Any article like this has to start with a disclaimer: We’re not tax professionals, so we can’t offer you specific tax advice. This content is for general information purposes only, as they say, and is just intended to make you aware of certain possibilities in the hopes we might save you some money. So please, get personalized advice from a qualified tax preparation professional before acting on any of the following information.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the question at hand—and it’s a big one for disabled individuals who benefit from assistance dogs: Are associated expenses eligible for tax deductions?
Of course, when it comes to the IRS and US tax codes, no answer can be quite that simple and straightforward.
Service Dogs as Tax Deductions for the Disabled
Assistance dogs as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) qualify as legitimate tax deductions as medical expenses. You can generally claim them for yourself, your spouse, or your dependent, provided the individual in question has “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.”
What Are Medical Expenses?
As the IRS describes them in its Publication 502:
“Medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. These expenses include payments for legal medical services rendered by physicians, surgeons, dentists, and other medical practitioners. They include the costs of equipment, supplies, and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes. Medical care expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness.”
Assistance Dogs as Medical Expenses
In specific reference to guide dogs and other assistance dogs, the IRS states in Publication 502:
“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.”
Note that emotional support animals can’t be taken as deductions. Psychiatric service dogs, on the other hand, are classified as assistance dogs and therefore eligible. Therapy dogs are not medical expenses, but they might in some circumstances qualify for deduction as business expenses if used for business purposes. Here’s an explanation of the differences between these types of working animals and pets.
A Few Caveats
There are lots of rules—some of them confusing to most laypeople—about if, when, how, and how much you can claim medical expenses for tax deductions. That’s why you always consult a tax professional.
For example, to write off medical expenses, you’re required to itemize your deductions. Also, the only medical expenses deductible in most cases are those exceeding 10 percent of your adjusted gross income; however, for individuals 65 and up, medical expenses exceeding 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income are eligible for deduction through 2016.
Also, in the event of questions from the IRS or an audit, you must be able to back up all the expenses you claim. For starters, this means establishing a need for the animal. Have an official letter from your doctor asserting your need for a service dog in your personal health records. Also keep all receipts associated with training, acquiring, and caring for your canine partner, including from the provider, pet stores, and vet’s office.
If you self-train your assistance dog, document the process with a written log and preferably video recordings to establish that your dog meets The International Association of Assistance Dog Partner’s minimum training standards and has passed a public access certification test.
Which Service Dog Expenses Are Tax Deductible?
Basically, all costs resulting from your need for and use of an assistance dog are eligible as tax deductions. For example, these would include:
- Application fees for acquiring your animal
- Equipment and registration fees for training
- Cost of the dog (which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars)
- Travel costs for getting and training with the service dog
- Continued training expenses
- Municipal registration
- Veterinary care
- Dog food
- Dog supplies (e.g., collar, harness, tags, microchip ID, attire, dog bedding, food and water bowls, toys, cage or crate, grooming and bathing products, indoor gates, yard fencing, waste disposal bags, car seat covers, pet cleaning supplies, etc.)
Average annual assistance dog care costs are $1,000 to $1,500.
Because It Bears Repeating
We’ll end this with one more reminder to consult a qualified tax professional before claiming any costs associated with your service dog as tax deductions. Again, various circumstances and regulations affect who can claim such deductions and how much they can write off as medical expenses. No single article of generalities can give reliable tax advice to all individuals; personalized advice is essential.