Animals are well known for their ability to help comfort and provide companionship to their humans. But for those who are diagnosed with a mental or emotional disability, like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, this comfort and companionship can be a vital component of their treatment plan.
If a licensed mental health professional feels that an animal companion would be a helpful treatment option, they can write a letter prescribing the animal as an emotional support animal (ESA). This distinction comes with legal benefits and rights, since an ESA is deemed medically necessary to their human’s well-being. These rights include the freedom to live in most rental housing with no-pet policies (including college dorms). They also include an exemption from breed and weight restrictions, as well as from pet rent, fees, or deposits.
Unfortunately, getting an ESA letter can seem like a stressful process (which can be especially challenging for those with disorders that would benefit from an ESA). There are a multitude of providers online that claim to offer ESA letters, but many of these are illegitimate providers that offer invalid letters - which will result in your ESA not being legally protected. Luckily, there are legitimate providers as well that offer legally valid ESA letters - and, in some cases, even offer you legal support in case you run into any issues.
To help make things easier, we’ve reviewed the five best ESA letter service providers in 2023. We’ve also included everything you need to know about emotional support animals, their rights, and what to expect from your ESA letter consultation process.
An emotional support animal is an animal that a licensed mental health or medical professional has deemed medically necessary for someone with an emotional or mental disability. ESAs are often confused for service animals, though there are three major differences: an ESA can be any animal, not just a dog or a miniature horse; a service animal must be trained to perform assistive tasks, while an ESA doesn’t need specific training; and an ESA is not granted public access rights.
ESAs help their humans by offering comfort, companionship, and a healthy routine. They can be any animal, including dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, reptiles, rodents, or birds, and you can have as many ESAs as your mental health professional deems necessary.
ESAs can offer numerous benefits to someone with a mental or emotional disability. This can vary based on the type of animal chosen, as well as their personality, but some of the most common benefits include:
In addition to all these benefits, an ESA also comes with legal benefits. Under the Fair Housing Act, ESAs have the legal right to live in nearly all rental properties, regardless of their pet policies. Pet rent, fees, and deposits, as well as breed and weight restrictions, are also waived under this Act, saving ESA owners hundreds of dollars per year.
To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must be diagnosed with a mental or emotional disability by a licensed mental health professional in your state. This professional must also determine that an ESA is a necessary part of your treatment program.
There are multiple disabilities that can benefit from an ESA, including:
The only way to know for sure if you qualify for an ESA is to speak with a licensed mental health professional. If you think one may help you, you’ll want to set up an appointment or schedule one through an ESA letter provider.
Luckily, unlike a service animal (which must be a dog or, in some cases, a miniature horse), an emotional support animal can be any type of animal. As long as a licensed mental health care professional prescribes them to you, and they don’t conflict with any zoning laws, the options are almost limitless.
ESAs are also exempt from breed or weight restrictions, whether they’re set by a landlord, your city, or even your state.
While most people choose either a cat or a dog for their ESA, there are many other possibilities, including:
During your ESA consultation, you and the licensed mental health professional can discuss your needs and determine what type of animal would be best for you.
With a legitimate ESA letter service, the process of getting your ESA letter should be simple and clear. Typically, it will follow these steps, depending on which provider you choose and what state you live in:
Knowing what to expect during this process can also help you choose a legitimate ESA letter provider. If an ESA letter service doesn’t require you to have a session with a mental health professional, or if they offer to sell you a letter if you don’t have an official diagnosis, you should strongly consider another service - and their ESA letter will likely not be legally valid.
While there are several trustworthy ESA letter consultation services, unfortunately, there are some who take advantage of those in need. They’ll offer letters that are not legally valid, overcharge, or make false promises about the rights their ESA letters will grant (like claiming an ESA can fly for free in any airline cabin).
To help make things simpler, we’ve put together a list of things to consider when choosing an ESA provider to be sure you’re selecting a legitimate one - and one that will answer all your needs.
If you keep these questions in mind, you can feel confident you’re choosing the right ESA letter service provider for you. We also kept these questions in mind when reviewing the services listed below.
Quick Thoughts: US Service Animals has outstanding legal and customer service teams, was actually founded by lawyers, is valid in all 50 states, is the largest organization in the space, is budget-friendly and offers a money-back guarantee (not charged if you aren’t approved for an ESA letter), and has a streamlined and simple consultation process.
Easily topping our list is US Service Animals, a well-respected ESA letter service provider that was founded by lawyers in 2015 - and that has been lobbying for the rights of ESAs and their handlers for years. Because of their unique legal expertise, you never have to worry about any step of their process being legally invalid. For instance, they honor state-specific laws, such as Colorado only allowing MDs to provide ESA documentation via telehealth without an in-person visit. If you do run into any issues, their legal team will offer advice and support, and they have a 100% money-back guarantee if you do not qualify for an ESA or if your letter proves inadequate.
US Service Animals also has a helpful shop featuring ESA accessories - like collar tags, vests, collars, and leashes that identify your ESA as a support animal. While these aren’t legally necessary (and they make that clear on their site), they can help avoid conflict with nosy neighbors or stubborn landlords.
While they offer outstanding service, they do it all at a very reasonable cost - and they even allow you to receive ESA letters for multiple animals at no additional cost to you. Their customer service team will set up your telehealth appointment(s) for you, and if you qualify, you’ll likely receive your letter within 24 hours. And if you realize you need a service animal instead or in addition to an ESA, they also offer psychiatric service dog (PSD) training online.
Overall, our experience with US Service Animals was entirely positive. Our only minor complaint was that we received numerous marketing emails from them after signing up, but this felt like a very small issue - especially because many of their mailers were informative as well. We’re not the only ones who enjoyed our experience either; they have an average rating of 5.0 at Trustpilot (with almost 6,000 reviews), as well as an A+ Better Business Bureau rating.
Quick Thoughts: Valid ESA Letters offers psychiatric service dog training in addition to their ESA letter services. They also guarantee their ESA letters, and they have a clear focus on helping clients versus focusing on profits.
An ESA can be incredibly useful for a whole host of mental or emotional disabilities, but sometimes, you need support outside of your home as well. In that case, a psychiatric service dog can be a great option. Since these dogs are legally considered service animals, they’re allowed to accompany you in public, including grocery stores, workplaces, restaurants, and even airplane cabins.
To legally qualify as a PSD, though, a dog has to be trained to perform at least one task that helps mitigate the symptoms of a mental or emotional disability. Luckily, Valid ESA Letters offers psychiatric service animal qualification screening, as well as online PSD training courses. They also have a helpful legal team, and their ESA letters are guaranteed to be effective.
Unfortunately, Valid ESA Letters isn’t perfect. You’re not able to checkout on their website on your own; instead, you have to talk with one of their ESA experts who will take your credit card info and finish your purchase for you. While this can be helpful for some, it can be stressful for those who have phone anxiety or are likely to feel pressured when making a purchase. However, we do love that they don’t offer unnecessary physical products on their site, which helps reassure us that their focus is on helping people, not making a big profit.
Quick Thoughts: Certapet allows you to find out quickly how likely you are to qualify for an ESA, and they offer a quick turnaround - without sacrificing legal compliance.
While it’s not enough to fully qualify for an ESA, Certapet does offer a quick, 5-minute pre-screening quiz that allows you to get a good idea of your likelihood of obtaining an ESA. That way, you can decide if you want to move forward with the rest of the consultation process (or even work with another provider after taking their quiz).
Since they set you up with a licensed mental health professional in your state, your ESA letter will be legally valid, and your ESA will be protected. They also offer a very quick turnaround time, so if you’re in a big hurry overall, they’ll likely be able to meet your personal deadline. And their customer service team is helpful and approachable, so you won’t have to face the process alone.
One thing to be aware of is that they only offer psychiatric service dog letters (which aren’t legally required) without offering PSD training (which is legally required for service animals). Because of this, you may end up with a service dog that is not valid or legally protected. Plus, this can cause you to spend unnecessarily on unneeded paperwork. However, their ESA letters are solid, so if that’s what you’re in the market for, they’re still a good choice.
Overall Thoughts: If you need your ESA letter quickly, Pettable can be a solid option. Their ESA letters are also legally valid, and they have a strong legal team that will support you if you run into any complications.
Sometimes, you may need your ESA letter in a big hurry - for instance, if you’re moving into a new place soon, and your new landlord doesn’t allow any animals. However, this comes at a cost; they require you to pay an extra $50 fee to guarantee you get your ESA letter within 24 hours. Since other services, like US Service Animals, will likely give you your letter by then anyway for no extra cost, this seems a bit unnecessary - unless you need to be absolutely certain you get your ESA letter right away. Even then, US Service Animals does offer an expedited ESA letter service that guarantees receiving your letter within 24 hours for $29.99.
Another worry with Pettable is that, in their FAQs on their homepage, they make it sound like an ESA is still guaranteed the right to fly in airline cabins for free - something which is no longer true for any animal besides a service animal. This is likely just an oversight on their part, especially since other pages on their website do have the updated information, but it still makes us a bit concerned.
However, they do have a helpful legal team. If you have any issues with their letter, their customer support team is friendly and will answer any questions you have.
Quick Thoughts: It’s possible to get an ESA letter from a medical doctor or mental health professional licensed in your state. However, they may not be well-versed in ESA laws, and they can be prohibitively expensive.
To get a legitimate ESA letter, you don’t have to go through a dedicated ESA letter service. Instead, you can work with a mental health professional or medical doctor (licensed in your state) to obtain an ESA letter through them. This is a useful option if you feel more comfortable having an in-person consultation, instead of speaking with a mental health or medical professional over the phone or on a video call.
This also allows you the chance to use your own provider and make sure you’re comfortable with them, and to get ongoing support through them. However, there are a few concerns to keep in mind, which makes this one of the most potentially complicated options. For one, this can be an incredibly expensive option, with some mental health professionals charging hundreds of dollars per hour - though you may be able to find one your insurance will cover.
But the biggest concern is that you’re not guaranteed that they know all the nuances of ESA laws. For instance, some may still believe that an ESA can fly in an airline cabin for free, which is no longer true, or they may not be aware of how the laws for ESAs and service animals differ. You also have no third party checking to make sure their letter meets all legal requirements, and no customer support or legal teams to assist you.
Also, you also must determine if they qualify to prescribe ESA letters in your state; for instance, in Colorado, only a licensed Doctor of Medicine (MD) can administer an ESA letter after a telehealth visit; any other type of provider must see you in person.
To help address any final questions about ESAs, we’ve gathered answers to the most common questions below.
This letter serves as proof that you’ve spoken to a licensed mental health or medical professional in your state who has diagnosed you with a disability and prescribed you an emotional support animal. It can be shown to a landlord to ensure your ESA’s housing rights.
You must have a prescription letter from a licensed mental health or medical professional to have a legally valid ESA. A landlord is allowed to request this documentation to confirm that your ESA is legally protected.
To qualify, you must be diagnosed with a mental or emotional disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and a licensed mental health professional in your state must prescribe an ESA as a necessary part of your treatment. Anyone who has a mental or emotional disability may qualify.
ESAs used to have the federal right to fly in the cabins of airplanes for free. Unfortunately, as of January 2021, that is no longer the case. While some airlines may allow an ESA to fly in a cabin for free, the majority now only allow trained service animals this access.
Any kind of animal can be an emotional support animal, as long as a licensed mental health care worker has prescribed them as necessary. Most emotional support animals are dogs or cats, but other common options are rabbits, mini pigs, hedgehogs, or birds.
Absolutely! You can have multiple emotional support animals, as long as a licensed mental health care professional has prescribed each animal as necessary to your emotional and mental well-being and each helps alleviate a symptom of your diagnosed disability.
No, emotional support animals are exempt from all breed and weight restrictions. What size emotional support animal you choose should depend on the size of your living space, as well as what kind of support you’d like to receive from them (i.e., if you want a lap dog).
Which breed you choose for your emotional support animal depends on what kind of support you most need. For instance, if you want help being more active, you’ll want to choose an energetic breed, while others may prefer to snuggle a calmer, quieter pup.
If you are renting property or an apartment covered by the Fair Housing Act, your landlord is required to provide a “reasonable accommodation” that will allow you to live with your emotional support animal. They also cannot charge you pet rent, pet fees, or a pet deposit.
A landlord must provide you with an accommodation that is “reasonable.” Generally, the primary reason a landlord can deny an ESA is because a tenant requests an accommodation that is not reasonable, such as trying to live with an exotic animal. Moreover, a landlord can refuse to accommodate an ESA if that specific animal is destructive, dangerous, or aggressive. Because of this, we recommend making sure your ESA is trained to be obedient, calm, and friendly, so that you’re less likely to face issues.
There are no legal requirements for an emotional support animal to wear any identifying accessories. However, many choose to have their emotional support animals wear this to prevent confusion and avoid confrontations with landlords or neighbors.
While there’s a small initial cost to obtaining an ESA letter, in the long run, you can end up saving a significant amount. In fact, since emotional support animals are exempt from pet rent, fees, or deposits, many handlers find they save over $500 per year thanks to their ESA.
A service animal must be trained to perform at least one assistive task, like retrieving medication. Also, while a service animal has all the rights of an emotional support animal, they have additional rights as well, including being granted public access rights.
While ESAs and PSDs both help people with mental or emotional disabilities, only PSDs must be trained to perform at least one assistive task. Because of this training, service dogs are granted public access rights, on top of having all the same rights as an ESA.
Yes, emotional support animals are valid in all states and are protected by federal law. Keep in mind, though, that to get your ESA letter, you’ll have to be prescribed one by a licensed mental health or medical professional in your state.
Since ESAs are protected by federal law, they’re guaranteed the same base rights in all states under the Fair Housing Act. However, some states and local jurisdictions offer additional rights, such as California and New York City allowing ESAs to accompany you to your workplace.
Generally, an ESA letter is only good for one year, though this may depend on your healthcare provider. Some providers require you to update your diagnosis and treatment plan more frequently. Your letter should tell you how long it is valid for, and once that time is up, you’ll have to have your letter renewed by a licensed mental health or medical professional.
While animals can be incredible companions, for those who live with a mental or emotional disability, they can be so much more. Hopefully this guide has fully informed you on what an ESA is, who qualifies, how to get one, and which ESA letter services to trust.
When you select a legitimate ESA letter service, you can feel confident that your ESA is legally protected, so that you can know they’ll always be able to live with and support you. We truly hope that one of these providers is the right pick for you, and will help you find the support and comfort you deserve.