10 ways you can care for your emotional support animal (ESA):
- Proper Vet Care
- Basic Training
- Clean Water
- Proper Nutrition
- Look After Yourself
If you’ve ever had an emotional support animal, you know just how crucial they are to your overall well-being. During times like these, where anxiety over the coronavirus crisis and social distancing are becoming the norm, animals are here to help.
If you don’t have an emotional support animal and are considering it, it can definitely be a good choice. However, getting one isn’t a decision you can make entirely on your own. ESAs must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, and getting one includes making a commitment to your own mental health and to taking care of the animal in question.
What Exactly is an Emotional Support Animal?
An ESA is an animal whose job it is to ease your mental anguish and provide emotional support, just by being there. It is not a regular pet, nor is it a service animal. A regular pet obviously does not need to be prescribed by a mental health professional, whereas a service animal is trained to perform specific tasks for its owner and is allowed to go anywhere its owner goes.
An ESA doesn’t get the same access rights as a service animal and doesn’t require any specific training. People who have ESAs do have certain rights, such as the right for the animal to accompany them on a plane and the right to live in otherwise non-pet-friendly housing.
People who typically benefit from an ESA include those who suffer from:
- Mild to severe anxiety
- General anxiety disorder
- Learning disabilities
Discovering the Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal
Posthumous writings of Sigmund Freud revealed that he often had his dog, Jofi, in the room during his psychotherapy sessions. He originally kept the dog there since it made him feel calmer, but he soon noticed that the dog also seemed to put his patients at ease, especially children and teens.
In the 1950s, Dr. Boris Levinson experienced the same phenomenon. He found that when his dog, Jingles, was in the room while working with a disturbed child, the child seemed to open up. However, when he gave a lecture on the matter, he was laughed at and even heckled by his colleagues.
Two decades later, psychologist Alan Beck and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher published a study in which they used direct physiological measures to show that people who were in the presence of a dog immediately experienced a change in their physiological responses. No one in the scientific community was laughing by then.
Today, it’s “common knowledge” that animals can help people open up and allay some of their emotional pain. Emotional support animals specifically provide their owners with a sense of security, companionship, and unconditional love.
ESAs can have more specific benefits as well, depending on each individual’s diagnosis. For example, people who suffer from PTSD can experience a sense of calm when with their animal. People who suffer from depression can feel uplifted. People who suffer from anxiety can feel safe and secure. People who suffer from severe shyness may have the courage to be more social when their ESA is with them. Depending on the need, ESAs can provide the solution.
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While emotional support animals are supposed to be there for their owners, it’s important for their owners to be there for them.
Here are 10 ways to look after your emotional support animal:
1. Proper Vet Care
Whether your ESA is a dog, cat, horse, pig, chicken—you name it— they need to receive proper vet care just like any other pet. Proper vet care includes routine things like annual checkups (or biannual, for older animals), vaccinations, and parasite control treatment. Then there are the unexpected illnesses, in which case owners need to be prepared to make an impromptu trip to the vet.
2. Basic Training
ESAs do not require any formal training—they are ESAs based solely on the written recommendation of a mental health provider. However, while ESAs don’t require any training, you will do yourself, your animal, and everyone around you a great service if you provide basic obedience training (and house-training, if necessary). Basic training will prove especially useful if you want to take your ESA on a plane or want to live in an apartment where pets are usually not allowed. (Legally, ESAs must be allowed.)
3. Clean Water
Ýour pet’s water dish should be filled with clean water daily, or more if the water gets sullied somehow. The dish itself should also be cleaned regularly to prevent the build-up of bacteria and grime.
Just like people need to exercise, so do animals. There are so many benefits of exercise, for both animals and humans—better heart health, weight maintenance, reduction of digestive problems, better sleep, elevated mood, and more. Certain animals, like dogs and horses, need exercise even more because they are naturally outdoor animals.
5. Proper Nutrition
It’s pretty easy to give dogs and cats store-bought pet food, though there are definitely some that use higher-quality ingredients. If you have an ESA that’s not a dog or cat, like a horse, rabbit, chicken, or something else, make sure you provide appropriate nutritious food.
It’s understandable if you want to pamper your pet every now and then, and there are plenty of wholesome, nutritious treats you can find. However, don’t overdo it with the snacks, and be very careful when it comes to giving treats that are “human food.” Giving bits of beef, pork, chicken, fish, or other foods should only be done with the approval of your vet.
Most pet foods should provide the vitamins and nutrients that your ESA needs. However, if your animal has a specific medical condition, giving supplements is a good way to help them manage it and stay fit.
Your ESA is there to provide companionship, but making sure it’s reciprocal can be the foundation of a wonderful relationship. Spending a few minutes playing with your animal, petting them, or brushing their fur is a great way to create a mutually loving relationship. Even cats, which are sometimes known as standoffish, can enjoy a little cuddle every now and then!
When you look the part, you feel good. So why shouldn’t you do the same for your ESA? If your ESA has a shiny coat and clipped nails, chances are that both of you will feel like a million bucks.
10. Look After Yourself
ESAs are meant to help you, and by doing so, they also become emotionally attached to you. Looking after yourself is the best way to ensure that your ESA retains their companion, and it also ensures that you’ll have the strength and energy to take care of them.
Emotional Support Animals: Helping to Fight a Winning Battle
In addition to providing emotional support and companionship, emotional support animals give many people a reason to wake up in the morning. For people who are depressed, anxious, or living with PTSD, getting up in the morning means they’ve won their first battle of the day. So while there may be a lot that goes into taking proper care of an ESA, the payoff is well worth it!