Rabbits as service, therapy, and emotional support animals

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This article discusses rabbits as service, therapy, and emotional support animals as defined by US laws.

Since 2011, only dogs are legally recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. However, entities covered by the ADA must also allow trained miniature horses under the revised ADA guidelines.[1]

Rabbits can not be legally recognized as service animals, but they can be prescribed as an emotional support animal by a mental health professional or registered as a therapy animal.

What is the difference between a service, therapy, and emotional support animal?

A Terry Mossberg writes:[2]

"I have been asked to post some correct information on what constitutes a "Service" animal. I created a meme with quotes taken directly from ADA.gov which is the entity that sets the rules and guidelines and defines ALL 'Service, Therapy and Emotional support' animals.

No one is saying anything about Therapy or Emotional Support Animals being wrong or a bad thing. What is being said is that there are distinct differences between these and "Service" animals and people should know the difference so that the system is not abused.

What is meant by abuse is this..... People that think by buying a vest from the numerous sites on the internet and throwing it on there 'Pet' and calling it a 'Service' animal so they they can carry their little purse pet into restaurants and other public places that do not allow animals. two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability.They take advantage of the fact that public entities are only allowed to ask.

This 'Abuse' only hurts the truly disabled persons who have actual 'service' animals.

Simply put..... "Service" animals perform specific trained tasks that 'physically' aid the disabled person and are allowed in any and all public areas. "Therapy" animals are any animal that go through very specific training, conditioning and temperament evaluation before being used to visit places, usually clinical, as a form of therapy to 'Others' and are only allowed is such places with written permission by the entities. "Emotional Support Animals" or ESA's are 'personal' PETS that bring comfort and emotional support to those suffering from emotional or mental disorders. ESA's are NOT allowed in public places where animals are not allowed without permission of the entity. Airlines, Hotels and rental housing are the exception WITH a letter from a psychiatrist stating the animals is prescribed for health reasons.

I hope this helps clear up some confusion on the subject. Here are the links to the pages of the site where I obtained my very much so 'Up to Date' information."


Alicia Rae Smith writes:[3]

I've done extensive research on the subject, and want to educate others with what I have learned. The three categories of these animals that can help their human friends are: service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals.

SERVICE animals are either a DOG or MINIATURE HORSE who have been SPECIALLY TRAINED to perform a very specific task for their owner, in order to mitigate a disability. NO OTHER TYPE OF ANIMAL IS CURRENTLY RECOGNIZED AS A SERVICE ANIMAL BY THE ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) AND THEREFORE RABBITS CANNOT BE SERVICE ANIMALS. Service animals have the right to be in nearly any public space that their owners can enter, and of course this includes public transportation and housing. (Note that I only know the laws in detail in the United States, so this may be different in other countries.)

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT animals are animals that have NOT BEEN TRAINED TO PERFORM A SPECIFIC TASK, but they have been prescribed as "medication" by a mental health professional, and therefore DO have the right to live with their owners and travel with them in the main cabins of airplanes. ANY ANIMAL CAN BE AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL, INCLUDING RABBITS. These animals DO NOT have the right to be in any public spaces. They are NOT service animals.

THERAPY animals are typically trained to behave and remain calm in all types of situations, either by their owners/handlers or an organization, but every organization is different in their requirements. Technically, ANY ANIMAL can be a therapy animal, but some species are not currently recognized with any organization. There are two organizations I know of that register rabbits: Bunnies in Baskets Therapy Rabbits, and Pet Partners. Therapy animals ARE NOT granted access to any public spaces, only hospitals, hospice, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities that have welcomed to animal inside to help their patients.

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCES OF ALL OF THESE TYPES OF ANIMALS. Why? Service and emotional support animals are provided to those who need them in order to alleviate their disabilities. It is incredibly disrespectful and downright dangerous to be either falsely presenting an animal as something it is not, as it makes it difficult for those who actually do have service animals. Many are skeptical in the first place of having animals in public spaces, even if they are legit service animals, and just a simple YouTube search can reveal videos of individuals with disabilities who were discriminated against by people who simply were ignorant of the laws.

Rabbits as emotional support animals

Should I get a rabbit as an ESA?

Would your bunny make a good therapy rabbit?

The decision to get a rabbit and the decision to register your pet as an ESA should occur at different times. To get any animal for the purpose of being an ESA without knowing a) how the pet's presence will realistically impact your life and b) the personality/inclinations of the specific animal you choose can lead to a lot of frustration and disappointment. Pet rabbit owners commonly experience anxiety, frustration, and stress due to complications with pet rabbit health, the required expenses, and climbing the learning curve of how to properly care for a rabbit.

If you are not already experienced as a rabbit caretaker, we would not recommend getting a rabbit as an emotional support animal. Rabbits generally do not like to be handled or leave their territory, are incredibly destructive, and any time they decide to get sick (often in the middle of the night), it is incredibly anxiety inducing and expensive, even for experienced owners.

If your comfort and support is drawn from snuggling and the ability to have repeated physical contact with the animal, rabbits are not a good candidate. Rabbits are not "companion pets" like dogs and cats who readily (or for some, never) establish a sense of loyalty, 'sticking with you', wanting to be with you, or preferring your company and touch.

To reduce potential of re-homing and owner frustration, it is safest to assume that any rabbit you would want to adopt will not enjoy cuddling on your terms, and if they want to cuddle, it will take time to build that level of trust, and how often they would want the close contact may be very little. There are absolutely exceptions to this and ways you can actively build trust and security in the rabbit relationship, but we do not recommend adopting in this context by having unrealistic expectations-- it takes time, learning, and acceptance that the expectation will never be met, and that is usually not compatible with college living nor what majority of people look for in their ESAs.

Cats and dogs are much more easily trained as an ESA as they have been domesticated hundreds/thousands of years more than rabbits, and veterinary care is plentiful.

If you would still like to continue considering a rabbit for a pet, please be sure to check out our Deciding on a rabbit guide for some general info about what to expect with a rabbit as a pet. If, after spending time with your rabbit and having a better understanding of how it influences your life, you would like to designate it as an ESA, you can do so at that point in time.

Further reading

Rabbits as therapy animals

All three of /u/justinegln rabbits volunteer in Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota's Pets Assisting with Healing (PAWH) volunteer program. The rabbits are registered therapy animals through Pet Partners and all of the volunteers get trading cards of their pets to hand out during visits. The kids love them!

/u/justinegln writes:[4]

The International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO) is a global association made up of different organizations that practice, do research on, and/or educate in animal-assisted interventions (which include animal assisted activities, animal assisted therapy, and animal assisted education) and service animal training. In 2013 IAHAIO published a paper in which they clearly defined some of the often confusing terminologies and outlined ethical practices for the well-being of animals involved in these interventions. The full paper can be read here - PDF.

IAHAIO makes some of the following recommendations for programs using animal assisted interventions (AAI). The full list can be found in their paper. - Animals considered for participation in AAI should be carefully evaluated by an expert in animal behavior such as a vet or behaviorist. Not all animals, even those considered good pets, are appropriate for AAI. Animals should also regularly see a vet to ensure that they are in good health. - Animal handlers should receive training on detecting signs of discomfort or distress in their animal and be able to respond appropriately. The animal’s well-being should always be put first. - Handlers and other professionals working in AAI should be aware of local laws and policies with visiting or resident animals in institutions.

In the United States, Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) is considered the nation’s largest and most prestigious nonprofit registering animal handlers in AAI. One thing especially unique about Pet Partners is that they recognize the benefits of using therapy animals other than dogs. This includes the focus of this site – rabbits.

The registration process for handlers and their rabbits closely follows the IAHAIO guidelines. Handlers must first take an online or in person handler’s course, have their vet sign a form verifying that their rabbit is in good health, and then do an in-person team evaluation with one of Pet Partner’s evaluators. During the evaluation, as during a visit, rabbits must wear a harness and leash. The evaluator will set up different scenarios similar to what might be encountered during a visit and the rabbit and handler must respond appropriately (e.g., if the rabbit is touched by multiple people at once or pet roughly the handler should advocate for its safety and the rabbit can’t respond aggressively). For more information on Pet Partners’ therapy animal program [www.petpartners.org visit their website here.]

If you live outside of the U.S and are interested in doing AAI with your rabbit, check out the IAHAIO members list here to learn more about organizations in your area. Unfortunately, many organizations do not yet recognize the benefits rabbits can provide as therapy animals, but if we continue to educate hopefully someday this will change. If you cannot find an organization in your area to register and volunteer through, the IAHAIO guidelines can still be beneficial in independent work. Have your vet sign a statement of good health, train your rabbit so that they are used to many different sounds and situations, and learn to recognize signs of distress so that you can intervene when needed. There are most likely facilities in your area that would be open to and benefit from a visit if you inquire.

Tommy Meyers Therapy Bunnies. Video by Hudson Valley News Network.

The following are a few groups and individuals with rabbits as therapy animals.

  • Bunnies In Baskets. - "Bunnies in Baskets (BIB) is a 501c3 public charity. Beginning in October 2009, BIB volunteers have given people positive emotional/physical experiences through visits with highly socialized, “human curious,” and affectionate rabbits. Veterinarians routinely evaluate the medical and behavioral health of BIB rabbits. BIB carries comprehensive general liability insurance for BIB volunteers and aligns with American Veterinary Medical Association guideline" - BIB Facebook Page.
  • Rabbitat for Humanity - "Betsy and her husbun, Walter, are trained, certified, and registered therapy rabbits in Wisconsin. They visit hospitals, nursing homes, universities, the Ronald McDonald House, and also participate in events in the community. They hope to pave the way for therapy rabbits everywhere."
    Jenn Eckert in a photo with her babies, Betsy and her husbun Walter, in their therapy vests. Fox6 Now video and write up of Jenn, Betsy, and Walter at work: "Rabbits prove to be “good therapy candidates,” great at cheering up sick children, calming adults." Walter & Betsy are also the featured "love bunnies" in the February 2017 edition of Bunnyzine!
    Jenn Eckert writes about Betsy and Walter:[5]

    They are certified therapy rabbits. We visit sick children and hospice patients, primarily, but also do quite a bit of community work and education as well. We are certified through Pet Partners, and it is close to the same testing as the dogs. The focus is shared between how the animal connects with the patient, and how it reacts to the environment. The most important in pet therapy is always the animal. Ensuring their comfort, enjoyment and safety is always number one. If all is good in that respect, then watching them make a child with leukemia giggle or snuggle with an elderly man at the end of his life, is absolutely amazing.


  1. U.S. Department of Justice. (2010). ADA Requirements: Service Animals. Retrieved 15 Mar 2017 from https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm
  2. Text & Info sheet (c) & used with direct permission from A Terry Mossberg
  3. Information text used with direct permission from Alicia Rae Smith
  4. Thank you to /u/justinegln for the use of the text and card image. Text & Picture (c) & used with direct permission from /u/justinegln
  5. Thank you to Jenn Eckert for the use of the text and image. Text & Picture (c) & used with direct permission from Jenn Eckert