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Can I Claim My Pet As a Dependent On My Taxes?

By Christy True
published: April 8, 2020 - updated: April 7, 2021 • 3 min. read
Couple does taxes at kitchen table with dog.

Updated on March 26, 2021

As you think about filing your 2020 federal taxes – the deadline has been extended to May 17 because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic – you may be wondering if you can claim your pet as a dependent or if any other pet expenses can be deducted.

No, you can’t declare your cat or dog or any other non-human critter as a dependent.

Sure, you consider your pet a beloved family member, and it may sometimes seem that they are just expensive as children, but the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t see it that way.

Although the IRS doesn’t explicitly spell it out, the agency strongly implies that dependents must be human. At least human children will someday pay taxes and are not just adorable freeloaders like your pets.

Other animal-related write-offs are possible, but only in some quite specific situations.

Here are a few scenarios where you can get a tax break if your pet is either a service animal, a legitimate business expense, or you make a charitable donation, according to TurboTax. Check with a CPA or other tax expert to find out if you are eligible for any of these tax breaks.

Donating to animal welfare/shelter charities or fostering a pet

Any donations you make to registered charities on behalf of homeless pets or animal welfare are deductible. If you adopt a pet and pay a fee, that fee is not tax-deductible unless it is voluntary, in which case it’s a donation. Keep your receipts for any donations.

If you are fostering a pet for a registered animal rescue, you may also deduct expenses related to the cost of fostering, such as food, medications, supplies, bathing/grooming, and bedding. You would itemize these expenses as a charitable donation.

Protect your pet

Tax breaks on service or guide animals

If your pet is considered a service animal or guide dog, you may be able to deduct their care under medical expenses. This may also include emotional support animals if they treat “a mental or physical medical need,” according to TaxAct. TaxAct recommends obtaining documentation from a doctor about the need for the emotional support animal and any other evidence you have that the pet is useful in helping with a particular condition.

What pet expenses can you write off?

If your pet does qualify as a service animal, the IRS says you can write off nearly all pet-centric expenses, including:

  • Food
  • Grooming
  • Training
  • Purchase price
  • Vet bills
  • Boarding
  • Other miscellaneous costs

Keep in mind if you claim these deductions, you will have to itemize rather than accept the standard deduction. Taking the standard deduction may make more sense for some people. To write off medical expenses, including those for your pet, they must exceed 7.5% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).

Can I write off pet expenses if my dog helps with my business?

If you use your pet in your business, you may deduct expenses involving your pet, related to that business, TurboTax says. However, the IRS says the expenses must be “ordinary and necessary,” which it defines as common and accepted in your industry and helpful and appropriate for your business.

In other words, be prepared to make your case that your furry friend does tangibly help you, and as with all deductions, be ready to provide full and accurate records of your animal’s hours on the job. That means a guard dog is a likely candidate for a business expense, but a cat that greets customers in your law firm – probably not.

Some examples of a pet helping with a business:

  • A dog that guards a business
  • A psychotherapist who employs dogs as animal-assisted therapy
  • A dog used for search and rescue as part of a business
  • Someone who posts cute cat videos on YouTube and attracts a following, along with some ad revenues

So, while it’s unlikely that you will fit into any of these categories for a tax write-off, at least your pets will be there for stress relief when you are pulling your hair out to file your taxes. And that’s worth more than any tax refund.

Do not rely on this blog post for tax advice. If you think you may qualify for some of these deductions, consult a tax professional.

Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 28 dog years. She also coordinates media requests. A background in journalism may be why she enjoys writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs, and she volunteers with a local dog rescue. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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