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

16 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

  17. Samantha on Sun, 1st Jun 2014 5:32 pm
  18. Hello, I have a question about using my Doberman as a gaurd dog write off, he is a legit guard dog. No home office, but he does protect our home/valuables and protects me when my husband is deployed. Does this qualify to use his expenses as a write off?
    Thank you
    Samantha

  19. Jan Roberg on Sun, 6th Jul 2014 6:20 pm
  20. Hi Samantha,
    Because your dog protects you and your personal property, he is not a tax deductible write off. I’m sorry. But I bet he’s worth every penny you spend on him anyway.

  21. lisa on Sat, 23rd Aug 2014 6:58 pm
  22. hi. i live in an apartment and have adopted a dog at the advice of my physician. he has provided a letter to my landlord as there is a no dog policy in place. i have a permanent dropped foot on the left after back surgery, i have degenerative disk disease and neuropathy in my left foot. i also suffer from agoraphobia since a car accident post back surgery. the car accident caused damage to the right side of the level where i have had surgery on the left, and has herniated several other levels on the right, and caused damage to my right shoulder and knee. my left leg is not improving and i wear an afo, and the neuropathy on the right is increasing in severity. i am restricted from bending, have fallen several times, am restricted from any walking in snow or under any conditions where my footing will be compromised further. i am unsteady even with the aid of the afo and because of the shoulder damage find a cane painful.

    The dog i have adopted will not only serve as an aid with the agoraphobia and fear of falling at home, but will also be trained to retrieve any items i may drop, to assist in pulling me to standing from seated position as necessary, and to act as a blocking dog running interference for my back and my left leg. my health history is well documented and supported.

    can i deduct training costs as a medical expense? i am looking into more formal training and certification.

    thanks much for any guidance.

  23. Jan Roberg on Sun, 24th Aug 2014 1:44 pm
  24. Hi Lisa,
    You’ve got the golden ticket–your physician has already written a letter explaining that you need the dog for medical purposes. I would claim the dog’s expenses as a medical expense on your schedule A.

    Now remember, the floor for the medical expenses is 10% of your adjusted gross income now and if you don’t have other deductible expenses it might not help you on your taxes.

    But if it can, I personally feel that you’ve got a legitimate deduction here.

  25. Sheri on Sun, 7th Sep 2014 4:04 pm
  26. What about certified therapy dogs that are not actually used for your own benefit, but instead, are brought into rehabs and nursing homes for patients? Can any expenses be claimed from them? It’s a volunteer program.

  27. Jan Roberg on Sun, 7th Sep 2014 9:13 pm
  28. Hi Sheri,
    Okay, I was wrong. I said that there are only two places on your tax return where you can claim a dog, but you just gave another really good example–the third place. Charitable donation.

    Let’s use Girl Scouts as an example. As a Girl Scout leader, I was able to count my expenses as a volunteer as a charitable donation. So my uniform, my mileage, buying stuff for the troop, etc. That all counted as charitable donations. Now my daughter’s uniform, and expenses were not a donation because she wasn’t a volunteer, but mine were because I was a volunteer for the organization.

    So you see, your therapy dogs are part of your volunteer work, so I would definitely count your expenses as a charitable donation. So, the question becomes, how much of owning the dogs is for your personal enjoyment versus how much is for the program?

    That doesn’t mean you have to hate your dogs to qualify for a deduction. But, would you have the dogs at all if you weren’t volunteering for the therapy program? If yes, then figure your percentage of ownership for your own benefit, versus having the dogs for the program. (Yes, I know that’s not easy but if you were to get audited, you’d want to be able to substantiate your costs.)

    And one more thing–how totally awesome of you to do this as a volunteer job!

  29. Jessica on Tue, 9th Sep 2014 7:44 pm
  30. Hey, I have a dog that my general dr told me to get for work related stress, which she said she will write a letter if needed. I do take him with me to work but because of that, he caught a very rare virus and I have now spent over $7,000.00 in vet bills. I am a property manager make about 70k with the different companies I work for, some w-9 and some are 1099. Would I be able to write off Cooper on my taxes for the extreme vet bills I have been faced with in the past two weeks?

  31. Jan Roberg on Sat, 13th Sep 2014 5:53 pm
  32. Hi Jessica,
    Poor Cooper! I hope he’s better soon.

    Okay first thing you do is get that letter from the doctor and make a bunch of copies so that you never lose it. The reason I’m telling you that is I worked on an audit case where the guys’ doctor told him to get a dog and then when the man got audited, the doctor wouldn’t do the letter so we lost the audit.

    Now, for the next part, I would like for Cooper, as much as possible, to be a work expense instead of a medical deduction. The reason for that is, medical expenses have to be more than 10% of your Adjusted Gross Income. So if you make $70K, then your medical expenses have to be over $7K before they count on your tax return.

    Business expenses count for more. Employee business expenses that go on form 2106 only have to exceed 2% of your AGI which would be 1,400. Now 1099 business expenses–count 100% as a deduction. And you talk about Cooper being prescribed as a solution to “work-related stress” so I’m thinking Cooper’s expenses would go on the 2106 or the Schedule C. Both of which are better as deductions than if you were to claim him as a medical expense.

    Now, claiming all of Cooper’s expenses will be a stretch, but you figure the percentages out. How much of your life with Cooper is business and how much is personal? Let’s say 50/50 just for an example.

    Now from the business side, how much is your 1099 work versus your W2 work? Let’s just say that’s 50/50 also.

    So just using the $7000 in vet bills, that would make $3500 of that business related. Right?

    Then 50% of that, or $1750 would go on your schedule C, and the other $1750 would go on form 2106 for employee business expenses.

    And that’s just the extreme vet bills. That’s not even counting his other expenses.

    But remember, you need to document, document, document. You want to list dates you spoke with the doctor, when she said you needed the dog. Dates you brought the dog to work with you. I’m not exaggerating. I want you to keep a diary of Cooper working with you to substantiate it because it’s a hard sell to the IRS.

    That doesn’t mean don’t do it. I think you’ve got a legit claim, but definitely document everything.

    Here’s one problem I see in the future–Cooper caught a rare virus going to work with you. So the issue may become–what about Cooper’s future ability to work? If you have to retire Cooper, then he won’t be a business deduction any more. So will you need a different dog for work? Or does Cooper become a medical deduction? I guess we’ll have to see how this all plays out. But it’s something to think about.

    I hope he gets better soon.

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