How To Get A Legitimate ESA Letter 2021: 3 Simple Steps

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

Emotional Support Animal

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or any other mental or emotional disability, perhaps you have considered getting an emotional support animal (ESA). Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals, which are highly trained, certified animals. 

If you’re thinking about getting an emotional support animal, there are a few things you need to know first, including how to get an emotional support animal (ESA) letter. 

Without this letter, taking your emotional support animal to school or work, on public transportation, or in any other public space might be difficult. And you might be at risk of paying extra pet fees and fines. 

There has been an increase in online scams selling fake ESA letters, which means there has been an increase in requirements for ESA owners. 

If you have a companion animal that you want to make an official support animal, you will need to get a legitimate ESA letter. 

What Is An Emotional Support Animal Letter? 

Think of an emotional support animal letter as a prescription from a licensed mental health professional. This official document states that you are required to have an emotional support animal with you at all times. 

Emotional support animals can be especially beneficial for people suffering from a variety of mental illnesses or mental disorders. But because only licensed professionals can diagnose mental and emotional disorders, meeting with a licensed mental health professional is crucial. 

Remember that emotional support animals are not the same as service animals[1], which have undergone specialized training. According to federal law, emotional support animals are not required to be allowed in all the same spaces as service animals, regardless of an ESA letter. 

Having an ESA letter will give your support animal credibility, protect you from discrimination such as unfair pet fees, and it will allow you to travel on public transportation with your pet.

How to Get a Legitimate Emotional Support Animal Letter: 3 steps

Get Your Free Screening Test

The first step in getting your ESA letter is to get a free screening test. This test determines whether or not you are a good candidate for an ESA letter. 

This is not the same as meeting with a licensed mental health professional to evaluate your mental health condition. This test simply determines whether or not you fit the criteria for an ESA owner.

The screening at Certapet is free, easy, and confidential. Once you are approved, you will be provided with an approved list of licensed mental health professionals in your state. 

Some of the screening questions include questions about your past and current mental health, recent behavior changes, and thoughts of suicide. It is not intended to diagnose any mental disorder or illness. Only a licensed professional can diagnose mental disorders per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

If you do experience thoughts of suicide, please contact a mental health professional immediately. 

Talk To A Licensed Therapist

One in five American adults experiences some type of mental illness and depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness[2]

Whether you suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or some other mental or emotional disabilities, a licensed medical professional will be able to offer sound medical or psychological advice regarding treatment. 

If you don’t know where to start, consult your family doctor for a referral to a family therapist. You can also seek out other independent mental health professionals, like licensed clinical social workers. You may also get connected to a licensed health professional when applying for an ESA letter online. 

The important thing is to make sure you are meeting with a licensed mental health professional who can assess a patient’s mental health condition. Talk to your therapist about your mental health history, your current state of mental health, and your desire for an emotional support animal.

When selecting your licensed therapist, it is a good idea to ask first if they will write an ESA evaluation letter. Some therapists may refuse if they do not believe in the benefits of emotional support animals.

If you are going through an online ESA letter service provider, they will have a list of pre-approved therapists ready to write an ESA letter for you.  

Your therapist will be the one to confirm your conditions and symptoms and suggest a support animal for treatment. 

Get an ESA Letter

When you get your ESA letter from your therapist, there are a few things to check to ensure that it is a valid ESA letter. 

The ESA letter is on your therapist’s official letterhead

The therapist’s official letterhead will include information like the name of the practice or office, the address, the logo, and other company information. ESA letters on plain paper or other stationery will not be valid. 

The ESA letter includes all the proper information

In the ESA letter from your therapist, they must also include the therapist license number, date and expiration information as well as their direct contact information and signature. ESA letters missing any of this information will not be valid. 

If you get your ESA letter and find that any of this information is missing, contact your therapist and have them reprint it with the full information.  

Other elements of an ESA letter

Other information that may be included in the ESA letter includes the complete name of the patient, details about the mental or emotional disorder, the consequences of the condition, and why an emotional support animal would help the patient. It will also have a date of issue and expiration date. 

Additional details may vary according to state law. 

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Benefits Of Getting ESA Letter

Detect Scam ESA Letter

Fake ESA letters aren’t only bad for you as an ESA owner, they’re bad for all ESA owners. They harm the legitimacy of emotional support animals and damage the image of support animals and their owners. Don’t fall prey to the scams[3]

Protect yourself and your support animal by watching for these red flags:

There was no screening process required

Legitimate ESA letters require a screening process to determine if you meet the criteria. If an ESA letter service provider does not require screening, they are not legitimate. 

The letter isn’t written by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP)

ESA letters must be written by licensed medical professionals who specialize in mental health disorders to be valid. This can include mental health nurse practitioners, mental health counselors, licensed professional counselors, licensed psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and clinical psychologists.

The LMHP is not licensed in your state of residence

To get an ESA letter, the licensed therapist that you meet with must be licensed in the state where you live. If they don’t ask you or verify this, the service is a scam and the letter is not valid. 

This does not mean that you can only see an LMHP in a medical clinic. You and your doctor can use online video consults, as long as they are licensed in your state. 

Because licensed mental health professionals must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA[4]), even video consults will be safe and secure.

The online service providing the letter claims to include a registry for your ESA

There is no such registry for emotional support animals at this time. If a service says you will be registered with Emotional Support Animal Registry, United States Dog Registry, US Animal Registry, or Service Dog Registry of America, it is a scam. 

The online service providing the letter guarantees lifetime validity

If an ESA letter service guarantees lifetime validity, it is a scam. Only a licensed healthcare professional can write the ESA letter and it must be renewed yearly. If you are not renewing your ESA letter annually, you are at risk of losing your ESA owner rights. 

Accommodation Law for your emotional support animal

Under the Fair Housing Act under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD[5]), it is illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing (or any other housing-related activity) to someone based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. 

Under federal law, a person with a mental illness or emotional disorder may request to keep an assistance animal[6] as a reasonable accommodation to a housing provider’s pet policy. This means as long as you hold an ESA letter from a licensed medical professional, you are legally allowed to keep your support animal, even in no-pet housing, without a pet fee. 

This can be especially helpful for individuals who suffer from mental health issues and have no pet housing options available. The ESA letter also blocks any breed restrictions that the housing provider may have, as that would be in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act. 

Keep in mind that a valid ESA letter is only good for one year after it is issued. Make sure you stay in compliance by getting it renewed annually and give your housing provider an updated copy. 

Air Travel with your pets

In recent years, traveling with an emotional support animal, even one with an ESA letter, has become more restricted, if not outright banned. 

Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA[7]), a service animal is defined as: 

a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

At this time, the U.S. Department of Transportation does not recognize any species other than dogs as emotional support animals, companion animals, and untrained service animals. 

Airlines are allowed to ask an individual with a disability if a service dog is required to assist them due to a medical condition or disability. Even with an emotional support dog letter, airlines are not required to give special accommodations to you and your dog.

However, this does not mean that you can never travel with an emotional support dog. It just means you may need to get a psychiatric service dog, pending certain qualifications are met. 

You might be eligible to get a psychiatric service dog if you are diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions[8]. Talk to a licensed professional to determine if this is an option for you. 

Because these dogs are highly trained to assist an individual with psychiatric disabilities, they are allowed on airlines under the Air Carrier Access Act. 

Note that service dogs require more specialized training than emotional support animals, which require no special training. They are costly and should be considered only under serious, diagnosed medical conditions. 

Don’t abuse the system

Once you have an ESA letter, you can technically live and travel with your support animal for free. This is enough of an incentive to have people racing to find an online service to get their pet certified. Unfortunately, this appeal is what also drives a lot of scams and a lot of ESA letters for emotional support animals that ultimately may do more harm than good.  

Complaints of emotional support pets being aggressive, destructive, or disruptive can harm the image of support and service animals. 

Don’t abuse the privilege of having an emotional support pet and make sure your ESA letter complies with all requirements for validity. 

Final Thought 

Emotional support animals can provide a great service to ESA owners. Assistance animals can help calm anxiety, ease the effects of depression, and lift the mood of their owners. Having an ESA letter ensures that you can keep your pet with you in your home, regardless of pet policies. 

Don’t fall victim to online scams and make sure your document meets the ESA letter requirements outlined above. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it hard to get an ESA letter?

To get an emotional support animal letter, you must meet the criteria of having a mental health condition as diagnosed by a licensed professional. That therapist must then agree to write an ESA letter for you, including the details listed above. 

It is not a difficult process, but there are a lot of scams online, so make sure your ESA letter is valid (see: Detect ESA Scam Letter above). 

How do I get a legitimate ESA letter?

To get an emotional support animal letter, you must first take a free screening test to see if you meet the criteria. Next, you meet with a licensed mental health professional who will determine if an emotional support animal is the best option for you. If they agree, they will write you an ESA letter on official letterhead. 

What do I say to my doctor to get an ESA letter?

It is best to be honest with your therapist about any emotional issues or mental illnesses you currently have or have experienced in the past. This information is what they will use to determine if a support animal is the best treatment option for you. 

Can I ask my doctor for an ESA letter?

You should ask your doctor if they think an emotional support animal might be the right treatment for you. It is up to the licensed professional to decide whether or not you meet the criteria for an emotional support animal. 

Remember, it must be a licensed mental health professional who writes the ESA letter. So you may need a referral from a primary care physician or family doctor.


+ 8 sources

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  1. Adata.org. (2021). Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals | ADA National Network. [online] Available at: https://adata.org/guide/service-animals-and-emotional-support-animals#:~:text=Emotional%20support%20animals%2C%20comfort%20animals,not%20considered%20service%20animals%20either.&text=A%20doctor%27s%20letter%20does%20not%20turn%20an%20animal%20into%20a%20service%20animal. [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].
  2. ‌Nami.org. (2021). Mental Health By the Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. [online] Available at: https://www.nami.org/mhstats [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].
  3. ‌US Service Animals Blog. (2018). US Service Animals – Have You Been Scammed by a Fraudulent ESA Website? SPODA May be the Answer. [online] Available at: https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/have-you-been-scammed-by-a-fraudulent-esa-website/ [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].
  4. ‌Anon, (2021). Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/hipaa.html [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].
  5. ‌www.hud.gov. (n.d.). Fair Housing: Rights and Obligations | HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). [online] Available at: http://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_rights_and_obligations [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].
  6. www.hud.gov. (n.d.). Assistance Animals | HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). [online] Available at: http://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/assistance_animals [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].
  7. Transportation.gov. (2019). Service Animals | US Department of Transportation. [online] Available at: https://www.transportation.gov/individuals/aviation-consumer-protection/service-animals [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].
  8. Karetnick, J. (2019). Service Dogs 101—Everything You Need to Know. [online] American Kennel Club. Available at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/service-dog-training-101/ [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].

Written by:

Katie Swanson, B.S.

Medically reviewed by:

Katie Swanson is a health and wellness writer with a decade of educational and work experience in public health and wellness. She loves writing to help others live healthier, happier lives.

Medically reviewed by:

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