Can Your Service Dog Fetch You a Tax Refund?

Guide Dog
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Did you know that you can write off on your taxes the expenses for a guide dog or other service animal? We've got the scoop.

You may have heard that you can claim a tax deduction for your service dog, and you'd be correct! Here's what the IRS has to say:

"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." (Publication 502: Medical and Dental Expenses)

Of course, it's never that easy, is it? What about a seizure-alert dog or emotional support animals or a service dog for someone with autism? We reached out to Alison Flores, principal tax research analyst at H&R Block, for answers.

Which Dogs Qualify?

In general, you may be able to write off expenses for a service animal who is specially trained to alleviate or cure your medical condition. Guide dogs for the blind are an obvious example. So are service animals for the hearing impaired, who alert their humans when the doorbell rings or the oven timer goes off.

But here's an example of a dog who would not qualify for a deduction: the pet dog of a family with an autistic child. Even if the dog spends time with the child and seems to calm him down, the IRS would not consider this dog a deductible service animal because she isn't certified to alleviate that medical condition. The way the math works is that having a medical condition plus having a pet does not equal a deductible animal. So what is the equation missing? Training and certification. The golden rule is that you need to be able to prove a close tie between the medical condition and what the trained animal does to alleviate it.

For the most part, it's pretty clear that you can write off a service animal you acquire who comes certified to perform a certain task. But what if you already have a pet and that animal begins to detect your seizures or low blood sugar?

"If the pet just randomly starts providing a service, I'd be a little hesitant to allow you to deduct that," Flores says. "If you had a pet and it was the type of pet that was conducive to a certain training, and you sent the pet off for training, and it came back certified in whatever is useful for your specific condition, now that may work out."

Then, Flores says, you could deduct the cost of that training, and, moving forward, the cost of care for the animal. "But again, you'd have to be able to show the connection between your medical condition and the aptitude of that animal for helping you with it."

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