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Shall I Get ESA Letter Before or After Adopting A Pet?

7 min read

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) does exactly what it says - this animal (cats and dogs are most popular, but any kind of pet can be used) is aimed to support the emotional and mental needs of its owner. The animal’s role is to ease any emotional or mental distress the person is feeling.

While anyone can have an emotional support animal, they have become of upmost importance to people suffering from their emotional or mental well-being. Finding comfort, which animals might bring, allows them to continue with daily activities. If you feel an ESA is beneficial to you and your situation, it is actually very straightforward to qualify and apply for one. You will need a letter from a licensed physician stating that you are in emotional, mental or psychological distress (the letter does not need to specify your illness) and that an ESA would be beneficial to you as part of your therapy.

So, should you have this letter before or after adopting a pet?

The good news is, you can do either! Since ESA's are not service dogs, therefore not trained to perform any specific tasks for their owners, a beloved pet can qualify as an ESA. There are pros and cons to having a pet as an ESA and choosing an animal after you qualify, but it is depending on you and your lifestyle what works.

After adopting

A dog is running on a green grass.
One of the advantages of receiving the letter after an adoption is a formed connection between you and the pet.


  • An instant connection: Some find upgrading their pet to an ESA is easier as they already have formed a connection with the animal. Moreover, you can adopt an animal and then register it as your Emotional Support Animal at a later stage, so you have some time to see if the animal can support your needs.

  • You know the animal’s personality:  Also, when finding an ESA, it is important that it is not being a threat to members of the public. So, after spending some time with your pet you probably already know its behavior and can accordingly decide if an ESA letter would be the right choice for you.


  • Your pet isn't providing for you emotionally: It is possible you already have a pet who you love but you don't want to give it ESA status. Maybe your pet is too independent and doesn't enjoy cuddles, or maybe you have something exotic that isn't showing you much personality. Whatever it is, you may want something else, but owning two animals is expensive and you have to make sure your pet and ESA are compatible. This could prove more draining in the long run!

  • People may not understand your pet’s new status: People including landlords, etc. may not understand the difference between ESA's and pets. If you have always had a pet and now suddenly refer to it as your ESA, prepare for a lot of questions from the people around you.

Before Adopting

A picture with two hands holding a piece of paper with signatures.
If you get an ESA letter first, you will have no restrictions about the choice of the type of pet.


  • You can enjoy ESA status straight away: Having the security of the ESA letter will ensure the animal you do adopt will be able to enjoy the perks of an ESA straight away. If you want to do it after, rescue shelters and any other usual ways of adopting a pet can be used for your ESA.

  • You can choose any animal: As of now, there are no restrictions on what animal you have (everyone probably heard of the ES Peacock). It is important, however, to think about your lifestyle and needs before jumping into buying an ESA and of course the needs of those around you too. That is why take your time and pick the perfect fit for you!


  • You don't know the animal: Animals are unpredictable and as said before, ESA's are not trained. You may want to visit the animal a few times before adopting to make sure it behaves properly. This is an animal you will be bringing into public spaces so be extra mindful of this. Thus, spend some time with the animal before adopting it in order to make a proper decision.

  • Price: Larger animals are more high maintenance so you suffer financially, this may not be right for you. If purchasing from a pet store, this will have to come from your own money as since many insurers don't cover ESA's, so keep that in mind.

What is a legitimate ESA letter?

A picture where a woman is holding a dog.
You can ask your medical doctor to help you with receiving the ESA letter.

Always get your ESA letter from a licensed professional, whether before or after adopting a pet. A doctor, therapist, physician, etc., all qualify. It may be easier to ask for this letter from a doctor who already knows your mental health history and supports you in the ESA process. If you are not in therapy, there is a great opportunity to purchase ESA letters from an authorized company but do your research as there are many fake ESA letter websites out there. A professional is always better and if you are suffering from your mental or emotional well-being then seeing a physician you trust is advised.  The traits of a legitimate ESA letter are:

  • Should be one year in the date
  • Contain letterhead, address, and number of physician signing it
  • You are under their treatment
  • A statement that an ESA is beneficial to you and how they will help you
  • Pets details (name, breed, etc.) included only if you have your pet first

Keep the copy of your ESA safe and ask for an email version also so you have it on your phone when needed.

What is the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a common pet?

One huge difference between ESA's and pets is that an ESA is required to help someone with a mental or psychiatric disability, and this must have a verified need for this animal. ESA's are solely there to provide companionship and comfort. Some other defining differences are:

  • Emotional Support Animals can go pretty much everywhere with you

You will be spending much more time with your ESA; therefore, you will end up developing a tighter bond with your best friend. You can bring your ESA to work or on airplanes free of charge! (as long as you have your ESA letter) As of now, ESA's are still restricted on public transport and in other private spaces like bars and restaurants that don't allow animals. If you do feel bringing your ESA is beneficial, it is suggested calling the place you’re going to first, to see if they allow animals on their premise. Of course, it is important to be mindful of the type of animal you have - bringing a cat to a public space may be less disruptive than, say, a pony! Always take others into consideration when with your ESA.

Having a certified Emotional Support Animal means the landlord will have to make exceptions for a “no pets” rule or an extra charge for keeping animals on the property. Your landlord will still have to approve, so inform them as soon as you plan on getting your ESA or update your pet to ESA status. While this may affect a normal animal lover, you will be able to live in harmony with your pet!

Although there are many differences between ordinary pets and ESA's, one major similarity is that you are dealing with an animal! While your chosen ESA is providing you with a feeling of safety and comfort, you should take care of it equally making sure the animal's needs are met.

Finally, if you are still unsure whether to adopt a pet or not, go for it. You can not only do a good deed but also save someone's fluffy skin. Your pet would make it worth your while. It will always stay by your side.

While animals can be a great therapeutic tool, please make sure you are up to the task of caring and nurturing your furry (or not so furry!) friend so you both get the greatest benefit from your friendship!

by GetESA

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ESA 101: Educational