Emotional Support Animals in College, Worth it?


Celeste Walstrom-Vangor

The summer before my sophomore year, I impulsively bought a bunny off of Craigslist. Yes, Craigslist. My mental health was rocky to say the least. I had been diagnosed in high school with general anxiety disorder and depression (which a lot of people have), along with a whole concoction of other struggles. After I bought him, and before I picked him up from his old owner, I had a month to find out everything I possibly could about bunnies, and of course make sure my roommates were alright with it. I learned he would require more care than any of the fish or hamsters I had ever had, but I was ready. I contacted my therapist and the school, and they all signed off on this endeavor. I was nervous, but I knew I could do it.

The moment I saw his droopy lop ears and felt the softness of his white and auburn fur, I knew I made the right choice. I named him Moose, and the rest is history! He stole my heart; I cannot even describe the feeling. I found all the best food, bought him a two-floored mansion, and I litterbox trained him. He was (and still is) perfect. He was the best decision I made at the time. So, if you’re thinking about adopting an Emotional Support Animal, here are a few things you should consider:

Do you have Enough Money? | Pets can be Expensive!

Between vet appointments, food, litter, and all the trinkets that come along with a healthy, happy pet, the bills can really stack up. I worked really hard for two summers before adopting Moose, so I had plenty saved up to support him. Hamsters or fish would obviously be less expensive, and dogs or cats may be more. Either way, it is highly advisable to make sure you have enough money in the bank, so that the ESA will not end up making your life more stressful. It is also important that you are also willing to buy the supplies to ensure the pet’s happiness. Make sure they have toys, treats, and any other life enrichment items. The happier your ESA is, the happier you will be!

What Kind of Emotional Support Animal is Right for You? | Different Pets have Different Needs!

Depending on where you live, how much money you have, and the other people you live with, you may want to consider your options. Dogs especially, can be very high maintenance and may not be the best pets for a college student. Are you willing to potty train and take it outside? Cats are slightly less work, but still an undertaking. Bunnies are probably around the same level of responsibility. Both can be litter box trained and sleep throughout the day. Hamsters, fish, or reptiles are probably the least responsibility, but also offer the least physical contact support. Do all the research you can before you buy (don’t impulse buy off Craigslist like I did). 

Are you Ready for this Commitment? | Pets are a big Responsibility!

Don’t let the cuteness and the fluff distract you from the huge responsibilities that come with being the owner of a pet. You’ll need to feed them, groom or bathe them, and clean up after them. Moose requires weekly fur brushing and litter box cleaning, monthly nail trimming, and daily food, water, exercise, and attention. You’ll have to consider what you’re going to do with them while you’re on vacation. Do you have someone to take care of them while you’re away during spring break? Can you travel with them in the summer and winter? For me, traveling with a bunny is hard! But, it is all doable if you are willing to commit, and sometimes even sacrifice. In the end, in my opinion, it is totally worth it.

Fun Facts About Emotional Support Animals? | Pets can Actually be Good for Your Health!

After you’ve considered money, responsibility, and the pet you want, here are some fun things to look forward to with your ESA. Research shows that petting animals can decrease heart rate and lower blood pressure. Additionally, studies have “found a statistically significant decrease in participants’ depression, anxiety and loneliness as measured by standardized scales.” As a college student myself, Moose has changed my life in more ways than I can count. I truly feel like I am more productive, happier, and less stressed when he is in the room with me. I highly recommend that you do the research and make an educated choice, hopefully ending up with a wonderful furry (or scaled) friend, if it’s right for you!

Linkhorn, T. (2021) Study finds evidence emotional support animals benefit those with chronic mental illness, EurekAlert! Available at: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/846610 (Accessed: February 21, 2023).

Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash