Can My Primary Care Physician Write an ESA Letter?

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Dr. Erica Irish author of Can My Primary Care Physician Write an ESA Letter?
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Emotional support animals are given different accommodations than the typical house pet. ESAs are permitted to live with you in housing that has a no pet policy, and they are allowed to fly with you in the cabin of an airplane.

If you have certain physical or mental health issues, you may benefit from having an emotional support animal in your life. How does an animal qualify to become an ESA, and what do you need to do to ensure you are following the letter of the law?


What is an emotional support animal?

Emotional support animals are animals that provide comfort and emotional support to people who suffer from mental health issues and other disabilities. Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorders are examples of illnesses where sufferers could benefit from having an ESA because ESAs help to alleviate at least one aspect of their disability.  

ESAs are different from service animals because service animals are trained to perform certain tasks for their handlers. According to federal law, service animals are permitted in public places like restaurants and grocery stories whereas ESAs are not. Service animals are also limited to being dogs or, in some cases, miniature horses.

The most common type of ESA is a dog but even cats and other various species of animals can be designated as ESAs. A few famous examples of ESAs have ranged from birds like peacocks and ducks and turkeys to mammals like pigs and monkeys.

Emotional support animals provide many benefits to their owners. ESAs can help support emotional health in times of crisis and stress, thus lowering their owner’s anxiety. People who suffer from PTSD can have crippling anxiety and find it difficult to function on some days, but ESAs can provide trauma support for them.

Another benefit is physical support for people who are recuperating due to an illness, thus contributing to fewer feelings of loneliness. Also, like with pets, owners can form a strong relationship with their ESAs.

Owners are allowed to fly on an airplane with their emotional support animal, and they do not need to pay an additional fee in order to do this. ESAs are entitled to living with their owners even if the property has a no-pet policy, and ESAs cannot be discriminated against, regardless of size or breed. Also, owners of ESAs do not need to pay additional housing fees to keep their ESA on the property.

While it is not a specific requirement for your ESA, you will want to make sure that he is kept healthy and is well-trained. He should have semi-annual visits with his veterinarian and be up to date on vaccines, namely if he is a dog or a cat. He should also be able to be controlled around other animals and people. Again, these are not legal requirements for ESAs but are meant to be helpful in a time where there are “fake” ESAs going out in public and making things difficult for the people who really need them.  


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How to get an emotional support animal

Many ESAs start out as pets that belong to their owners, but in a few cases, ESAs are sought out for purchase based on a person’s needs and specific disabilities. Emotional support animals typically do not require the same amount of training that service animals require. ESAs are obligated to provide relief or assistance with their owner’s disability.

Like with service animals, there is no specific licensing, certification, or registration process. There are various websites that will sell a license or a certification to you, but it is important to know that you are not legally obligated to do this.

In order to qualify for housing and air travel accommodations provided to owners of emotional support animals, you will need a letter from a licensed medical health professional to verify that you need an ESA.

If you work closely with your primary care physician and they are helping you manage your disability, they can write a letter for you. Otherwise, you will need to contact a different health care professional such as a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a licensed social worker or a professional health counselor. If you don’t have a specific health professional, it is best to seek one out.

Some of these professionals are available for consultations online, but you will need to ensure that they are fully licensed individuals. Legitimate online health professionals are different from random online certification groups in that their credentials should be visible, e.g. where they are licensed to practice, where they were trained, and how many years of experience they have.

Make sure that you are obtaining a letter from a licensed health care professional. Otherwise, there may be some difficulty down the road when you are moving to a pet-restricted place or trying to travel via aircraft.  

Your ESA letter will need to have the following criteria:

  • Your health professional’s contact information, signature, and date signed
  •  Your health professional’s license type, number, and expiration date
  • Confirmation that your ESA is essential to your state of well-being
  • A description of how your ESA helps you, though specific tasks are not necessary
  •  The recommendation or prescription for your ESA
  • Optional: identification information for you and your ESA (e.g. name, breed, etc.)

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Emotional support animals provide great assistance to their owners and may help them in ways that modern medicine and therapy cannot. ESAs can fly with their owners and are immune to housing discrimination. In order to allow this, you need to obtain a letter from your primary care physician or from a licensed medical health professional who is helping you to manage your disability.

They can write this letter to verify your need for an ESA, and you do not need any specific licensing or registration for your emotional support animal.


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Meet The Author 

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine