Psychiatric service dogs, which receive specialized training in order to perform certain tasks that are related to their handler’s emotional or mental disability, have gained increasing popularity since late 2020, with searches on Google reaching the highest peak ever in the past five years in early 2022. 

This type of service animal, which has federally protected rights under U.S. law, is especially becoming more common among veterans, who often face an uphill battle in acquiring a service animal for PTSD or other post-combat mental health challenges (it’s estimated that less than 1% of veterans in need of a service dog are able to receive one in a given year). 

Psychiatric service dogs, however, are far more accessible.   

So, which U.S. states issued the most psychiatric service dog prescriptions in 2021? And what makes these special animals so unique in the service they provide, especially when it comes to veterans? 

We teamed up with CertaPet, the leading telehealth platform for individuals interested in animal-assisted interventions, to answer these questions and more. 

Which U.S. States Have The Most Psychiatric Service Dog Prescriptions? 

To discover what states have the most psychiatric service dog prescriptions, issued in the form of a letter signed by a licensed mental health professional, we analyzed CertaPet’s 2021 data to uncover where in the U.S. the most psychiatric service dog prescriptions were issued by CertaPet’s network of mental health professionals. 

Here are the top 10 states with the most psychiatric service dog prescriptions issued in 2021: 

1. California

2. New York

3. Florida

4. Virginia

5. Texas

6. Colorado

7. New Jersey

8. Massachusetts

9. Washington

10. Illinois 

Many of the nation’s most highly populated states (California, New York, Florida, and Texas) make the Top 10 ranking for psychiatric service dog prescriptions. 

It’s worth noting, however, that seven out of ten of the states in our ranking are also states with the highest number of veterans

The proven healing benefits of animals like psychiatric service dogs may just explain why, as might the challenges that veterans often face in acquiring a service dog to begin with.   

Why Many Veterans Are Turning to Psychiatric Service Dogs

Prairie Conlon, LMHP, the world’s leading expert on emotional support animals and Clinical Director of CertaPet, says: “Health and wellness are evolving. More people are seeking out and using holistic and natural ways to improve wellbeing, and animal assisted interventions and therapy are emerging as an incredibly effective resource.” 

Can animals like therapy dogs, emotional support animals, and psychiatric service dogs really impact a person’s mental and emotional health, though? The science is certainly prolific. 

According to a special health report from Harvard Medical School, interactions with dogs are calming for people, leading to decreases in their levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and increases in their levels of oxytocin (the ‘bonding hormone’ commonly released when a mother nurses her infant). Dogs can also decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, support healthy blood pressure, and even lower the risk of an early death by 24%.

Psychiatric service dogs are particularly unique in the positive impact they can have on a handler. A psychiatric service dog, which is entitled to federally protected rights including public access rights and the ability to board airline cabins with its handler, receives specialized training in order to perform certain tasks that are related to their handler’s emotional or mental disability. 

For example, in the case of a handler with PTSD, a psychiatric service dog may be trained to wake up the individual during a night terror. A psychiatric service dog can also be trained to provide 

  • tactile stimulation to those dealing with anxiety or depression
  • grounding during catatonic behavior
  • medical alerts to the beginning stages of a medical episode
  • and even interruptions to repetitive or compulsive behaviors such as self-harm

This is by no means an exhaustive list, as every psychiatric service dog’s duty is unique and their training specially designed to meet the needs of their handler. 

Organizations like K9 for Warriors have long touted the healing benefit of service dogs for veterans living with post-combat mental health challenges like PTSD, major depression, or military sexual assault. Unfortunately, less than 1% of veterans in need of a service dog are able to receive one in a given year, despite the fact that 1 in 3 veterans (out of the 18 million currently residing in America) have some type of substantial post-combat mental health challenge. 

One factor that makes it difficult for a veteran to acquire a service dog comes simply down to the supply not meeting the demand. It costs the average service dog organization anywhere from $20,000-$50,000 to train a service dog, which means there are a limited number of dogs available each year for placement, resulting in waiting lists that can often be years-long. 

That’s why more and more individuals are turning to psychiatric service dogs instead. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Department of Transportation, individuals are permitted to self-train their psychiatric service dog (as opposed to having to apply for a specially trained dog through a traditional organization). Psychiatric service dogs can come from anywhere–they can be an already existing pet that a veteran trains, or they can be adopted from the local shelter. In fact, the majority of service dogs placed by K9 for Warriors come from high-kill shelters.   

Individuals who go this route also don’t have to worry about lengthy waiting lists. This is an important factor when one takes into account the life-saving nature of service dogs in light of the significantly elevated suicide risk among veterans with mental health diagnoses.  

Psychiatric service dog prescriptions essentially remove the ‘middle man’ and make animal-assisted interventions more accessible to those who need them most. CertaPet was one of the first telehealth platforms to offer psychiatric service dog consultations to clients, and in the first year of doing so, close to ten thousand individuals were able to receive a prescription for a psychiatric service dog, forever changing the course of countless lives.    

CertaPet is even taking their services one step further with plans to roll out a comprehensive training program to guide individuals in training their psychiatric service dog, ensuring that clients have the support they need to thrive with their service animal.  

Where to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog

Those interested in acquiring a psychiatric service dog can speak with a licensed mental health professional or general practitioner to discuss whether an assistance animal can prove a beneficial part of their treatment plan. 

However, CertaPet cautions individuals against seeking out service dog ‘registries,’ which are often fraudulent databases on the internet with no grounding in U.S. law. A simple certificate designating a dog as a psychiatric service dog will not entitle individuals to federally protected rights. Instead, a legitimate psychiatric service dog prescription must be printed on a licensed professional’s letterhead and include their licensing information. This can be a professional that is visited in-person or one that is seen via a telehealth platform

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Special Reports Team