The Difference Between a Service Animal, an Emotional Support Animal and a Pet

Animals are more than just friends.

They can be actual aids in helping people live better lives. Why does it matter that we know the difference between service animals, emotional support animals and pets? There are a few reasons.

The first reason is that we need to know when it's okay to approach an animal in public. There's a difference between asking someone to pet their pet dog and asking if you can pet someone's service dog. It's also important to know your rights. For example, if you have an emotional support animal, landlords can't charge a pet fee because they are considered medical equipment.

It can all seem a little confusing, but that's why we're here to clear it up! Here are the differences between a service animal, an emotional support animal and a pet. And no matter what, remember that all animals are special. Every animal makes us happy, but some have a little more work to do than just being a good boy or girl.


(via Shutterstock)

Service Animals

National Network of Information, Guidance, and Training on the Americans with Disabilities defines a service animal as, "any dog that is individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals."

Service animals are specifically trained to help people with disabilities with various tasks. Depending on the person's needs, it could assist people who are blind or have low vision, alert people who are deaf or hard of hearing that there is a person or sound, pull a wheelchair or retrieve items. By law, service animals must be allowed in all public facilities and private businesses. And no matter how cute the service dog is, it would be best if you didn't pet it or ask to pet it while it's working. It's important to let them perform their tasks without distraction. Service dogs are registered animals and have to meet certain standards to be considered a service animal.


(via Shutterstock)


Emotional Support Animals

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is defined by the Animal Legal and Historical Center as, "a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for companionship)."

Like service animals, emotional support animals must be registered. However, while service animals are trained to carry out specific tasks for a person with a disability, emotional support animals are not. Emotional support animals alleviate symptoms of illnesses like depression or anxiety by offering company to the person. You are not allowed to bring emotional support animals into places that forbid animals. However, apartments are not allowed to charge you for pet fees if you have a registered ESA.

ESAs are also allowed in all apartments, even if it's a "no-animal" apartment. Any common domestic animal can be registered as an ESA, including cats, bunnies and even ferrets. While every pet can provide comfort and companionship, not every pet is a certified emotional support animal.


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Pets can be our best friends and considered part of our family. Pets keep us company, provide us with comfort, make us laugh on our most challenging days and are usually the main stars of our social media accounts. They are extremely important, and they can even be a crucial part of our lives. It's okay to acknowledge that while all animals help us and make our lives better, some have different jobs that we need need to respect. From service dogs to family pets, we can love all animals for the different roles they play.

Shutterstock: woman holding a cat while sitting on the couch

(via Shutterstock)


Service animals are very important to helping people with disabilities, but humans play an important in making the world more assessable. HERE are five ways you can be a better ally to people with disabilities.