Emotional support animals (ESAs) can help alleviate feelings of anxiety. Learn more about the registration process and benefits of adopting an ESA.

Animals have a long history of offering support and companionship to humans. Interacting with animals can be beneficial for humans on a physiological and emotional level, and animals have been shown to help lower blood pressure, reduce stress response and boost mood.

While animals play an important and happy role in society as a whole, they may be particularly beneficial for those experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Animals, particularly social animals such as dogs, can offer a social buffer and sense of security for those who may feel panic or anxiety in particular situations or day-to-day life.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) for anxiety can improve the lives of those experiencing symptoms and promote social interaction and connection that can protect against feelings of worry and fear. Evidence suggests that the presence of animals can reduce the subjective experience of stress or anxiety, as well as physical markers of anxiety, including:

Given their ability to lessen feelings of anxiety in stressful situations and prevent anxiety from escalating to panic, ESAs can have significant therapeutic benefits for many anxiety disorders.

How ESA’s Help with Anxiety

Interactions with animals can have many benefits on human functioning. In terms of physiology, interacting with animals can increase the release of chemicals that improve mood, while decreasing chemicals associated with the stress response.

ESAs can also help reduce specific or circumstantial anxieties, such as social phobia, or more generalized anxiety in day-to-day life. They do this by offering a sense of stability when a person is entering a new environment, situation or circumstance known to increase anxiety. ESAs can help individuals develop a sense of connection while creating a warm and safe environment.

There are many anxiety-inducing situations where an ESA can offer support, including:

  • Flying on an airplane
  • Taking an exam
  • Participating in big groups or social situations
  • Navigating daily life after a stressful or traumatic event

Additionally, the presence of ESAs can be calming and help boost confidence, particularly when a person has an attachment to the animal. ESAs may also help lessen panic attacks and promote social interaction and connection. These benefits can help reduce current anxiety and prevent anxiety in the future.

Getting an Emotional Support Animal for Anxiety

Getting an emotional support dog for anxiety requires a certified recommendation from a medical professional. Specifically, a letter from a doctor should state that the person requiring the ESA is under their care, and they recommend that their patient should have an ESA for assistance with an anxiety-related condition.

ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Air Carrier Access Act in the United States. This legislation allows ESAs to be with their owners at home, regardless of pet policies, and to fly in the cabin of a plane with their owners, without additional charge.

Although there are several options available online, there is no official or required registration process for ESAs. Some institutions require that an ESA is identified by wearing a vest or tag, and a letter of recommendation is required as proof of a valid ESA.

Best Dog Breeds for Anxiety

Since there is no formal registration process for ESAs for anxiety, there are no specific breed, weight or size requirements for emotional support dogs. Breeds such as labradors or retrievers are commonly trained as service dogs, given their temperament and social nature, and may be good options for ESAs. Of course, the best emotional support animals for anxiety vary depending on a person’s breed preference and personality.

ESAs and animal-assisted therapy can help address the symptoms of many mental health conditions, including addiction. If you or a loved one is dealing with substance addiction and anxiety, reach out to The Recovery Village today to learn about our comprehensive treatment plans.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Sarah Dash
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Sarah Dash, PHD
Dr. Sarah Dash is a postdoctoral research fellow based in Toronto. Sarah completed her PhD in Nutritional Psychiatry at the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in 2017. Read more
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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.