Moosh - dogs running

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are as unique as their owners, and depending on a person’s individual needs, they will require different qualities in an ESA. However, there are some key emotional support animal qualities that all good ESAs should have. To help you determine how to choose the right emotional support animal, let’s take a look at the practical considerations, case-specific needs, and some general traits that all ESAs should have.

Practical Characteristics

When wondering “What should my ESA be?”, one of the first things to consider is the physical characteristics of various animals, and how they play into what would make a good emotional support animal for you. If you’re living in a NYC studio, for example, you probably won’t be looking into ponies and peacocks, but there is more to consider than just whether a pet will fit in your room.


How big is your home? Do you travel often? If you’re based in a small apartment and are a frequent flier, it’s worth considering a smaller ESA. Many airlines, for example, will allow smaller animals into the cabin but require larger ones to go in the hold.


While it may seem like a strange thing to consider, unusual and exotic animals can be illegal in certain states, and this is certainly an important consideration in how to choose the right emotional support animal. Furthermore, the more “normal” your ESA, the easier it will be to take it to public places and on public transport and airlines. While many bars and cafes may welcome dogs, they might not be so happy about an iguana sitting on the table!

Moosh - guinea pigs
Image by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash: Consider whether your ESA might need company. Some such as guinea pigs require a friend!


This is less about your friends and more about theirs. Some animals require companions of their own species and become stressed and anxious without one. Guinea pigs, for example, are social creatures used to living in groups and keeping one alone can be considered cruel – to the extent that it is actually illegal to keep one alone in Switzerland! Think about whether you can handle two or more of a social animal, and if not, perhaps it’s best to look at a different ESA.


Do you have allergies? If you’ve never owned an ESA before, perhaps you have allergies that you aren’t even aware of. Consider the allergies of family members too, especially children. Visit and interact with potential ESAs before committing, and look into the possibility of hypoallergenic alternatives, such as the Sphynx cat.

The Right ESA For Them Isn’t Always The Right ESA For You

An important thing to realize about what makes a “good” ESA is that it differs from person to person and condition to condition. If you are looking for an animal to support you, the loyalty of a dog would be a fantastic characteristic to have. However, if your condition stops you from being able to spend long periods outdoors, then it is unlikely you would be able to keep up with the needs of an animal that requires so much walking. In that case, it is worth considering something like a cat, which will often be content to stay indoors for much of the day and can, area permitting, take themselves for a walk. That said, one massive benefit of an ESA can be the drive and purpose it provides. An emotional support dog makes getting outside for walks a necessity, which in turn will help boost mental health, increase exercise and, as is often cited, reduce depression and anxiety – two common reasons for getting an ESA.

On the complete flip side, if you require an ESA for a condition such as anxiety, which often flares up in new or unknown places, you need to make sure you have a pet with the emotional support animal qualities that allow it to accompany you. Hamsters, for example, are low-cost, easy to look after, and as small as can be. But the chances of a hamster being happy to accompany you to the supermarket or the mall are slim.

Moosh - woman with ESA dog
Image by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash: Being cuddly, friendly, and loving are certainly some of the most popular ESA characteristics.

Key Emotional Support Animal Qualities To Look For

If you’re still stressing over the question “How do I choose the right ESA?”, never fear! After considering the various personal elements that impact what would make a good ESA for you, it’s handy to know some popular ESA characteristics that are common to most emotional support pets.

  1. Friendly – to you, the people you know, and (importantly) strangers.
  2. Even-tempered and consistent – Your ESA needs to have all its good traits all the time, so they’re there when you need them.
  3. Gentle – outgoing, rough-and-tumble animals make fantastic pets, but not ideal ESAs. Generally speaking, “calm” and “gentle” are more suitable emotional support animal qualities.
  4. Reliable in unusual environments – this is really important for people suffering anxiety or panic attacks, since the last thing you need in a stressful social situation is for your ESA to become stressed too.
  5. Attentive – your ESA should be alert to your needs but not intrusive.
  6. Cuddly – this one may be subjective, but for many people, having a companion you can snuggle up to is paramount!

Before getting an ESA to help you, think very carefully about the characteristics you want it to have, and the practical considerations of any animal. ESAs can be one of the most helpful tools in your fight against conditions such as anxiety and depression, and making sure you get the right one for you is key!

Featured image by ipet photo on Unsplash