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Service Animals and Taxes: What Counts and What Doesn’t?

Credits & Deductions Taxes
An adorable yellow retriever wearing a blue bandana smiles at the camera as he lies at the feet of his human who is sitting in a wheelchair

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Updated for tax year 2023.

Animals do more than warm our hearts — they’re road trip buddies, winter lap warmers, and sometimes, legitimate treatments for medical conditions.

If you’re an American taxpayer wondering how having a service animal might impact your taxes, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s go over some of the IRS guidelines and help you determine if your pet might be a tax benefit.

At a glance:

  • Service animals can qualify for tax deductions if they help you with a specific disability or impairment.
  • Emotional support animals that provide comfort but lack specific training typically do not qualify for a deduction.
  • You can deduct food expenses, veterinary care, and more if your pet qualifies.

Do service dogs qualify for a tax deduction?

Service animals, like guide dogs, can be invaluable for people with specific disabilities. These animals are crucial in alerting their owners to potential health episodes, guiding them, or providing emotional support to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While your fur baby may not qualify as your dependent, you might be eligible for a tax deduction if you need a service dog or another animal to help you navigate daily life. Let’s look at some specifics.

What is a service animal according to the ADA and IRS?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” This can include tasks such as:

  • Guiding people who are blind
  • Alerting individuals who are deaf
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Alerting and protecting a person during a seizure
  • Calming an individual with PTSD during an anxiety attack or panic attack

Service animals are not considered pets, but working animals that are allowed where pets are typically prohibited. According to the IRS, if you have a service animal “primarily for medical care to alleviate a mental defect or illness” and can establish that your animal companion qualifies as a treatment for your medical condition, you could claim certain pet-related expenses on your taxes.

Can emotional support animals qualify for a tax write-off?

Emotional support animals (ESAs) who solely provide comfort or emotional support are generally considered pets and do not qualify as service animals, meaning you cannot claim an expense deduction for them.

A service animal must be specially trained to perform a specific job or task to help you cope with your condition. If your pet soothes your anxiety by simply being near you, it likely does not qualify as a service animal.

How do you prove your pet is actually a service animal for a tax deduction?

The IRS has specific guidelines for pet owners to help you determine if your pet qualifies as a service animal. At the very least, you should be able to provide written documentation of your need for a service animal from a licensed health professional.

In general, here’s what the IRS looks for:

  • You have a diagnosed medical condition. If a physician diagnosed you with a medical condition and recommended an animal for treatment or mitigation, they likely qualify as a service animal. This can be true of a guide dog to help with your blindness or an animal that alerts you that a seizure is imminent. Always cover your bases and get your physician’s recommendation in writing — the IRS loves documentation.
  • Links between the treatment and the illness. It will help your case if there is an established history of others with your condition using pets for similar treatments. If you can point to a published study praising squirrels as a pocket-sized alert for low blood sugar, the IRS is more likely to take your request seriously. It’s a good idea to look for any connections that unite your underlying medical issue with your decision to get a service animal and have them ready to back up your claim.
  • Effectiveness of the treatment. Have you seen improvement or relief from the condition you’ve been treating since getting a service animal? Any records detailing this improvement can help bolster your case. Say, for example, you’ve kept a journal documenting your physical therapy progress and how the animal has played a pivotal supporting role in your mobility journey. That can be used to prove the effectiveness of treatment.
  • Proximity in time to the onset or recurrence of a disease. After reading this far, you may think, “I’ve had my cat since childhood, and she helps ease my anxiety, so of course she counts as a service animal, right?” Here’s the thing — treatment is typically a response to a problem. The IRS is more likely to consider your pet a service animal if you developed a condition or were injured and then acquired the service animal to help you cope. This connects the situation with the treatment and is easier to prove.

What pet expenses are tax-deductible?

If the IRS agrees that your pet qualifies as a service animal, congratulations! You can write off many of your pet’s expenses, including:

  • Food
  • Grooming
  • Training
  • The cost of buying the animal
  • Vet bills and medical care
  • Boarding
  • Supplies like leashes, vests, or harnesses
  • Other miscellaneous costs

How do I write off my service animal expenses when filing?

To deduct costs associated with a service pet, you must itemize your deductions, which means turning down the standard deduction. So, deducting your service animal expenses only makes sense if your total itemized deductions are greater than the standard deduction. For tax year 2023, the standard deduction is $13,850 for single filers ($27,700 for those married filing jointly).

Don’t forget to review your total medical costs. If you have a diagnosed condition that warrants a service animal, you may have other medical expenses to deduct besides your service pet. To deduct medical expenses from your taxes, they must exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Your AGI is your gross income minus any adjustments, like IRA contributions or student loan interest you’ve paid. Your AGI will never be greater than your gross income.

Service pets fall under medical expenses, so you’ll list them on Schedule A on Form 1040.

Making the most of your tax deductions with TaxAct

TaxAct® can help you navigate the complexities of your tax return and determine which tax deductions you qualify to claim. Our user-friendly tax preparation software can help you claim your service animal-related expenses without hassle. We’ll guide you through the process and help you report any necessary expenses.

This article is for informational purposes only and not legal or financial advice.
All TaxAct offers, products and services are subject to applicable terms and conditions.

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