Check Out These 6 Emotional Support Animal Savings Tips

A woman smiles as she receives love from her emotional support animal at a park.
Getty Images

Pets offer companionship, but for many they also provide an important service. It is growing more popular for pet owners to certify their pets as emotional support animals (ESAs). One survey from the American Psychiatric Association found that one in five responding pet owners did so. Owning a pet also is often pricey — particularly if you’re paying for professional training. Tracking down emotional support animal discounts and savings can help offset some of those costs.

How Much Does an Emotional Support Animal Cost?

The biggest emotional support animal cost is the price of the pet itself, assuming you don’t already have an animal you want to register. You can adopt a dog from a local rescue shelter for next to nothing. However, you’ll have to pay for vet visits and any required shots or surgeries.

The next expense will be a letter from your health care provider certifying your need for an emotional support pet. You’ll likely have to pay for the visit to get this letter, but it’s all you’ll technically need to certify your pet.

“An emotional support animal letter needs to be on the official letterhead of the health care provider, identify the presence of a disability, describe the working relationship with the health care provider and recommend the animal as the best treatment,” said Alexandra Alvarado, director of marketing and education at American Apartment Owners Association. “If more than one animal is requested, the health care provider must specify why each animal is needed.”

Service dogs wear vests identifying them as such, but ESAs don’t need to wear them. If you choose to buy one, though, you can find them online, along with ID tags and information cards.

As with any other pet, you’ll need to invest in food, treats and other supplies. If you choose a dog breed that requires regular grooming, that’s another expense to add to your monthly budget.

Emotional Support Animal Discounts and Savings

Emotional support animal discounts and savings are in a variety of places. Here are six options to consider if you own an ESA.

1. Vet Bills

Although you might not think of vet costs as part of the emotional support animal price, they can add up. If your ESA is a dog, each year you’ll need vaccinations against canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies at minimum. You’ll also likely have to pay to get a new pet fixed, and that surgery will cost at least $150.

But as Joey Lusvardi, certified cat behavior consultant at Class Act Cats, points out, veterinarians and groomers often extend discounts to service animals. With the right finagling, you could get the same discounts for your ESA.

“You can always ask if your ESA would qualify for the discount as well,” he said. “The worst that could happen is they say no, and you may be able to save a bit of money if they say yes. Just remember that they don’t have an obligation to extend the discount to you, so be courteous if they say no.”

2. Tax Savings

Tax breaks are available for taxpayers who have service dogs for specific medical conditions or disabilities. That break doesn’t extend to emotional support animals, though. If your pet performs a specific service for you and is trained as a service animal, it might be worth looking into getting it certified to be able to take the tax deduction.

As an ESA owner, though, you’ll still be able to claim deductions for the medical expenses that treat your condition, assuming your health care plan doesn’t take care of it. Out-of-pocket costs for therapist visits and prescriptions may qualify for a tax deduction, so be sure you keep records to file them at tax time.

3. Rental Housing

Having a pet can make renting a home tough. Whether you’re searching for an apartment, condo or single-family unit, many landlords prohibit some or all types of pets. Those who do accept them charge exorbitant fees. For ESA owners, though, those fees won’t apply.

“If a renter has a legitimate emotional support animal or service animal, not a pet, then they will not need to pay any of the standard pet fees a rental housing provider may have,” Alvarado said.

Lusvardi points out that this could lead to even more savings. “Theoretically, you can use this protection to find housing with lower rent that normally doesn’t allow pets to save money on housing,” he said.

4. Travel Accommodations

Unlike household pets, ESAs often go everywhere with their owners, and that includes your trips away from home. Vacation rental owners and hotels typically charge pet fees, and that can increase your travel budget. But if you have an ESA letter, look into skipping the fees and book locations that prohibit pets.

“Hotels are not allowed to charge extra for your ESA or charge a cleaning fee,” Lusvardi said. “They can, however, charge for damage done to their property, so make sure your ESA doesn’t damage anything during their stay.”

5. Airfare

Flying with Fido got a little more complicated in 2021. That was when the Air Carrier Access Act made distinctions between service animals and emotional support animals. As the legislation reads, “Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals and service animals in training are not service animals for the purposes of this part.” From that point forward, airlines have been allowed to charge extra fees to bring emotional support animals on board.

“Service animals that are trained to do a specific task are still exempt from fees as long as the animal meets certain documentation requirements, is not disruptive and does not pose a risk to the health or safety of others,” Lusvardi said.

So while there’s no discount, you can save money on your trip by researching fees before you choose an airline. American Airlines charges $150 per kennel per flight, while Delta charges $95 per pet per flight. If you have a larger ESA, be aware that most airlines have a carry-on weight limit of about 20 pounds.

6. Food, Toys and Treats

As you look into how much emotional support dogs cost, a detail people sometimes leave out is the needed supplies. Like household pets, ESA animals require pet food at the very least, and most owners purchase toys and treats, too. Those costs can add up. In fact, Rover estimates the annual cost of dog ownership to be $80-$440 a month.

Whether you own a service dog or an ESA, those costs will remain. However, Lusvardi points out some ways to save money.

“The Buy Nothing Project is a great resource where people exchange things with their neighbors that are still usable without charging them for it,” Lusvardi said. “I have had clients snag some normally very pricey cat towers or other supplies from their local group that their cats love.”

Another option Lusvardi recommends is to take advantage of the same cost savings options available to all pet owners.

“You can get a discount for recurring purchases from many online retailers by signing up for autoship to save on supplies you’ll be purchasing regularly anyway,” he said. “I get my cats’ food and litter on autoship from Chewy and get a 5% discount. That little amount adds up.”

Even small emotional support animal discounts and savings can add up. While ESAs lack the savings options you’ll get with a service animal, you’ll also spend less on training and certification, which can make them more affordable in the long run.

Stephanie Faris is a professional finance writer with more than a decade of experience. Her work has been featured on a variety of top finance sites, including Money Under 30, GoBankingRates, Retirable, Sapling and Sifter.