Moosh - kitten

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are a big help for many individuals who have conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. In order to be legally considered an emotional support animal, the pet needs to be prescribed by a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or similar professional.

There are a few primary differences between service dogs and ESAs. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals don’t have the same legal rights; restaurants and shopping malls are not obligated to let the animal inside. Providing emotional support, such as cuddling, isn’t enough to qualify a pet as a service animal. And ESAs can be almost any animal, whereas a service dog can only be, well, a dog!

In this article, we’ll look at the various ESA species and which might be best for your mental health condition.

What Species Can Be Emotional Support Animals?

Dogs are the most common ESA species. However, you can have many other types of emotional support animals, too, including:

  • Cat
  • Bird
  • Pot-bellied pig
  • Pygmy goat
  • Donkey
  • Ferret
  • Rabbit
  • Bearded dragon
  • Hedgehog

Just about any animal can be an emotional support animal. Some of them, though, might be better suited for the job than others. 

Moosh - hedgehog
Yes, there’s even such thing as an ESA hedgehog!

What Makes A Good ESA?

A good emotional support animal should be well-behaved, house-trained, able to remain calm under stress, and they must have a strong bond with you. This is why many people feel dogs are the best emotional support animal, as dogs not only meet but often exceed these criteria.

Why are dogs such good emotional support animals? For one thing, they’re easy to train to perform a variety of different commands. They also bond with us in a way that no other animal really does.

As you look for an emotional support animal, you may want an ESA that’s tailored to your specific needs; after all, an individual with PTSD likely needs a different kind of support than someone with social anxiety. Your living situation also matters. A miniature horse or a pot-bellied pig would be difficult to keep in an apartment, but a cat, dog, or sugar glider might be a better fit.

Sugar gliders and hedgehogs can become very friendly with their owners and are small enough to easily be transported in a pouch or purse-like bag, making their presence less obvious. Their relative fragility might make them a better choice for teens or adults than for small children. And as you’re choosing an ESA, keep in mind local laws – some states restrict the ownership of so-called exotic animals.

Are certain types of animals better suited to handle certain disorders? The answer to this question might depend on the animal. Dogs, for instance, are very loyal and could provide a special kind of companionship for someone who is struggling with depression and feels as if they’re all alone.

However, if you find a cat who is very loving, it could do the same. In fact, cats purr at a very specific vibration rate that has been found by multiple studies to help with many medical problems (such as bone growth and blood pressure). It stands to reason that the purr would also be beneficial in helping with things like anxiety, as it is generally considered to be a soothing sound.

If you do decide on a dog, there are several specific breeds of dogs that are better than other breeds to act as ESAs. It’s best to select an animal with a disposition that fits your needs instead of trying to make an animal behave in a way that goes against its natural inclination. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are good for individuals with depression because of their naturally sunny dispositions; plus, they generally take well to training.

Moosh - golden retriever
Golden Retrievers are a great ESA species for those who struggle with depression.

German Shepherds are very intelligent, so they can be trained to help with complex disorders such as PTSD. Poodles are great for their hypoallergenic coat and they come in a variety of sizes, from pocket-sized to large. Pomeranians enjoy attention and affection, but require relatively little exercise, making them great for those with mobility issues or limited access to the outdoors. And Yorkshire Terriers are great for people with anxiety since they’re so small – they can easily go everywhere with you.

Dogs of all sizes can frequently have just the right disposition and inclination to please for the job. And if you already own a dog, just because a breed doesn’t generally work well as an ESA doesn’t mean your particular pooch wouldn’t do great if they possess the good behavior and easy temperament of an ESA.

At the end of the day, there isn’t really any conclusive evidence that certain ESA species are better suited to specific disorders than others. If you’re looking for the best emotional support animal for you, just try to choose the species and breed of your future pet according to your particular needs and situation.