Qualifying for an ESA.

An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that is recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act.

An emotional support animal is not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for companionship).

To qualify, an individual

  1. Must have a “disability and disability-related need for an assistance animal.”
  2. HUD defines a disability as a “major impact on a life activity,” commonly referred to as a functional limitation.
  3. The four most common disabilities are sleep, concentration, focus, and social interaction.
  4. Individual’s animal (ESAD only considers dogs and cats) must help ameliorate the disability.

Significant impacts on major life activities

In summary, significant impacts on major life activities (sleep, concentration, focus, social interaction) are deemed disabilities. If an animal helps mitigate those symptoms (sleep better, etc.), if the animal is necessary for treatment, then an individual can be recommended for an assistance animal.

Please note: each assistance animal must help address a different functional limitation. Each assistance animal must be necessary for the treatment of a disability.



John Doe suffers from PTSD which results in high levels of anxiety. Due to this, John has severe problems with sleep, to the point it's a major impact of a life activity.

John has a very strong emotional bond with his cat, Mr. Mittens. Thankfully, the feline helps relieve the disability by drastically reduces the anxiety induced by John's psychological disorder. As the symptoms are ameliorated, John can sleep. With his cat, his substantial limitation is alleviated - thus it is necessary.

Mr. Mittens satisfies the definition of assistance animal because it: “... provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person's disability.” [see FHEO Notice FHEO-2013-01, April 25, 2013]


John Doe is having issues with his landlord. Facing eviction, John turns to ESAD for assistance. John wants his 120# German Sheppard Dog approved. Since there's no disability, he was denied.

Emotional support animal letter for travel

An emotional support animal provides comfort to support a customer’s diagnosed mental or emotional disorder. Emotional support animals need not have specific training for that function. All must be trained to behave appropriately in a public setting. Acceptable ESAD emotional support animals are limited to dogs and cats. Your animal must behave appropriately in a public environment.

If you're 10# Chihuahua acts like Cujo, runs around the airport on attack mode -- aka, has a terrible demeanor -- the "best ESA letter in the world" won't matter.

To qualify, an individual

  • Must have a mental health-related disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM IV)
  • Need the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and activity at your destination

Read: ESAD's service dog fraud policy.