Emotional support animals

The AVMA encourages all housing providers covered by the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and/or similar state or local laws, to ensure they understand and are fully compliant with their obligations in relation to animals that provide assistance to individuals with disabilities, including emotional support animals. The AVMA further encourages covered housing providers to provide relevant training to all of their employees and representatives regarding such legal obligations.

Emotional support animals provide therapeutic benefits that alleviate one or more identified symptoms or effects of an individual’s disability, or emotional support to a disabled individual who has a disability-related need for such support. An emotional support animal may be a dog, a cat, or many other kinds of animal.

Individuals with disabilities may request a reasonable accommodation for any assistance animal, including an emotional support animal, from any housing provider covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act and/or Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that: "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States … shall solely by reason of her or his disability , be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…" 29 U.S.C. § 794.

The Fair Housing Act states that: "it shall be unlawful to … discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap…"42 U.S.C. § 3604.

Through regulations, case law, and policy guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, these Acts have been deemed to require:

  1. That a housing providers covered by these laws may not discriminate against a disabled person based on their disability-related need for an emotional support animal,
  2. That upon a valid request for a reasonable accommodation, a housing provider covered by these laws must make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, for this animal regardless of any prevailing rules relating to the keeping of companion animals, unless an exception allows the housing provider to deny the request, and

That the individual seeking a reasonable accommodation should be prepared to provide to the housing provider upon request documentation from a qualified physician, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional establishing the disability (if not readily apparent) and the disability-related need for the emotional support animal.

Related policy

Related resources

Service, emotional support and therapy animals

Assistance animals: Rights of access and the problem of fraud

Animal-assisted interventions: Definitions

Client brochure—Service, therapy, and emotional support animals: The veterinarian's role

Clinic poster: Do you have an assistance animal?

FAQ: Considering partnership with a service dog

Webinar—Assistance animals: Counsel clients, prevent fraud