Improving Mental Health in the Disabled: The Paw-sitive Way

Improving Mental Health in the Disabled: The Paw-sitive Way
Photo by K E / Unsplash

Some might think that the idea of emotional support or service animals is relatively new, but the truth of the matter is quite different. Records can be traced as far back as Aristotle writing about a dog soothing its sick master.  

Today, I’ll give you some information on the difference between emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals (SAs), their benefits, and which ones are suited for who.  

What’s all the hype? 

In 2021, researchers at the University of Toledo published an important study. It supported long time reports that animals can have positive effects on chronic mental illness. In fact the bond is good for the human and animal. This has further opened doors for people to have constant comfort from their little friends. 

The American Heart Association suggests that owning pets can lower blood pressure, boost your happy hormones and reduce loneliness and depression. They can also help you live longer. 

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What’s the difference? 

Service animals must be dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but some accommodations are made for miniature horses. They undergo specialized training and are usually assigned tasks like reminding owners of medication times, alerting of seizures, guiding the blind, etc.  

You have to be deemed disabled and have a written note from a health care provider to obtain an emotional support animal under the Federal Fair Housing Act in the US. These animals provide companionship and need no special training. In fact, it can be a pet you already have

Are they regulated? 

ESAs are not protected by law and business can refuse their entry, whereas service animals are protected by the American Disabilities Act and must be permitted where the public are permitted to go. The owner is solely responsible for its care. Registration is not required for either, but it makes it easier to get around with them if they are. 

woman carrying pet carrier while standing near green plant
Photo by Raoul Droog / Unsplash

Should I get one? 

It’s been shown that people with following conditions benefit from ESAs or SAs 

Emotional Support Animals 




Panic Disorders 

Learning disorders 

Attention Deficit Disorder 

Tourette’s syndrome and tic disorders 

Motor skill disorders 

Bipolar disorder 

Dysphorias and dysmorphias (fears and phobias) 

Contact your doctor to see if you qualify for an ESA or SA.

Service animals  

Bipolar Disorder 




Eating disorders 

Neurocognitive disorders 

Psychotic disorders 

Substance Abuse disorders  

Also, physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting various body systems. Such as: 

Arthritis, blindness, deafness, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, paralysis, scoliosis, and seizures. 

What Kind should I get? 

Your current pet can be your ESA if he or she brings you comfort, but some known kinds are: 

Emotional support animals:



Guinea Pigs 




Miniature Horses 


Service animals must be dogs in most cases.  

Some good dog breeds are: 

Labrador Retriever

Golden Retriever 

German Shepherd  



Great Dane 

Border Collie 


Bernese Mountain Dogs 

Pit Bulls 

Mixed Breeds 

brown and black long coated dog
Photo by Brian Wangenheim / Unsplash

What do they cost? 

Emotional support animals cost as much as the average pet with the cost of the certificate ranging from $100- $150. 

The total cost of training a service dog is typically over $40,000. However, you can hire a professional trainer yourself. The cost of individual training varies widely. There are more details here.  

Don't forget your pet insurance! Take care of your best furry friend.


These animals have been shown to help the wellbeing of those with disabilities. Not only are they faithful companions, but they impact mental, emotional and social well-being.  

I could go on forever about how animals help your mood. Having had pets for many years, I could tell many stories of how they’ve been a comfort in very low times. One particular time, I had a tomcat, Toby. We got him as a young indoor kitten, but he transitioned to outdoors. Of course, he’d go on adventures and stay away for days. When my grandmother passed away, I went outside and sat in a lawn chair. I was sobbing and missing her. Toby came from nowhere, climbed in my lap, and went to sleep. He hadn’t done that in years. It was unbelievably calming. 

Feel free to share a similar story in the comments!  

If you have a disability or know someone that does, and would benefit from the information in this article, pass it along!  

As always, be well. 

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