What Types of Animals Can Be Service Animals: Definitions & Differences


Types of Service Animals, Assistance Animals, and Support Animals Many types of animals may actually be trained specifically as service animals. The most common service animal and the one fitting the official definition according to the U.S. Department of Justice is Service Dogs. However, Miniature Horses have been added as a specific provision to the ADA. In addition, these types of animals may also be specifically trained to provide assistance: Ferrets, Capuchin Monkeys, Boa Constrictors, Parrots, and Potbelly Pigs.

Many other animals may also be designated as Therapy or Emotional Support Animals including Cats, Rabbits, Birds, Hamsters, or even Ducks. We’ll explore the differences and definitions of different types of service and support animals in this article.

Service Animal Definition

The definition outlined according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s service animal guidelines published in March 2011 states:

“Service animal as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition.

The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.

The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.” There are also different types of assistance animals that are not defined specifically as Service Animals.

Assistance Animal Definition As defined by Department of Housing and Urban Development: “An animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.”


Emotional Support Animal Definition

As defined by Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act:

An emotional support animal may be an animal of any species, the use of which is supported by a qualified physician, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional on the basis of a disability-related need. Emotional support animals may be permitted as reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act. The Air Carrier Access Act provides specific allowances for emotional support animals traveling on airlines, though documentation may need to be provided.


Therapy Animal Definition

As defined by AVMA policy "Animal-Assisted Interventions: Definitions":

A therapy animal participates in animal-assisted therapy or an "intervention in which an animal meeting specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. ...Animal-assisted therapy is provided in a variety of settings, and may be group or individual in nature."


Further Recommendations for Assistance & Service Animals We recommend that a licensed health care provider provide a medical prescription for the service animal that defines what precise “functions/ behaviors” the service animal will provide to the individual.

We also recommend that the service animal is trained using humane methods to provide those functions and that the service animal is professionally evaluated for the capability to perform assistance.

As with all pets or animals, we advocate for the responsible and humane care of the service animal by its owners and handlers. Assistance Animal Consulting also provides virtual appointments for patient education for those who have questions about their new assistance animal including training, healthcare, roles, and rights of their service or support animal.


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