"Can I claim my emotional support dog as a tax deduction" is a common questioned posed to tax professionals by long-haul truckers. Every pet owner claims their animal is a member of the family and they are an essential companion for thousands of truckers. The emergence of the "Emotional Support" registration industry reinforces this fact.
- Prior to 1987 when the IRS first required dependent Social Security Numbers it was not uncommon for taxpayers to claim their pets as dependents.
- U.S. pet owners spent an estimated $60 billion in 2015 on their animals.
It understandable that taxpayers may want to recoup some of their emotional support dog expenses with a creative medical expense tax deduction[i]. To counter the urge to claim Fido as a tax deduction the IRS has promulgated guidance on what type of animals qualify.
IRS Definition Of A Service Animal Or Emotional Support
How does the IRS define a service dog versus an emotional support dog?
The IRS does not offer a definition of a "service dog" oe "emotional support" animal, but guidance can be gleaned from the Americans With Disability Act (ADA). Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. An animal is defined as "emotional support" when it has not been specifically trained, for example:
- Hearing Dogs– Alert the deaf to different sounds, alarms, etc.
- Guide Dogs– Used by those that are visually impaired to help them navigate around obstacles, through a crowd, etc.
- Mobility Dogs– Provides support and does tasks for those with limited mobility or with balance issues.
- Psychiatric Service Dogs – Provides support for invisible mental illnesses. These dogs alert or calm their owners in need.
- Medical Alert Dogs – Alerts their owners before an attack, seizure, or drop in blood sugar
Tax Law Discussion
A review of IRC § 213 is required to answer the question, "Can I use my emotional support dog as a tax deduction?" The costs of buying, training, and maintaining a service animal to assist an individual with mental disabilities may qualify as medical care if the taxpayer can establish that the taxpayer is using the service animal primarily for medical care to alleviate a mental defect or illness and that the taxpayer would not have paid the expenses but for the disease or illness.
IRS Chief Counsel Note: A taxpayer who claims that an expense of a peculiarly personal nature is primarily for medical care must establish that fact. The courts have looked toward objective factors to determine whether an otherwise personal expense is for medical care:
- the taxpayer’s motive or purpose for making the expenditure,
- whether a physician has diagnosed a medical condition and recommended the item as treatment or mitigation,
- linkage between the treatment and the illness, treatment effectiveness, and proximity in time to the onset or recurrence of a disease.
- Havey v. Commissioner, 12 T.C. 409 (1949).
- The taxpayer also must establish that the expense would not have been paid “but for” the disease or illness.
A personal expense is not deductible as medical care if the taxpayer would have paid the expense even in the absence of a medical condition. Commissioner v. Jacobs, 62 T.C. 813 (1974). [ii]
How Much of the Expenses Can You Deduct?
You can include in medical expenses:
- the costs of buying, training, and maintaining a guide dog or other service animal
- to assist a visually impaired or hearing disabled person, or a person with other physical disabilities.
In general, this includes any costs, such as food, grooming, and veterinary care, incurred in maintaining the health and vitality of the service animal so that it may perform its duties.
2024 Trucker Per Diem Rates Published (September 25, 2023)
Flying With A Service Dog? Here's Everything You Need To Know (Becca Bond, The Points Guy, 9/12/23)
IRS Orders Immediate Stop To New Employee Retention Credit Claims (IRS Newswire, 9/14/23)
Where To Claim The Deduction?
Generally, you can deduct on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions (Form 1040) only the amount of your medical and dental expenses that is more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). However, with tax reform drastically increasing the Standard Deduction (2022: $12,950 Single, $25,900 Married) most taxpayers will not have sufficient itemized deductions to warrant pursuing a tax break for their pet expenses.
- AGI of $50,000
- You spent $10,000 on service animal expenses
- 7.5% of $50,000 = $3,750
- $10,000 - $3,750 = $6,250 deduction for service animal related expenses
- A business cannot claim a deduction for a guide dog or other service animal
Can You Deduct Expenses For Emotional Support Animals?
No, emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals are not considered service animals under the ADA. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
"Prior to January 2021, the law allowed emotional support animals to fly with documentation from a medical doctor verifying the animal was necessary for comforting the passenger. ESAs did not have to be trained. But after rampant abuse of the system that included people taking everything from peacocks to snakes to untrained and aggressive dogs on flights, the DOT revised its regulations to allow airlines to ban ESAs from the skies. Although the ultimate decision was left up to the airlines themselves, all major U.S. and Canadian carriers quickly changed their policies to stop non-ESA pets from flying. You can still fly with a small dog (under 25 pounds), but the pup must be in a carrier and you will need to pay the airline pet fee to fly."Becca Bond, The Points Guy (9/12/23)
Can A Business Deduct The Expenses Associated With A Guard Dog?
Can I use my dog as a tax deduction if it guards my truck? The absence of specific guidance on guard dogs from IRS compels a taxpayer to evaluate the appropriateness of claiming a tax deduction for expenses related to a guard dog used to protect a truck that is constantly on the move as opposed to a drop-yard or terminal. Kay Bell writing for Bankrate.com provided a great analysis,
“That “Beware of dog” sign in your business’s window is no idle threat. Break-ins have stopped since you set up a place for your Rottweiler to stay overnight. In this case, the IRS would likely be amenable to business deduction claims of the animal’s work-related expenses.
Standard business deduction rules still apply, notably that the cost of keeping an animal on work premises is ordinary and necessary in your line of business. Once you show that, the dollars spent each year keeping your pooch in good guard condition — food, vet bills and training — would be deductible as a business expense.
As with all deductions, be prepared to provide full and accurate records of your animal’s hours on the job. You’ll also find your tax claim more acceptable when you demonstrate how the animal protects your livelihood inventory. In addition, as is often the case with business property, the dog must be depreciated, a way of allocating its cost over its useful life for IRS purposes.
Keep in mind, too, that your claims carry more weight when your pet is a breed that’s typically used for such jobs. So even though your Chihuahua has a loud bark, your tax claim is more credible if your guard dog is a German shepherd, Doberman pinscher or a similar imposing breed”.[iv]
Can I use my dog as a tax deduction? Maybe. Every pet owner claims their animal is a member of the family and an essential companion for thousands of long-haul truckers. The IRS disagrees. It understandable that taxpayers may want to recoup some of their pet expenses with a tax deduction, but with the overall value of the deduction is limited due to the 7.5% of AGI offsetting most expenses. Furthermore, extensive rules have been promulgated to insure only qualifying animal expenses can be deducted and taxpayers risk the wrath of the IRS if they get too creative interpreting those regulations.
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About the Author
Mark is tax counsel for Per Diem Plus. With nearly two decades of experience advising trucking companies on per diem issues, Mark was responsible for defining the Per Diem Plus software logic rules that automatically calculates trucker per diem in accordance with IRS regulations. He also previously served as the consulting per diem tax expert for Omnitracs.
In addition to his time working with Per Diem Plus, Mark works in private practice as an Enrolled Agent at Mark Sullivan Consulting, PLLC specializing in federal tax controversy representation and consulting. He also served as the consulting and expert witness for the Federal Defenders Office and private defense counsel in financial crimes cases in multiple federal district courts. Contact Mark W. Sullivan, EA
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and cannot be cited as precedent or relied upon in a tax dispute before the IRS.
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[i] 2014 American Pet Producers Association market study