, etc.– to be their emotional support animal. While an ESA will have some access privileges that other pets won?t, there are limitations to consider.


What is a Service Animal?

A service animal is trained to help a specific person with a specific task. For example, a seeing eye dog is trained to help guide a blind individual through daily life. When they are out in public, the animal is focused on doing its work, ensuring their owner is safe and aware of any obstacles. Alternatively, someone who is severely epileptic may have a service animal that indicates when a seizure is taking place.

As service animals are specially trained, they cost anywhere between $17,000 and $25,000 to train. It ultimately depends on where they are being trained and what their specific training is for. People are asked not to approach service dogs when they see them in public, as the animal must be focused on its job to keep their human safe.



To be eligible for an ESA, you must have a documented mental health diagnosis and letter of recommendation from the medical professional overseeing your case. The diagnosis could include insomnia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and more.

To be eligible for a service animal, you must apply through an organization relevant to your particular challenge. Sensory disorders such as blindness or deafness and mobility issues causing partial paralysis, reduced motor function, or restriction to a wheelchair are commonly reported ailments requiring a service dog. Those with PTSD may also be eligible, as a service dog is trained to help keep them calm during an anxiety attack.



An ESA can access a few places that other pets can?t, such as commercial airlines and rental properties with a ?no pets? rule. To help simplify this process, many choose to complete their emotional support dog registration online. Unlike an ESA, service animals can go in any public setting, including restaurants and movie theaters. This is because service animals are required for the personal safety reasons of their owner.

Which One is For You?

If you have a mental health disorder that is negatively impacting your quality of life, an ESA is the choice for you. If you have a physical impairment or severe mental disorder that impacts the safety of yourself and others, you may be eligible for a service animal.

To get an ESA, you can register a pet you currently own or get a new one to fit this specific need. Consider adopting a rescue animal as your ESA and help each other get through this crazy thing called life.

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