As emotional support animals are becoming more accepted throughout the U.S., there are more options available for people. You can not only have an emotional support dog or cat, but also more exotic ESAs like hedgehogs, sugar gliders, and lizards. So, what do you need to consider in making the choice between an exotic ESA and a more traditional one? Here’s a breakdown of some points to think about when making your decision.
What specific diagnosis do you need your ESA for?
The first thing you need to determine is what diagnosis you have that an ESA would be appropriate for. Emotional support animals of any kind can help with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, personality disorders, and phobias. If you have a diagnosis like one of these, you can qualify to have an ESA as a pet. You can connect with the folks at MooshMe to be evaluated and see if an ESA is right for you. They can also provide you with documentation and certification. Consider your specific diagnosis when choosing between an exotic ESA or a dog or cat. Exotic ESAs are usually better for people who don’t need the animal to be trained (which could, for example, rule out people with PTSD who need the animal for help with specific tasks).
What symptoms do you need your ESA to help with?
Along with thinking about your mental illness diagnosis, it helps to determine what symptoms you’d like to alleviate with the help of an emotional support animal. Let’s say you have an anxiety disorder and require as much stability in your day-to-day life as possible. You probably can’t be around animals who are unpredictable. That likely rules out some exotic ESAs like sugar gliders, ferrets, and birds. You’d be better suited for an emotional support dog who can be calmer and more manageable. If you have a mental illness that makes you isolate, choosing a traditional emotional support animal (like a dog) will work best, since you can take them more places. Exotic ESAs, like reptiles and snakes, won’t allow you to get out more in the world. Try making a list of your most bothersome symptoms and evaluate how an ESA could help with them. This list might make it easier to see if an exotic ESA is the right fit for you or not.
Do you want your ESA as a constant companion?
One important question you need to ask is if you want your ESA to be a constant companion to you. More common emotional support animals, like cats or dogs, are easily transportable and socially acceptable. If you want to be able to take your ESA with you all the time, these animals are probably the best option for you. If you don’t require your ESA to be with you constantly, an exotic ESA will work just fine. They can stay in your home, and you can enjoy the benefits of having them around whenever you’re there.
Do you want an ESA you can cuddle with?
Because many people with mental illnesses use their emotional support animals to help comfort themselves, it’s important for you to know whether you require your ESA to be affectionate. Petting and holding furry animals (like a dog or rabbit) can help alleviate some symptoms of anxiety and stress. However, if you have an exotic ESA that isn’t really suited to being held and petted (like an amphibian), you’re not likely to get the same positive, loving feelings of connection you’d get from a traditional ESA. If you’re just looking for an emotional support animal that will be around, exotic animals are fine, but if you’re looking for a comforting animal to cuddle with, you’re better off with an emotional support dog or cat.
What living arrangements do you have?
Think about your living arrangements before adopting any ESA. If you’re in a small space, you should only consider smaller animals that don’t need a lot of room to roam around (this goes for both traditional and exotic ESAs). People who live in apartments or close quarters should refrain from adopting animals who make loud noises (like ferrets or birds). You’d likely have to rule out larger animals like miniature horses and pigs as well. Paying attention to the aspects of your home can help you figure out if a traditional ESA is a better fit for you than an exotic ESA.
Are you going to be flying with your ESA?
Although there are some restrictions with flying with an emotional support animal, dogs and cats are still primarily accepted on flights. However, generally, exotic ESAs are prohibited. Head over to this story to see which airlines allow exotic animals. If you’re planning on traveling a lot with your ESA, your best bet is to adopt a small- to medium-sized dog or cat, since these are typically accepted by most airlines.
Do you care about other people’s judgments of your ESA?
Owning an exotic ESA means you’ll most likely get attention from other people. Since it’s uncommon for people to carry around sugar gliders or hedgehogs, you could face some judgment from the public (especially if you’re hoping to bring these types of animals into a public place). If you don’t mind a little bit of staring or some criticism, having an exotic ESA will be no problem for you. But if you’d rather be a little more inconspicuous, owning a more traditional ESA, like an emotional support dog, might be more up your alley.
Only you will know whether buying an exotic ESA or a regular emotional support dog will be best for you. Think through your decision based on these questions, and you’ll be all ready to welcome an ESA (no matter the species) into your home.