Emotional support animals (ESAs) can be hugely beneficial for those dealing with a range of mental health conditions. ESAs are usually small, domesticated animals that are easy to train. To qualify for an ESA, you must first do a quick consultation with a licensed mental health expert, who will assess whether you meet the criteria for ESA ownership. Luckily, ESAs are available to those with numerous mental health conditions, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression (read more about qualifying for ESA ownership here).
Following your consultation, if you meet the necessary criteria, you will be sent an ESA letter. This letter enables you to live with your ESA pet, even in rental properties which usually have a “No Pets” policy, and in some cases, to travel with your ESA (at the discretion of individual airlines).
The health benefits associated with ESAs are clear, and the great news is that there is a wide range of ESAs available today. This means it is now easier than ever to find the right ESA for you. So what is the most popular emotional support animal? Dogs are a typical choice, and cats are very common too (read more about making your feline friend an ESA here). But did you know that there are many unusual ESAs out there? Let’s take a look at some of the more out-of-the-box species of ESA.
1. Pot-bellied Pigs
Pot-bellied pigs have been gaining popularity for years, increasingly so throughout the last decade or two. Pigs are incredibly intelligent animals, which enables them to form a tight bond with humans. However, this can be both a blessing and a curse. A bored pig has the potential to root through rubbish bins or drawers, and wreak havoc in an unattended house.
A well-trained pig, on the other hand, can be delightful and affectionate, sitting beside you for a cuddle and a much-loved scratch. It is important to realize that pot-bellied pigs require a lot more work than people assume – but if you are willing to put in the time and the training, a pot-bellied pig will make a wonderful ESA.
Did you know that there are about 5.3 million pet rabbits in the US? Rabbits are social animals, so it is generally better to have more than one per household. Rabbits have unique personalities and tendencies, and while they make lovely, cuddly ESAs, it is important for any owner to be aware of their natural behaviors – chewing things, digging, and sniffing around. They can be trained by those willing to do so, despite their reputations as successful escape artists, and are often playful, affectionate, and fascinating to watch.
Birds are already popular ESAs, but parrots in general can make excellent companions, especially for those suffering from feelings of loneliness or social anxiety. Why? Well, parrots can learn to talk, of course! So if you are feeling isolated or lonely, a parrot can provide some chats and can be charming company. Parrots can also be very convenient as an ESA for those in restricted spaces, as they simply require a large and clean cage, and no daily walks!
Speaking of restricted spaces: many city-dwellers or students may opt for a smaller ESA such as a hamster. Hamsters are low maintenance. They live in a relatively small cage and are quite independent. They can be put in an exercise ball to run around the house, so unlike other popular ESAs such as dogs, they do not require long walks. What’s more, hamsters can be incredibly soothing and calming. They are fluffy and cuddly, and they sleep often – what’s not to love?
5. Miniature horses
Miniature horses are becoming increasingly popular as ESAs. They are intelligent and easy to train, and they have a long lifespan, so can form close-knit bonds with their owners over the course of their life. Horses do require exercise and space, so they may not be an option for those who are limited in this regard, but if you have the time and capacity to look after them, they can be brilliant ESAs. Horses can be playful and full of character, providing entertainment and connection for those with a range of mental health disorders.
The most important thing to remember when choosing an ESA is that you select the right type for you. Your ESA should be an animal that you can connect with and feel supported by. However, you should also ensure you can offer your chosen ESA the quality of life it deserves (if you live in a small apartment, a Great Dane is not a good choice of ESA dog for you!). If you are restricted on space, there are still many ESA options out there for you – check out this list for some inspiration. As we now know, there are many unusual ESAs out there, so feel free to branch out from cats and dogs and choose the best type for you.