Emotional support animals are animals, usually pets, that offer a sense of calming, support, and bonding to people who suffer from emotional and mental illnesses. Contrary to popular belief, emotional support animals are not the same as therapy animals or service animals.
Unlike service animals, emotional support animals (ESAs) are still not allowed in public places that don’t allow pets, like grocery stores and restaurants. However, for owners with a doctor’s note, their ESAs are offered legal protection in cases of travel and housing. ESAs also do not require any prior training or ability to physically assist their human partner – their job is simply to be friends and offer emotional support and comfort to the individual.
When most people picture an emotional support animal, they typically imagine a soft, warm, fluffy dog, or maybe even a cat or miniature pony. These types of animals can present a big problem for folks with allergies, busy lives, or small living spaces.
You might be surprised to discover that there are other ESA options available for you or your loved one – including reptiles! If you’re trying to find a solution to your life situation that doesn’t allow you to bring home a typical pet as an ESA, let’s dive in and find out why a snake, turtle, or lizard may make the perfect emotional support animal for you or your loved one.
Reason #1: Reptiles Don’t Take Up Much Space
Of course, this will depend on the species you choose.
For example, Burmese pythons can grow to over eighteen feet long, while crocodile monitors can grow up to eight feet long, and both can weigh as much as two hundred pounds! A reptile of this size would require an enclosure the size of an entire room.
On the other hand, small lizards and snakes like geckos, anoles, rosy boas, and hognoses can comfortably spend their entire life in a small, ten-by-twenty inch ten-gallon aquarium. Of course, they’ll always appreciate a larger habitat if you’re able to provide it.
Turtles generally require larger habitats due to their aquatic nature. Still, some of the smallest species can live comfortably in a fifty-five-gallon aquarium.
Unlike most dogs, reptiles don’t require a fenced-in yard or park to run and play.
Reason #2: Reptiles Don’t Aggravate Allergies
People with pet dander allergies rejoice! Hairless reptiles typically don’t trigger allergic responses in most people.
They also don’t shed, and they typically don’t have as strong of an odor – if they do, it is contained to their enclosure, which can be easily cleaned.
Some keepers find that they are allergic to reptile substrate or sensitive to the dust it creates. Luckily, many different options are available, ranging from different types of wood shavings to paper or even tile.
Reason #3: Reptiles Form Unique, Trust-Based Bonds
Reptiles aren’t capable of the same type of emotional bond and human-pleasing behavior that domesticated dogs and cats were selectively bred for.
Some folks may consider this to be a negative aspect of reptilian ESAs, but I’d like you to reconsider that assumption.
Generally speaking, the human race naturally feels negative about reptiles. For a human to overcome their biological fear of reptiles, and for that specific reptile to overcome it’s natural fear of large predators (like humans!), takes a lot of patience, understanding, and persistence.
When you work harder for something, it tends to feel more rewarding. Domesticated animals typically love just about anyone who will give them some attention and treats. Exotic reptiles must learn to overcome their instincts and trust their handler. It can feel extraordinary once that state is achieved.
Reason #4: Reptiles Aren’t Demanding
Most mammalian pets require a time commitment of up to several hours a day when factors such as diet, water, grooming, medical care, training, and attention needs are considered.
Beyond the busy lives that most people lead, debilitating mental illnesses can make it hard to function and complete daily tasks. The inability to remember or have the energy to take care of a pet dog or cat on any given day can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy, feeding the seemingly never-ending cycle of poor emotional and mental health.
Most reptiles do not need to eat or be cleaned up after every day. Some species even only require care once a week. If they’re not handled, they won’t get bored or lonely. These cold-blooded creatures are perfectly happy alone in their warm habitat.
This leaves a lot of wriggle room for individuals who may suffer from executive dysfunction, have bad days, or are simply too busy to invest the time required to care for a furry critter. Reptiles are also a great stepping stone if someone wants to work up to the responsibility of caring for a more hands-on pet and ESA.
Reason #5: Reptiles Help Their Keepers Develop a Hobby and Join a Community
Mental health disabilities can be incredibly isolating and drain anyone’s drive and passions from them. Owning a reptile allows anybody to enter the community and hobbyist world of herpetoculture – the captive care of reptiles and amphibians.
Like many hobbies, herpetoculture can be as in-depth or as simple as the person practicing it desires. Some keepers devote their entire lives to the passion, accumulating hundreds of animals and spending all of their downtime researching to become better at what they do. Other keepers decide that they’d like to devote their free time and attention to one individual animal. Either way, the door to the hobby is opened for someone who may otherwise wish to escape reality.
Reptile keepers also create communities, both online and in-person. Facebook groups, forums, and reptile expos are just a few of the opportunities for enthusiasts to meet other like-minded people. Making friends, getting out of the house, and the ability to connect with other fellow humans over similar interests can go a long way towards helping someone recover from or battle against their disability.
Wrapping Up Reptiles as Emotional Support Animals
If you or your loved one need an emotional support animal, but thought you were out of luck due to allergies, limited time, or limited space, we hope this brief introduction to reptiles as ESAs has opened your eyes to considering a scaly pal for mental support and companionship.
About the Author:
Stacey is a lifelong reptile lover, caretaker, and author at Reptile.Guide. Reptile.Guide is an online community of lifelong reptile lovers and caretakers passionate about educating reptile pet owners on how to properly care for their pets so that they can enjoy as many happy and healthy years with them as possible.