Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

Humans have always used animals in various ways to support them mentally, physically, and emotionally. Thankfully, in recent years, everyone's become more aware and accepting of the fact that animals provide support and companionship to humans.

However, there are important distinctions between service animals, emotional support animals (ESAs), and pets, each serving different purposes and possessing unique rights and privileges under the law.

In this article, we'll explore the differences between these categories of animals and the roles they play in the lives of their owners.

Service Animals

Service animals are specially trained to perform specific tasks or assist individuals with disabilities. These animals are highly trained to assist with tasks such as:

  • Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds
  • Pulling wheelchairs
  • Guiding individuals who are visually impaired or blind
  • Retrieving items
  • Providing medical assistance during seizures

Service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This allows individuals with disabilities to bring their service animals into public places such as restaurants, stores, and public transportation, where pets may typically be prohibited.

It's important to note that only dogs and, in some cases, miniature horses qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

Emotional support animals, on the other hand, provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support to individuals with mental health conditions or emotional disorders.

Unlike service animals, ESAs do not require specific training to perform tasks.

Instead, they offer therapeutic benefits simply by being present and providing comfort to their owners. ESAs can be any type of domesticated animal, including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, or even miniature pigs.

While ESAs do not have the same legal rights as service animals under the ADA, they are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). This allows individuals with disabilities to live with their emotional support animals in housing accommodations and travel with them on airplanes, respectively.

However, ESAs may be subject to certain restrictions and requirements set forth by housing providers and airlines.


Pets, as the name implies, are animals kept primarily for companionship, enjoyment, and entertainment. Unlike service animals and emotional support animals, pets do not have specific training or duties to perform. Instead, they provide unconditional love, companionship, and joy to their owners, enhancing their overall quality of life.

While pets are not granted the same legal rights and protections as service animals or emotional support animals, they play an essential role in the lives of millions of people worldwide. Owners are responsible for the care, well-being, and safety of their pets, including providing food, shelter, medical care, and socialization.

Be Aware of the Housing Laws for Support Animals

Different states have different laws about how support animals, pets, and service animals should be treated by property management or landlords. Make sure to research this before you set any rental rules.

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