Emotional Support Animal For Depression: Unveiling 3 Benefits

Reviewed by Dr. Theresa Bautista, OTD, OTR

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emotional support animal for depression
Emotional support animals help with depression. Photo: Team Design

Living with depression can feel like being trapped in a dark tunnel with no end in sight. But here’s the good news: emotional support animals can offer a beacon of light, providing comfort, companionship, and a reason to keep moving forward in life.

In this article, we’ll dive into how emotional support animals can help, how to qualify for an emotional support letter for depression, and even the best types of animals for this role. Whether you’re dealing with the daily struggles of depression or supporting a loved one, this guide will give you valuable insights into the best emotional support animals.

Emotional Support Animal For Depression: How Can It Help?

Can you get an emotional support animal for depression? Yes! The right emotional support animal can make a big difference in the lives of people struggling with depression and mental illness. They provide companionship, unconditional love, and an important sense of responsibility. These animals can elevate mood, reduce loneliness, and encourage social interactions.

Through the help of licensed mental health professionals, individuals can qualify for and identify the best emotional support animal to assist them in managing their mental health condition effectively.

3 Benefits Of An Emotional Support Animal For Depression

emotional support animal for depression
ESAs help with many of the symptoms of depression. Photo: Shutterstock

Promotes Mood Improvement & Reduces Loneliness

It’s scientifically proven[1] that simply having an animal at home can trigger the release of “feel-good” hormones like oxytocin, which help alleviate symptoms of depression. An emotional support animal’s presence can be a constant reminder of non-judgmental positivity and affection, promoting mood improvement.

Encourages Responsibility & Regular Exercise

Having an emotional support animal also helps you become more responsible and confident. Taking care of your pet by feeding and walking them gives you a daily routine and a sense of purpose, which is really important for managing depression.

Enhances Social Interaction

Lastly, ESAs can help enhance your social life and build your support system. For instance, taking your emotional support dog for a walk can open up opportunities to chat with other pet owners and animal enthusiasts. These interactions can alleviate the sense of social isolation and anxiety often experienced by those dealing with depression.

Emotional Support Animal (ESA): What Is It?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion that provides emotional support to a person with a mental health disorder or emotional condition, such as depression or bipolar disorder.

ESAs don’t have to perform tasks like service dogs. Instead, their presence helps their owner cope with the symptoms and challenges associated with mental health conditions.

Emotional Support Animals Vs. Service Animals: What’s The Difference?

An emotional support dog is not the same as a service dog. While both ESAs and service animals provide many benefits to their owners, they serve different purposes[2] and are recognized differently under the law.

Service animals, like psychiatric service dogs, are specially trained to perform specific tasks to assist individuals with a physical or psychiatric disability. On the other hand, ESAs do not require special training, as their primary role is to provide emotional support and comfort.

Legal Protections For Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are recognized under U.S. federal law, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Under the FHA,[3] individuals with physical disabilities or certain medical conditions are granted protection from housing discrimination.[4] This means a housing provider must provide “reasonable accommodation[5] for anyone with a disability.

In conjunction with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Landlords must offer you equal opportunity in housing. They cannot deny your application because you have an ESA, even if you occupy “no pet” housing.

Though they can request documentation from your healthcare provider or social worker, you do not have to disclose what your disability is. Housing managers can’t restrict what species or breed you bring into the home, nor do they have a say about how many emotional support animals you can have on the premises, assuming each has a unique and documented purpose.

The ACAA permits ESAs to accompany their owners in an aircraft cabin, though recent revisions[6] allow individual airlines to set their own policies and restrictions. Remember, laws vary by region, and policies vary by airline, so it’s important to research your itinerary ahead of time.

Qualifying For An Emotional Support Animal

An emotional support animal can be a significant part of a comprehensive treatment plan for those struggling with depression and other mental health disorders. However, not everyone qualifies for an ESA. To be eligible, a licensed mental health professional must certify that the individual has a diagnosable mental condition and that an ESA would help alleviate one or more associated symptoms.

The Role Of Mental Health Professionals

Licensed mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers, play a vital role in qualifying for an ESA. They evaluate the person’s mental health condition and determine if an ESA would benefit their patient’s treatment plan. These professionals are the ones who will prove an important document called the ESA letter.

How To Get An ESA Letter

To obtain an ESA letter, you must first schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. They will assess your mental condition and determine if you are qualified to receive a prescription for an ESA. Learn more about this process by researching how to get an ESA letter.

Best Emotional Support Animal for Anxiety and Depression

Many animals can provide comfort and companionship to humans, but there are only certain species that can be recommended as emotional support animals for depression. Here are some examples of animals best known for their therapeutic benefits and suitability as ESAs.


Dogs, known as “man’s best friend,” can make excellent emotional support animals. Their loyalty, affection, and unconditional love can be incredibly soothing for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Certain dog breeds, like Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, are known for their gentle and friendly nature, making them ideal ESAs for mental disorders. Smaller dogs can be easily carried with you outside the home. Learn more about how to adopt an emotional support dog.


Cats are another popular choice for ESAs. They are independent yet affectionate, offering emotional comfort without requiring constant attention. Their purring is thought to be calming, which may reduce depression symptoms overall. If you already own one, you can register your cat as an esa.


A rat might not be the first to come to mind when considering an ESA, but they can be surprisingly ideal companion animals. These small mammals are intelligent, affectionate, and social creatures that can form strong bonds with their human caretakers. Rats also learn tricks and are fairly clean, making care fun and straightforward.


While unconventional, snakes can also make effective ESAs. They require relatively low maintenance, eating once per week or less and not requiring the regular social interaction mammals and birds need to stay psychologically healthy. These factors make snakes great ESAs for individuals suffering from depression who may struggle with the responsibility or motivation to tend to a creature every day.

Additionally, the unique, calming effect of handling and watching a snake can help alleviate anxiety, low self-esteem, and stress associated with depression. However, remember that the best emotional support animal for depression varies from person to person, depending on their individual needs, lifestyle, and comfort with other animals.

Obtaining An Emotional Support Animal For Depression

Acquiring an emotional support animal can be a straightforward process. First you must identify the right ESA for you. This can be an animal you already own or one you wish to adopt.

The next step is to contact a mental health professional to discuss your symptoms and how an ESA could assist you. If you don’t have a current healthcare provider, you can check out resources such as this CertaPet review to determine the best legitimate ESA service for you.

After an assessment and formal diagnosis (if you don’t already have one), the mental health professional can write you an emotional support animal letter for depression, officially designating your animal as an ESA.

Making My Pet An Emotional Support Animal For Depression

Do you already own a pet animal that can provide the emotional support you need? . You can consult with a mental health professional to evaluate your situation and provide a letter outlining the  need to designate your pet as an official ESA. This can include any animal, from dogs and cats to less common emotional support animals like rats, birds, and snakes.


An emotional support animal for depression can provide significant benefits, from reducing loneliness[7] to encouraging regular physical activity. They are not a substitute for medical treatment but can complement other therapies and contribute to overall mental well-being. Every person’s experience with depression is unique, and the best ESA is the one that fits your individual needs and circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a person with depression have an emotional support animal?

Yes, a person with depression can have an emotional support animal (ESA). ESAs provide comfort, companionship, and contribute to mental well-being. They act as a positive distraction that may help alleviate some symptoms of depression.

What pet is best for depression?

The “best” pet varies depending on individual needs and preferences. Common ESAs include dogs and cats; even rats and snakes can provide support. The crucial factor is the bond between the person and the animal.

Can depression qualify you for a service dog?

Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. While depression can be debilitating, it doesn’t typically qualify for a service dog unless it significantly impairs your ability to perform daily tasks.

How do emotional support animals help with anxiety and depression?

ESAs provide comfort and companionship, help reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety, encourage physical activity and routine, and give a sense of purpose, all of which can aid in managing depression and anxiety.

+ 7 sources

MIDSS adheres to strict procurement guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutes, and medical associations. We work mainly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure the accuracy of the information. We avoid the use of tertiary references. You can read about how we ensure the accuracy and timeliness of our content in our editorial process.

  1. Kretzler, B., Hans-Helmut König and Hajek, A. (2022). Pet ownership, loneliness, and social isolation: a systematic review. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, [online] 57(10), pp.1935–1957. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-022-02332-9.
  2. Howell, T.J., Nieforth, L.O., Thomas-Pino, C., Samet, L., Agbonika, S., Cuevas-Pavincich, F., Nina Ekholm Fry, Hill, K., Jegatheesan, B., Kakinuma, M., MacNamara, M., Sanna Mattila-Rautiainen, Perry, A., Christine Yvette Tardif-Williams, Walsh, E., Winkle, M., Yamamoto, M., Yerbury, R., Rawat, V. and Alm, K. (2022). Defining Terms Used for Animals Working in Support Roles for People with Support Needs. Animals, [online] 12(15), pp.1975–1975. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12151975.
  3. HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). (2021). Housing Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act. [online] Available at: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview.
  4. Animallaw.info. (2021). FAQs on Emotional Support Animals | Animal Legal & Historical Center. [online] Available at: https://www.animallaw.info/article/faqs-emotional-support-animals#aa15.
  5. https://www.animallaw.info/sites/default/files/HUD%20FHEO%20Assistance%20Animals%20Notice%202020.pdf
  6. Service Animal Final Rule FAQs. (n.d.). Available at: https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2020-12/Service%20Animal%20Final%20Rule%20FAQs.pdf.
  7. Surma, S., Oparil, S. and Narkiewicz, K. (2022). Pet Ownership and the Risk of Arterial Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease. Current Hypertension Reports, [online] 24(8), pp.295–302. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11906-022-01191-8.


Nia is a STEM educator, certified personal trainer, fitness instructor, and certified nurses' aid. She received her Bachelor's in Creative Writing and Music Theory from The College of Idaho in 2010 at the age of 18. She spent the next 5 years studying Biochemistry and STEM education at Boise State University. Now a mother of 2, she resides in central Idaho and owns a writing agency specializing in content and copywriting for Health, Science, & Education.


Theresa is a Doctor of Occupational Therapy and a Licensed Occupational Therapist based in Texas. She specializes in content writing, research, medical review, and consulting for health websites and health tech companies. As a clinician, her expertise is in outpatient pediatric and school-based therapy. She also has experience in hand therapy, hospital, rehab, home health, and telehealth settings. Theresa employs a holistic approach to serve individuals of all age groups, from children to older adults.

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