What is the Service Animal vs Emotional Support Animal Difference?

When it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) there is no big service animal vs emotional support animal difference. The ADA recognizes both service animals and emotional support animals (ESA) as legitimate assistance for those with disabilities.

The ADA was passed in 1990 to prevent discrimination against those with disabilities. The ADA requires equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, transportation, and reasonable accommodations.

The following are some differences between Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals. The specifics of what is considered service and emotional support animals are discussed in subsequent sections.

The service animal is trained to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities or handicaps. These tasks can vary widely depending on the disability that the handler has. For example, while some service dogs may provide comfort and companionship, others may be trained to retrieve items that have been dropped or dial 911 in an emergency.

What is the Difference Between Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Service dogs need no special certification from a professional organization to be allowed into places with public access. However, many places have pet policies regarding what qualifies as a service animal and what doesn’t.

The emotional support animal does not require training at all. They provide affection, comfort, or companionship for someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder or other mental illness. These companion animals are often permitted into public places where pets would otherwise be banned under most circumstances.

ESA owners are required to provide documentation from a doctor or therapist, which is enough to get the animal into most buildings and on most airlines.

Legally, service animals and emotional support animals are treated differently. Service animals can go most places with their owners. However, these animals must have special training to perform tasks that assist their owner in some way, like alerting them to an oncoming seizure or carrying a backpack for someone with limited mobility.

What do Service Animals do?

Service animals are specially trained to accompany and assist people with disabilities. They are not pets; they can be any breed of dog.

Emotional Support Animals are not meant to perform tasks but provide emotional support like a therapy dog. Unlike service animals, ESAs may accompany their owners to public places where pets aren’t allowed, such as restaurants and grocery stores.

For example, a guide dog that alerts its owner by barking when someone is approaching from behind has been trained to mitigate a symptom of vision impairment (blindness). Likewise, a dog that pulls its owner’s wheelchair upstairs has been trained to alleviate a symptom of mobility impairment (knee/leg injury). Psychiatric service dogs are trained to help their owners with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Service animals are specifically trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate the disability of their owner (such as guiding a blind person or completing tasks for a person with diabetes). They must also be housebroken and well-behaved in public settings to behave appropriately while out in public.

What do Emotional Support Animals do?

Emotional support animals are assistance animal that provides therapeutic benefits to their owners. These animals are not meant to perform specific tasks but help the owner by providing emotional support.

On the other hand, are the service dogs trained to perform specific tasks for their owners. This could include alerting during a seizure disorder or assisting with daily tasks like picking up dropped items.

What do Emotional Support Animals do?

Emotional support animals must be prescribed by a mental health professional. They cannot be denied air travel and housing access air travel and housing under the Department of Justice Fair Housing Act (FHA) or Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

The ADA does not categorize emotional support dogs as service animals. However, some states recognize them as assistance animals and allow public accommodation for transport and into businesses where pets are generally not allowed.

There is no federal legislation regarding emotional support animals in housing, but some states allow landlords to require certification from a medical professional confirming that the tenant has an emotional disability before allowing an ESA in their apartment complex or condo building.


Legitimate way to certify your emotional support animal

  • Connects licensed medical practitioners to individuals seeking ESA letters
  • ESA letters comply with state and federal regulations

How do You Qualify for a Service Animal?

To qualify for a service animal, you must have a physical disability or mental disability that prevents you from performing major life activities without assistance from an animal. In addition, your doctor must certify that the animal will help you with your condition. You must also be unable to train the animal yourself due to disability.

The disability must be permanent or long-term, meaning it will continue for twelve months or more; temporary conditions such as broken limbs do not qualify for service animals under federal law.

If approved, you’ll receive a letter from your doctor’s office confirming that the animal is a service animal.

The letter should include:

  • The date of the appointment
  • The name of the prescribing physician
  • The name of the physician
  • A description of the dog’s training
  • The person’s disability for which the dog was prescribed

How do You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?

How do You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

To qualify for an ESA, you must have a documented disability or condition (e.g., autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD) that requires the companionship of an animal for your mental health and well-being.

The disability can be physical or psychological and may not necessarily relate directly to your pet.

For example: If you suffer from anxiety about being alone at home after dark with no one else around to protect you from intruders, having an ESA could help alleviate those fears because it would provide an extra layer of security during those times when you need it most.

Also, if a mental health professional gives you a mental health condition diagnosis, they will write an emotional support animal letter to approve your ESA qualification.

If you are unsure whether or not you qualify for an ESA, speak with Certapet about your options —we’ll help you figure out if it’s the right step for you and your mental health.

If you do not qualify for an ESA, there are other ways of getting a therapy animal to help improve your mental health.

What Rights do Service Animal Owners Have?

Under the ADA, service animals must be permitted into businesses open to the public and on public transportation. Companies may ask only two questions:

  1. Do you require the service animal because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has your dog been trained to perform?

The answers should not be asked until you have already been seated or served at a restaurant or store (or after boarding the bus or train) because of your legal disability rights. You don’t need to provide documentation of your disability or certification from a doctor or other professional about your need for an assistance animal (your doctor can write a letter for you if needed).

What Rights do Emotional Support Animals Have?

Emotional support animals are assistance animals, which means they can go virtually anywhere their owners go. That includes restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, and commercial airlines.

ESAs have the same civil rights as any other animal except for housing. They may not be excluded from public spaces such as restaurants, buses, or taxis just because they are emotional support animals. This applies to both businesses and individuals.

Although some state laws regulate what types of animals qualify as service animals (and in some cases require a doctor’s note), no federal law specifies which animal can be used for emotional support.