The Best Emotional Support Animals for Mental Health

esaFor individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, there is nothing more comforting than the love of an animal. That’s why interacting with Emotional Support Animals has become a popular form of holistic treatment for mental health afflictions.

How to decide which type of animal to use as an ESA? As with general pet ownership, there are pros and cons to consider in your search for a furry friend. Here are some commonly used Emotional Support Animals, and some benefits and challenges of each.


Dogs are the most popular choice when deciding which ESA works best for someone. That’s not surprising, given a dog’s reputation of being loyal and affectionate to their human. Dogs are a great choice for someone who longs for the unconditional love of their furry companion.

Dogs can be challenging for some individuals, given the level of care they require. They require frequent exercise and trips outside to relieve themselves. For someone who sometimes struggles to get out of bed in the morning due to their mental illness, a dog may not be a good fit.

Depending on the age and breed of the dog, some will require more attention than others. For example, a puppy will require extra training, whereas an older rescue dog may not.


Cats are another common choice for an ESA. The main benefit of cats is the lower level of attention required. In many ways, cats are self-sufficient and often choose to live a solitary existence in your home. Fill their food and water dishes, clean their litter box regularly, and they’re good to go. They are often happy to interact and play when you pull out the laser pen or catnip toy. Otherwise, they are content to lounge in the sun and sleep the day away.

A cat might be the perfect choice for someone who likes limited physical contact and interaction. On the other hand, a cat’s unwillingness to show unconditional love might be harmful to some. It is worth noting that not all cats have the aloof detachment they are stereotypically known for. Unfortunately, that’s not always something you can know until after you and your cat become roommates.


Rodents, such as bunnies, hamsters, guinea pigs, and mice, are a great, small option for an ESA. If space is limited or you prefer to have something contained in one area, this may be the option for you. Rodents are also a great starter animal for children before they learn to take care of a more involved animal like a dog.

While rodents are easy to care for, they don’t always offer the same level of interaction that you would receive from a dog or a cat. On the plus side, if you suffer from cat or dog allergies, this allows you to care for a furry friend regardless.


Birds of a feather flock together, and if you aren’t a fur-lover, this might be especially true when it comes time to choose an ESA. Some people prefer birds as their animal of choice. They enjoy the benefits of having them kept in an enclosed area while having the auditory stimulation that comes from their chirping and squawking.

Despite their small size, birds are a fairly high-maintenance animal. They require a lot of interaction and socialization. They can be quite noisy and messy. Furthermore, birds tend to have a long lifespan, sometimes upward of twenty years. While people have been keeping birds as pets for hundreds of years, it isn’t the easiest choice when choosing an ESA. Be sure to do adequate research beforehand, if you aren’t a bird owner already.

What Works for You

When it comes down to it, you’ll have to choose the animal that works for you when registering your ESA pet. These are just a few of the most common choices; reptile-lovers should know that there is room for their type of ESA as well. Of course, if you already have a relationship with an animal that you love and care for, you already know which ESA to choose.

Shift Frequency Publication – Educational Material © 2017

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