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

Assistance, service, emotional support, and therapy animals provide valuable help, support, and comfort for people. The veterinarian’s role is to advocate for the health and welfare of the animal in these partnerships.

Therefore, the AVMA encourages veterinarians to be familiar with the legal status and protections accorded to these types of animals and their owners. This includes promoting accurate descriptions of these animals’ roles and addressing their specific health concerns.

Veterinarians may also act as a resource for clients in animal identification and training, such as recommending reputable providers and programs.

Determining whether a person would benefit from working with an assistance, service, emotional support, or therapy animal is made by a human healthcare provider and is outside the scope of veterinary medicine. However, veterinarians are encouraged to work collaboratively with other relevant human health and animal professionals in developing guidance and support for appropriate partnerships with these types of animals.

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 (humananimalbond[at]avma[dot]org) or comment directly on the related AVMA policies.