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Pros and Cons of Emotional Support Animals

By Mawoo Pets · 5 Sep · 7 min read
Pros and Cons of Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals, or ESA, are known for their calm temperaments and ability to learn quickly. Though they are not the same as certified service dogs, emotional support dogs are nevertheless very important to the well-being of their owners. ESA dogs and some other animals can sometimes get special access to public transport and venues, to help owners navigate tricky social situations.

ESA dogs for seniors, kids, and others with anxiety problems, provide companionship and relief from stress and many mood disorders. Is an ESA the right choice for you? Here's an in-depth look at the pros and cons of emotional support animals so you can make an informed decision.

The Pros of Emotional Support Animals

In listing the pros and cons of emotional support animals, let's start with the good stuff. There are many reasons to consider buying or training an ESA. For animal lovers, there is the obvious advantage of having a pet in the house!

Emotional Support And Companionship

Woman hugging a Belgian Malinois puppy

The purpose of an emotional support dog is to make its owner more comfortable. Yes, that's basically the role of every pet, but ESAs are specifically brought into a household to provide affection and emotional care for an owner. These dogs provide the companionable support that anxiety sufferers need to get through difficult places and situations.

It's just like having a very dedicated friend by your side all day long. A friend always makes things easier, whether it's going for a walk around the block or making a telephone call to the bank. For special-needs children, a support dog can make a big positive difference in daily life.

Motivation to Exercise

Some people who suffer with mental health issues like anxiety and depression struggle with motivation to exercise or leave the house. It's a problem that can often be helped with a doggy companion—since dogs need to go outside for potty breaks and exercise every day. It's often easier to motivate yourself to exercise when you're really doing it to care for someone else who needs you.

Responsibility Can Be Beneficial

Feelings of anxiety can cause a social shutdown that leads to a person being quite isolated. Isolation means avoiding all kinds of activities and conversations, and generally, an isolated person doesn't develop many responsibilities beyond meeting their own basic needs.

Owning an emotional support dog can change all that. Just like having a dog can motivate you to go take a walk (for the sake of the dog), an ESA can foster other feelings of responsibility. The confidence and validation that comes from being a good pet owner can help you tackle other projects and relationships.

Feeling of Security

Woman petting a Great Dane tricolor ESA puppy

Being alone is a frightening prospect for most people—even if it's just a feeling of isolation among other human beings. An ESA breaks through the boundaries of human social constructs, making connections with anxiety-ridden, socially-stressed people. Again, your emotional support dog can be your best friend—and friendship fosters personal confidence and security.

Help You Keep a Schedule

Doctors recommend sticking to a daily schedule to avoid symptoms of depression and stress. A schedule ensures that you take care of your most basic needs to maintain your health—like cooking, eating and bathing. It also helps your body maintain a healthy sleep cycle.

Routine can be tough to establish when every part of the day feels overwhelming. Fortunately, an ESA can help get you out of a chaotic schedule and into the daily routine of providing pet care. Feeding, walking, brushing and playing are all key moments of a dog's day—and your dog will help remind you of the time!

Can be a Healthy Alternative to Medication

Woman on hospital bed hugging and kissing a Golden Retriever ESA dog

Research shows that for animal lovers, being in the company of a dog can provide similar anxiety and pain relief as medication. That's great news for people who don't respond well to prescriptions! Even for people who do well on anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication, the added benefits of an ESA are clear.

The Cons of Emotional Support Animals

Pets aren't for everyone, and that includes emotional support pets. There are a few negative aspects to buying a support dog that you need to think about when weighing the pros and cons of ESAs.

Financial Commitment

Apart from the up-front costs of buying a dog, there are added costs and regular financial commitments that come with owning any pet. Your dog will need yearly vet check-ups, vet-recommended food, and medical treatment when accidents or sickness occur.

Other costs associated with pet ownership include grooming, toys, treats, kennels and travel. Some airlines still allow ESAs to fly free, but more and more flights are charging for dogs to accompany owners into the cabin.

Time Commitment

There's no such thing as a day off from dog ownership—your ESA will be with you 24 hours a day, every day. If you've owned a dog before, this won't be a shock to you, but for first-time pet owners it might feel a bit overwhelming at first.

Even though your emotional support dog is there to help make your life easier, it has needs, too. When your dog gets sick, needs an extra walk, makes a mess or wants to play, it's your job to do what needs to be done.

Law Limitations for ESAs

Emotional support dog on a leash

In Canada, the Canadian Transportation Agency allows assistance animals to travel with their owners on trains, planes and ferries. Each individual transit system, however, may have its own set of regulations—including whether or not your ESA travels free.

If your ESA is disruptive, most companies reserve the right to refuse them passage. That's why it's important to train your ESA to feel comfortable while travelling, before attempting to board a plane, train, or other public vehicle.

Some airlines have breed restrictions that affect ESAs as well as pets put into transit in the cabin or with the luggage. You should always travel with your ESA letter, which can only be provided by a qualified mental health professional in your province or territory.

In the United States, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act reference ESA laws. Specifically, the FHA allows people in most housing situations the right to have their emotional support animals with them in their homes. The ACAA used to offer the same rights on board flights, but following changes in 2021, that right is less certain.

Always check company regulations before arriving anywhere with your ESA.

Public Perception of ESAs

People have many differing opinions about emotional support animals. Owners of ESAs feel that their pets provide a great service in reducing their anxiety or depression. Among ESA owners, however, are many who have certified their dogs or cats as emotional support animals so they can include them in their rental homes. It's an understandable solution to the lack of pet-friendly housing.

As for people who do not own ESAs, they've begun to see more and more of these pets onboard public transportation and allowed into public places like restaurants. Many wonder if these animals are truly necessary to the mental well-being of their owners—or if ESA owners have simply found a way to bring their pets with them while out of the house.

The truth is that both things are happening. ESAs are vital parts of many households, helping people with anxiety and other mental health issues every day. And, some have been easily certified—or falsely certified!—for ease of access. Whatever the case for each ESA and owner pair, it's impossible to make a judgement simply based on what we see.

How is an ESA Different from a Service Dog?

Woman holding dog paws in her hands

Service animals like dogs are highly trained, moving on from basic lessons into specialized, specific tasks. Emotional support dogs are similar, but they don't necessarily perform any physical service tasks.

For example, a service dog for a blind person would learn how to safely cross the street, navigate the house, shops and sidewalks, and alert the owner to potential dangers. Service dogs can perform a wide variety of tasks that are best suited to their handlers, such as opening medication bottles or bringing bottles of water from the refrigerator. A service dog can even save the life of its owner by calling an ambulance.

Service dogs can be certified, as can emotional support dogs. The most significant difference between the two is that service dogs are specially trained, and ESAs receive basic training. The latter are simply kind, emotionally supportive animals.

Who Should Consider an ESA?

Emotional support pets are ideal for anyone who feels socially isolated. Seniors, kids with mental health issues, and anyone struggling with anxiety or depression are some of the common candidates for ESAs. If you feel left out of society or just have problems navigating it alone, consider an ESA.

If you believe that an ESA dog is right for your family, you can learn more about some of the most appropriate small dog breeds for service training

Mawoo has many wonderful puppies who would make the perfect emotional support dog! Take our Puppy Match quiz to help you decide which breed is the best fit for your needs and lifestyle, and then browse through our emotional support dog breeds to meet special dogs of all breeds.

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