How to get an emotional support animal

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Did you know that 74% of pet owners report better mental health just from having a pet in the house? It’s not hard to imagine. When you wake up with a furry head lying on your lap, nuzzling you and sighing with contentment, it fills you with a bliss that is hard to find anywhere else.

There is just something about your beloved pet that brings comfort. Their soft fur. Their excited barks or meows when you walk in the door. The way they always seem to know when you’re feeling down.

Do you have a pet at home? I have a dog and a cat. We rescued our dog River (short for Professor River Song) in 2013 from a local rescue organization. She is now 7. The best way to describe her is loyal and well, not the sharpest tool in the shed. But she is great with the kids, and very sweet. Her favorite thing in the world is getting petted.

We got our cat last year in 2018. She was a surprise Father’s Day gift for my husband, who grew up with cats and loves them. Throughout our whole relationship (13 years at that point) he has wanted one but I have always said no. I’m allergic, and not really a fan. But I eventually caved, and we got Machiavelli. She is 1 1/2, playful, and very affectionate. She’s kind of won me over.

Why do animals bring us comfort?

Science has proven that domestic animal ownership brings numerous benefits.

Positive human-animal interaction is related to the changes in physiological variables both in humans and animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain. Science demonstrates that these biological responses have measurable clinical effects.

Owning a pet can reduce anxiety and depression, help alleviate stress, and make you feel less lonely. According to study cited in this article, animals also provide a sense of security and routine for those with mental illness. I know for me, personally, routine is crucial for managing the symptoms of my depression. It helps me to have the comfort of consistent daily activities. This is a great benefit of pets! Every day you need to let them out, and feed them, and brush them, and take them on walks. This provides a lot of normalcy for those that desperately need it.

Do you find that to be the case for you? Are you seeking a little normalcy? Consider getting a pet. It is not a decision to rush into. Many people with mental illness struggle with impulsive behavior. There are financial considerations to make, as well as other personal ones. I would ask yourself the following questions.

  • Can I afford the adoption fees?
  • Can I afford to get the pet’s regular shots?
  • Will I be able to take the time to let it out and walk it regularly?
  • Will the animal spend too much time alone while I am gone at work?
  • Is the animal going to be a good fit for our family, personality-wise?

These are just a few questions to ask before getting a pet. It might be a weighty decision, but it is definitely worth it.

Using animals for therapy

Lots of therapists are using animals in their practice to help treat anxiety and depression in patients. How does it work?

Petting an animal releases endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are feel good chemicals that help reduce pain and sadness. Do you noticing how running your hands over your dog’s fur puts you at ease? This science reinforces that. Petting your furry friend just makes you feel good!

There are two different strategies you can try, according to the article I just linked above. The first is using animal assisted activities. This is pretty unstructured. It’s more just you meeting different animals and interacting with them as you see fit. The second strategy is using animal assisted therapy. This is a bit more structured. You interact with the animal as directed by the therapist, and the therapist will set goals based on these interactions.

What are the pros and cons of animal assisted therapy?

  • it makes you focus on the animal and not on your problems
  • it teaches you a sense of empathy and caring
  • being with animals makes you feel accepted
  • it produces a calming effect

Really the only downsides are potential allergies to the animals, and the potential for the animal to react violently if mistreated.

How do you get an emotional support animal?

There are two ways you can do this. The first way is to get a pet! Make sure before you do this to ask yourself the questions we discussed above. Having a pet is a big commitment, so you want to make sure you are adequately prepared.

You can get a pet one of the following ways:

  • A pet store
  • An animal shelter
  • A rescue organization
  • Through a breeder
  • Through a friend

The second way you can utilize an emotional support animal is to get connect with a therapist that uses one in their practice! Just type “animal assisted therapy” into your search engine, and it should pop up with local results. Here are some great questions to ask when looking for a new therapist before your first appointment:

  • What kind of animal do you use?
  • What breed is it?
  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Can I bring my own pet?

(Check out this post for some more questions to ask before your first therapy appointment.)

Some thoughts on animal ownership

“I changed jobs/offices specifically so I could work in an office where I’m allowed to bring my dog. The job is high-demand, and the job is the job, but having Beans around is a joy for me and my office mates.” Amy (

Additional resources

Animals That Heal: The Role of Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals in Mental Health Treatment

Rescued: What Second-Chance Dogs Teach Us About Living with Purpose, Loving with Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things

Have you ever used an emotional support animal? What was your experience? I would love to hear about it in the comments below! Feel free to share stories of your furry friends.

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48 thoughts on “How to get an emotional support animal”

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this post – this is great info for anyone looking for an emotional support animal. My dog Max is mine (even though he’s technically not an ESA, I just call him that) 🙂

  2. Gorgeous post. How are you getting on with the new cat? I find my two are wonderful emotional support animals, but they can easily stress me out too with their bickering. I hope River and it are at least civil.

    1. Hey there, thanks so much! They get along mostly! River is a big baby and just wants to be the cat’s best friend and the cat wants River to leave her alone LOL. River thinks she’s like a 4lb lapdog size, not a 60-65lb beastie. They don’t really fight or anything though luckily!

  3. I’ll never forget the night when I was having a panic attack and my cat came out of nowhere, started weaving in and out of my legs, purring, it’s like he knew. It helped me so much. Animals are incredible.

    1. Hey Monica, as much as we make them the butt of jokes sometimes, they really are very intuitive, remarkable creatures. That’s so great that you’ve found such an amazing companion. Take care, and thanks for reading!

  4. I don’t have pets but I really love dogs. I used to have one, lost him years ago and since then couldn’t think of having another one. He was a strong support for our family. Losing a pet really hurt us all, and we miss that emotional support now.

    1. Hey Supriya, I believe it. We had to rehome my Jack Russell about 5 years ago and I still miss him every single day. Luckily he found a much better situation. (He HATED my husband and I just could not get them to co-exist, sadly.) Thanks for reading!

  5. We have a dog and I always joke with my husband that she is my emotional support animal but in truth it’s not a joke. She brings me so much joy and helps reduce stress.

  6. I agree that having a pet helps with anxiety! I’ve suffered from anxiety and get stressed out easily for a long time. Once I got my dog, my stress levels have gone down so much.

    1. Hey Orlie, that’s so great! It’s so strange how it helps because in a lot of ways being a pet owner can be stressful, but it really does help. Take care, and thanks for reading!

    1. Hey Melissa, definitely! We have 1 dog and 1 cat that are sometimes pains in the butt, but they do bring a lot of joy and comfort, especially to the kids! Thanks for reading 🙂

  7. We have 2 dogs and 2 goats! We also have 2 year old twins. Whenever the kids get hurt or are sad, they go straight to their dogs for hugs and cuddles! Puppy hugs are often more desirable than hugs from Mama! ❤️

  8. I definitely feel that having an animal helps with my anxiety. I’ve had my cat Pigeon for 8 years, and any time I’m away from home and him for an extended amount of time, I can tell that my anxiety levels are higher. I haven’t registered him as an emotional support animal, but he definitely is one for me. x

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