What Are the Best Emotional Support Animals for Depression?

Did you know that there were a reported 200,000 emotional support animals in the US in 2019? That number alone shows the tremendous need for these animals, and the value they can have for people with mental illnesses.

Emotional support animals, or ESAs, can be a valuable tool in therapy for mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression. Getting an ESA for depression can help to increase your quality of life.

If you’re considering getting an emotional support animal or registering your current pet, you may have a few questions. For example, “what are the best emotional support animals for depressions?” 

This guide will explore all your ESA-related questions, including ESA types and how to register them.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

Emotional support animals are not usually trained service animals. Though they’ll train some therapy animals, most ESAs are just pets that help people manage their mental illnesses.

A few other types of emotional support animals include:

  • Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs)
  • Therapy Dogs

Each of these differ slightly from ESAs. For example, PSDs are usually trained animals who are not considered pets. These animals are technically on the job, and therefore may go anywhere with their handlers.

Therapy dogs are also trained dogs, meant to interact with many people aside from just their handler. They’ll use them most often in places like universities and nursing homes to help those experiencing high levels of stress or depression.

Emotional support animals are generally untrained, but still provide serious benefits to their handlers who suffer from mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. Usually, an animal is only considered an ESA if they have documented registration and their handler has a diagnosed mental illness that affects one or more areas of their daily life. 

An emotional support animal must be prescribed and registered by a doctor or therapist to actually be considered a true ESA. 

The Benefits of Emotional Support Animals

ESAs have been shown to be particularly helpful for those with depression and anxiety. The benefits of emotional support animals include:

  • Providing companionship
  • Giving a sense of purpose 
  • Promoting exercise (walks, cleaning litter boxes, etc.)
  • Fostering social connections with other pet owners

Women and single people tend to get the most benefits out of having an emotional support animal, but people of all ages and genders can see significant improvement by introducing a furry friend.

 In fact, ESAs are even found to have physical benefits, as well. These include things like lower blood pressure and reduction of headaches or stomaches that can be triggered by mental illnesses.

The Best Emotional Support Animals for Depression

When choosing an ESA, you want to make sure you take both your personality and the animal’s personality into account. Animals can have all manner of traits and characteristics that can make them ideal for particular people or conditions.

Many ESAs are dogs. And certain breeds of dogs are better suited for the task than others. Here are a few breeds and why they can be beneficial for those looking for an ESA:

1. Golden Retriever

Few breeds are as playful and outgoing as the Golden retriever. This makes them particularly useful for those needing to get outside more because of how much exercise they require. 

Golden retrievers are also incredibly friendly, so they can help foster new social connections. They can also be easily trained and are quite smart, so for people with more special needs, they can be a great fit.

However, some people are overwhelmed by the amount of exercise and attention a Golden or Golden mix needs. Luckily, there are other breeds that may be better suited for your needs.

2. Havanese

Another popular ESA breed, the Havanese is a true cuddle monster. Often described as funny, friendly, and outgoing, a Havanese can be a great companion for anyone. 

Havanese dogs are smaller and usually have less energy than large dogs like Goldens. They’re typically pretty low-maintenance, requiring only a chill, mellow walk.

They do have longer hair, though, and will require regular grooming to stay looking and feeling their best. Luckily, they are a hypoallergenic breed, so all that fluff won’t cause the sniffles.

3. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

If you’re looking for a gentle, affectionate dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the perfect breed for you. They are similar to a Havanese in size and energy level.

But, there are a few distinct differences. For one, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels typically have less hair. They also have higher energy levels.

Cavaliers are also good with other animals, as well as children. They’re great for people with kids or other pets or for people who are looking for a dog who’s up for anything from a nap to an adventure in the park.

4. Shiba Inu

Though they’re not for novices, Shibas have very unique personalities. Active, attentive, and alert, Shibas are usually described as almost catlike in their behavior.

If you’re looking for an easygoing dog, Shibas are a great choice. They can be slightly difficult to train, but their distinctly fun personalities are sure to brighten up your life. 

Shibas are also great for people who don’t want a dog who’s attached to their hip. They also don’t require too much exercise, so there’s no big burden there.

Other Great Breeds

These four breeds aren’t the only ones that make for good emotional support animals. A few other popular ESA breeds, with many similarities to the ones listed above, include:

  • Border Collie
  • American Staffordshire Terrier 
  • Sighthound
  • Pug

These are all friendly, gentle breeds who need enough social attention and exercise to elevate any depressed person’s quality of life. 

Rescue dogs with no identifiable breed can also be a great addition to the family. The important part is finding one with a compatible personality to your own. 

Beyond Dogs

Dogs aren’t the only animals that make for great Emotional Support Animals. Other common animals that many people find helpful include:

  • Cats
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Rabbits
  • Snakes
  • Parrots

And even more exotic animals such as miniature horses, donkeys, and llamas. Really, any animal that you can legally get who has a compatible personality with your own is an excellent idea to become an emotional support animal. 

How To Register an Emotional Support Animal

In order for your pet to be considered an emotional support animal, it has to be prescribed by a mental health professional and registered.

A mental health professional can include a therapist, counselor, social worker, or psychiatrist. If you do not yet have one of these, your primary care doctor can help refer you to a mental health professional that can help you.

Requirements for registration can vary by jurisdiction. In general, though, you can use an online database for emotional support animal registration

In addition to having a letter from a mental health professional, you’ll need to be able to:

  • Provide proper food and care to the animal
  • Train the animal appropriately
  • Independently command the animal

The Benefits of ESA Registration

It’s a great idea to register your animal if you suffer from any mental health issues that leave you feeling isolated or worthless. Not only can they provide personal benefits, registering the pet can come with a few societal benefits.

An ESA will be officially protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Housing and Development (HUD), and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). 

This means that people with ESAs cannot be asked to pay pet deposits or pet rent when it comes time to find an apartment. Because ESAs are necessary to maintain your quality of life, they cannot be denied in a rental home or apartment.

Unfortunately, ESAs no longer qualify for free flights on most airlines. A few still maintain the policy, but they’re becoming less and less. This is because they fear some people are taking advantage of the policies.

After Registration

Your mental health journey doesn’t end with emotional support animal registration. In fact, an ESA is often a great starting point to improving your quality of life. 

After registering your animal, you should continue to seek out treatment with a licensed mental health professional. Treatment can include:

  • Talk therapy
  • Medication
  • Exercise programs
  • Group therapy

While an ESA can help improve your quality of life, they are not a cure for mental health issues. It takes a few different kinds of treatments to really improve quality of life and get you on a path to brighter days.

Improve Your Quality of Life With an ESA

Now that you know the best emotional support animals for depression and how to register them, you can set about improving your quality of life. ESAs are an excellent addition to the family and life of anyone suffering from depression or anxiety.

To learn more about managing depression, check out our Health and Lifestyle sections today!

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