Service, emotional support, and therapy animals

Assistance dog

Animals can play very important roles assisting people with disabilities and as part of therapeutic activities. An increasing number of animals assist clients with physical or psychological disabilities or participate in animal-assisted activities. Most people are aware of the role of service animals, such as guide dogs, but other types of assistance animals may be less familiar. Service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals are all types of assistance animals.

Some people misrepresent their animals as assistance animals in order to bring them to places where pets are not allowed, to avoid fees, or out of a misunderstanding of the animal's role. It's important for veterinarians to help clients correctly identify their animals, and provide care and advice consistent with each animal's role. Veterinarians are not responsible for designating or assigning assistance animals in any of these categories. But understanding these roles allows us to best address the specific health concerns of these animals.

AVMA policy on the veterinarian’s role in supporting appropriate selection and use of service, assistance, and therapy animals

Service, assistance and therapy animals provide valuable help, support, and comfort for people. Once it has been determined that use of a service, assistance, or therapy animal is appropriate, veterinarians have a role in assisting their clients in selecting the right animal for the right task, recommending that the animal receives appropriate training for its intended role, and ensuring that the health and welfare of that animal is addressed.

The AVMA encourages veterinarians to be familiar with the legal status and protections accorded to service, assistance, and therapy animals and their owners, and should discourage inaccurate or misleading descriptions of these animals’ roles (e.g., "emotional support animals" status should be supported by a statement of need from a licensed mental health professional). Veterinarians should work collaboratively with their human health and other human service-provider colleagues in developing and supporting guidance for the appropriate use of animals for therapeutic purposes and to assist people with disabilities.

View this policy

Veterinary resources

The AVMA offers several resources about the veterinarian’s role in the selection and use of assistance animals, as well as tools to help you educate your clients.

If you are an AVMA member and would like to provide information or suggestions to the Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions relating to service, emotional support, or therapy animals, please email humananimalbondatavma [dot] org or comment directly on the related AVMA policies.