Claiming Your Dog on Your Tax Return: Part 1

March 9, 2011 by Jan Roberg
Filed under: Tax Deductions 

 

Photo by Heartlover 1717.

The first thing you need to know is that you can’t claim your dog as a dependent on your tax return.  Never!   Don’t even think about it.  There are no special rules for St. Bernard’s or Great Danes.  It doesn’t matter how much your dog depends on you or that he’s a regular member of the family.  A dog can never be claimed as a dependent on your U.S. income tax return.

There are only two places where you could claim a dog on your tax return; the first is as a medical expense and the second is as a business expense.   Most importantly, it has to be a legitimate expense.  Dog expenses claimed on a tax return are likely to get audited.   You’ll want plenty of documentation.

Let’s look at medical expenses today.  I’ll post about dogs as a business expense later this week.  According to the IRS medical expense publication:  You can include in medical expenses the costs of buying, training, and maintain a guide dog or other service animal to assist a visually-impaired or hearing impaired person, or a person with other physical disabilities.  

If you have a seeing eye dog or a hearing assist dog, then you’ve got an easily proved legitimate expense.  Note that the IRS definition discusses “physical” disabilities, mental disabilities are conspicuously absent from this category. 

If your service dog is meant to help with a mental disability, you may be able to claim the animal under “impairment-related work expenses.”   This might actually work out to be an even better deduction than as a medical expense, if you qualify.

In order to be considered as disabled to claim an impairment-related work expense, you must have a physical or mental disability that functionally limits your being employed, or a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities such as performing manual tasks, walking, speaking, breathing, learning, or working. 

I cannot stress enough the importance of legitimacy here.   You can’t just go online and purchase a “service dog” vest for your pooch and take him to work with you.  The service your dog provides must be necessary for you to do your work in a satisfactory manner. 

Here’s a question to ask yourself—if you were to be audited for your dog expense, could you obtain written letters from your doctor and your employer that your dog is necessary for you to work?  This is important.  I assisted an audit once where the man had claimed his dog as a medical expense.  The auditor was willing to allow the expense if the man obtained a letter from his psychiatrist that yes, the dog was part of the man’s treatment.  Although the psychiatrist admitted that he had recommended that the man get a dog, he would not issue a letter stating the dog was part of the man’s treatment and the case was lost.  If you intend to claim a dog as a medical expense (other than a seeing eye or hearing assist dog), it is absolutely essential that you have the support of your doctor.

Comments

8 Comments on Claiming Your Dog on Your Tax Return: Part 1

  1. Fran Ahlgren on Wed, 1st Feb 2012 2:06 am
  2. I do have a service dog for diabetes and for fibromyalgia and cardio Heart disease my doctor has written me a letter which makes it much easier for when traveling I own my own business can i claim her under medical I started basic to advanced training with her long before I knew with alittle more training she could become my service dog she was my own personal dog before i got sick and I have been training her so my question is can she be claimed as a service dog under medical she has her cainie good citizenship, her theropy dog and her adi international public access certificate we are starting a certified diabetes class to hone her behaviors for me please let me know my doctor listed all my disabilities in the letter and how my service dog helps me be more productive and eases my life by doing jobs I can no longer perform in daily life

  3. Jan Roberg on Wed, 1st Feb 2012 2:19 am
  4. Hi Fran,
    You’ve got the perfect evidence for claiming your dog–a letter from your doctor. When I was confronted with this as an audit issue–the thing that could resolve the issue was a doctor’s letter. You’ve already got it.
    As far as switching a pet into a service animal–you’re not the first, you won’t be the last. I think you’re good.

  5. Rosalind on Mon, 26th Mar 2012 2:43 pm
  6. Is there a list of things that can be deducted from your income tax regarding a service dog? Thanks.

  7. Admin Roberg on Tue, 27th Mar 2012 12:16 am
  8. Hi Rosalind,
    That’s an excellent question. I don’t have an official list–just the IRS guidelines of purchasing, maintaining and training. I would take that to mean vet bills, food, grooming, training, etc. I’m thinking that pretty much everything related to a service dog would be a legitimate expense, but I would definitely keep good records.

  9. jeannie on Thu, 21st Jun 2012 5:07 pm
  10. I am a puppy raiser for LeaderDog (guide dogs for the blind) in Rochester MI. Can I write off expenses related to raising the puppy prior to returning it to LeaderDog to be placed with a blind person?

  11. Admin Roberg on Sun, 24th Jun 2012 2:21 pm
  12. Hi Jeannie,
    Excellent question. Thank you.

    Raising puppies for their program is a charitable contribution. That means–you keep receipts for all the puppy chow, vet visits, collars, leashes, etc and they go as a charitable donation on your schedule A.

    Anyone wanting more information about LeaderDogs, here’s a link to their website: http://www.leaderdog.org/volunteer/puppyraiser/index.php

    And thank you, Jeannie, for the work you do.

  13. Sandra Jackson on Mon, 1st Oct 2012 10:44 pm
  14. My doctor recommended I get a dog for my depression and high anxiety and I live in an apartment where animals are not allowed. My doctor urged me to get a dog and wrote a letter for the property management company. My depression and anxiety have gone down can I write off the purchase of the dog, vet bills and food?

  15. Admin Roberg on Wed, 3rd Oct 2012 9:51 pm
  16. Hi Sandra,
    I worked as a consultant on a case just like yours that was being audited. We lost. The key–because I thinkn this was key, was that the person’s psychiatrist had recommended that the taxpayer get a dog for his depression (sound familiar?)
    Anyway, I had recommended that we get a letter from the doctor saying that he prescribed that the client get a dog. I thought that would be a winning argument. The problem was, the doctor refused.
    Here’s where you’re different–your doctor actually wrote a letter! It gives you a fighting chance.
    Now if you do this, you would claim the dog care expenses on your Schedule A under medical expenses. Here’s the catch–you’re living in an apartment–even if you do claim all of your dog expenses as a medical expense, you still might not have enough expenses to make a difference on your tax return. (Your medical expenses have to be more than 7.5% of your gross income before they count as a deduction. Even if they are, your standard deduction might still be better for you.)
    I suggest looking at your tax return both ways and seeing if it makes a difference for you. Does it really help you or not? If it does, I’d get a letter from your doctor. You don’t need to send it to the IRS, but you should have it in your files as back up “just in case.”
    Also, congratulations on getting a dog. For what it’s worth, although the taxpayer lost the audit, he was so happy about the progress he made since getting the dog that he didn’t really mind. I hope you have a good experience too.
    One last plug, here’s a Facebook Page for a non-profit that I’m involved with, you might want to check them out: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Slaying-Dragons/210637378964011

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