Addiction Recovery

Emotional Support Animal VS Therapy Dogs: What's The Difference?

March 7, 2022

Check out this article to read about the difference between emotional support animals vs. therapy dogs.

While talk therapy is still highly effective and is among the most popular forms of treatment, there may be times when you need supplementary methods after sessions.

Experts have discovered various ways to help people heal physically and psychologically throughout time. Recently, more and more people have been seeking the aid of assistance animals, like emotional support animals and therapy dogs.

But what exactly is the difference between the two?

emotional support animal vs therapy dog
Source: Unsplash

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

UMass Chan Medical School defines emotional support animals as animals that provide therapeutic benefits, such as companionship, comfort, and emotional support to someone with a disability or mental health condition.

ESAs are not service animals and are typically considered pets. Although any domesticated animal can become an ESA, it should be able to be manageable in public and do not create a nuisance.

They don’t have special training to perform tasks to assist you. The mere presence of these animals relieves the symptoms of the condition or disability, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

Benefits Of Having An Emotional Support Animal

1. Reduce Anxiety

Research on the association of animals and mental health is relatively scarce. Still, the little we do know shows that they bring a positive impact to those suffering from disorders.

An article from the newsletter of the National Institute of Health, or NIH, says that simply interacting with animals can lower your levels of cortisol, which is a stress-related hormone.

2. Improve Physical Health

Some studies also show that ESAs can help reduce respiration rates, lower blood pressure, and even enhance the ability to cope and manage pain.

3. Feeling Less Lonely

Animals, in general, can give you a sense of companionship, making you feel less lonely. The same article from the NIH mentions animals being able to lessen loneliness.

Additionally, they can give you a sense of purpose. They not only provide companionship and unconditional love but caring for them and loving them is also emotionally rewarding.

4. Boosts Mood

Some studies show that animals, particularly dogs, help increase the production of dopamine, a “happy” neurochemical. This chemical is also associated with pleasure, bonding, and love.


ESAs are quickly growing in popularity in treating mental health conditions. So, much so that therapists and counselors are becoming more aware of the effectiveness of ESAs in conjunction with other treatments to overcome these illnesses.

Many recommend emotional support animals as an extra after sessions, like advising you to eat better or exercise more.

emotional support animal
Source: Unsplash

What Is A Therapy Animal?

Unlike emotional support animals, therapy pets or animals receive special and extensive training. They provide both physiological and psychological therapy to people other than their handlers, who are often their owners.

Commonly dogs, these animals have stable temperaments and are friendly and easy-going. 

While on duty, these dogs go to places like schools, hospitals, hospices, and psychotherapy facilities to provide comfort to patients through activities and therapy.

What Is Animal Therapy?

In animal therapy, you’ll have guided interaction with the animal and its handler. These sessions involve different services with animals to help people with specific mental and/or physical health conditions.

Ultimately, this form of therapy aims to help you cope and recover from these illnesses through an animal's comfort. In this sense, you can see the similarity between pet therapy and emotional support animals.

How Does Animal Therapy Work?

Just like other forms of therapy, the type of pet therapy you’ll get will depend on the condition you have. But with animal therapy, the kind of animal and therapy they provide are also factors.

The sessions themselves involve the animal’s handler bringing them in. With the doctor’s guidance, the handler will guide the animal to help achieve your therapy goals.

What Can Pet Therapy Treat?

We’ve mentioned the mental and physical health benefits emotional support animals have. But Pet therapy can treat more specific conditions.

Therapy animals can be used to treat a number of health disorders, such as

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Bipolar disorder
  • ADHD
  • Cancer
  • Chronic illness and pain
  • Dementia
  • Phobias and fears
  • Grief
  • High blood pressure
  • Learning disorders
  • Motor skills disorders
  • Stress
  • Substance use disorders
  • Stress
Source: Unsplash

Emotional Support Animal VS Therapy Dogs, Is There A Difference?

Like service dogs, emotional support and therapy animals are assistant animals. Both of them can go to places where pets and animals are usually not allowed, such as airplanes and restaurants. However, airlines can now apply the same rules to pets to ESAs.

Even though both therapy animals and emotional support animals provide comfort and care, there are a few notable differences between them.

Number of people they service

ESAs care for one person only. They may stay with their handlers or patients in their homes as long as they can be accommodated.

On the other hand, therapy animals provide therapy to multiple people. As mentioned before, they go to different places where they’re needed, such as hospitals and psychotherapy facilities.


Therapy sessions are more formal, so therapy animals receive special training. They also get registered and certified by an animal-assisted intervention organization. That is after they’ve passed training, behavioral, and veterinary evaluation.

ESAs don’t get special training. Even though any domesticated animal can become an emotional support animal, a qualified mental health professional or physician should support their use in writing. This will be based on a disability-related need. They also don’t need licenses or certifications.

Although both types of assistance animals provide care, comfort, and aid in healing and coping, they are very different. In some sense, one is more professional than the other. You can say that therapy animals are better suited for more severe cases.

But both of them are excellent methods and additions to intensive outpatient programs. These programs don’t require detoxification, nor do patients need round-the-clock supervision. But other forms of therapy and coping– i.e., pet therapy and emotional support animals– will just make the treatments more effective. 

One of the best ways to heal is with a furry friend. Start your healing and turn to Another Chance Drug & Alcohol Rehab Center of Portland. You can visit us at 12670 NW Barnes Rd Suite 200, Portland, OR 97229. You may also contact us at 971-269-8124 or go to our website.

Disclaimer: This post serves a strictly educational use. It does not reflect the services, products, or therapeutic approaches of this establishment or its healthcare practitioners. This blog aims not to advertise the products, services, or therapeutic approaches of any other establishment that may be associated with this site. On the subject of safe or legal services, products, and appropriate therapies, recommendations ought to be given by a qualified professional on a case-to-case basis.