Animal Therapy and Services Explained

Last Updated: 19 Aug 2019

The various roles of service, emotional support, and therapy animals can get confusing; we break it down:

Service Animals

These animals are mostly dogs, and are trained to perform assistive tasks for people with physical disabilities. They are sometimes referred to as support animals or assistance animals, depending on the animal’s function. For a service dog to qualify, it must be individually trained to perform a specific major life task. “For a person to legally qualify to have a service dog, he/she must have a disability that substantially limits his/her ability to perform at least one major life task without assistance.” There are federal laws in the U.S. that protect you in allowing your service dog to accompany you anywhere you would normally go; this includes “no pet” housing and flying in the cabin of an aircraft with no fee for the dog.

Psychiatric service dogs

Also falling under the category of “service animal,” these dogs are similar to service animals for people with physical limitations, but they are trained for people with a psychiatric disorder that is severe enough it limits their ability to complete a life task that is major in nature. Like service animals for physical limitations, there are laws that protect you in allowing your service dog to accompany you anywhere you would normally go. To legally qualify, a licensed mental health professional must state in writing that the service dog is needed by the person.

Emotional support animals

An emotional support animal is an one that has been prescribed for a person by his/her licensed mental health professional because the person is deemed “emotionally or psychiatrically disabled” and the animal is needed for the person’s mental health. Sometimes referred to as comfort pets or companion animals, they can include: dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, mini-pigs, and many other specifies. These animals are not trained in specific tasks, since it just their presence that helps the owner.

Therapy animals

Therapy animals are usually dogs that have been obedience trained and screened for socialization and their ability to interact with other animals. Their primary function is to offer comfort to people in nursing/retirement homes, hospitals, schools, hospices and disaster areas. These animals can be classified into therapeutic visitation, animal-assisted therapy and facility therapy.


  1. I don’t know what I would do without my cats. They are always there for me.

  2. Wish service dogs were more accessible.

  3. Therapy animals are incredible.

  4. Actually under the ADA and therefore legally, there is no difference between a psychiatric service dog and a service dog. A disability is anything that significantly limits your function, be it physical or mental or both. The only places that can make a distinction are airlines and housing. Legally, there are two questions people can ask:
    1) do you have a disability? 2) What tasks does the dog have?
    That’s it. They can’t ask for a demonstration or anything. They cannot ask your specific disability. Therefore 90% of people wouldn’t ever find out if your dog is psychiatric or just a service dog.

  5. If its temperament and behavior are good and some obedience training, they will pass the test to be a therapy dog.Unfortunately, they don’t have a test to Certified emotional support animals, so people forget they need to be well behaved or they make it harder on legitimate disability trained dogs. More than a support its a job and they are work . A diabetic service dog is a much more important than somebody’s feelings of anxiety in a store (we will be ok) diabetics can go into a coma and die so the dog monitoring blood sugar has a legal reason that prevents anyplace from Not allowing them to remain ( part of the Americans With Disabilities Act ). Emotional support animals are like a friend ,a service dog is like a trained therapist, two completely different things which is why you can get a letter saying you have an emotional support animal but you can’t just say you have a service dog( most states its a misdemeanor and definitely a fine ).

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