Understanding the Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals, and Pets

Understanding the Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals, and Pets

Over 61 million Americans have been diagnosed or are living with disabilities. Yet less than 1% of them are teamed up with the service dogs they may need to help them live their lives more effectively.

Often, the lines between what constitutes service and support animals can get blurred. People may try to pass off their normal pets as service animals or emotional support animals to skirt rules and regulations, particularly when it comes to housing.

Keep reading to learn more about the key differences between pets, service animals, and emotional support animals.

Service Animals

Service animals are those specifically trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. This includes guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling a wheelchair, or providing assistance during medical crises. They're required to go through a professional training program or become certified and wear identification or a red vest indicating they are service animals.

Service animals are typically dogs, but in some cases, miniature horses can also be considered service animals. They're protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Because of this, service animals like service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers in public places where pets are not usually permitted.

The ADA also stipulates that service animals are permitted to live in places with their owners, even with a "no pets in a rental property" clause. Property management cannot discriminate.

Emotional Support Animals

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a little bit different from traditional support animals. They provide companionship and relieve loneliness in vulnerable individuals like seniors. They can also help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias.

Support animals are not required to have any specific training, unlike service animals. ESAs are typically therapy dogs and cats. However, other animals can also serve as ESAs. These can include:

  • Rabbits
  • Birds
  • Pigs
  • Mini Horses
  • Rodents
  • Fish

Emotional Support Animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This allows them to live with their owners in housing that otherwise does not allow pets in a rental property. Certified support animals are also covered by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which allows them to fly in aircraft cabins with their owners.


Pets are animals kept for companionship and enjoyment. They do not have any specific training to perform tasks related to disabilities or emotional support. There are pros and cons associated with having pets in rental properties as well.

While pets provide emotional benefits to their owners, they're not considered service animals or ESAs. Pets also don't have the same legal protections or rights to accompany their owners in public places or housing where pets are not allowed.

It's up to each property manager or property management group to determine whether or not they want to allow pets in a rental property.

Discover More Helpful Insights at PMI Maryland Solutions Today

Service and support animals can be a great source of help for those who need them. Pets, on the other hand, can also be wonderful companions but they come with their own set of challenges, especially in the case of property management.

PMI Maryland Solutions is a full-service real estate asset management company. We can help you navigate the complex scope of real estate and property management.

Contact us today for all your commercial and residential property needs.