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6 tax breaks for pet owners

Despite the death of a 2009 bill to make pet expenses tax deductible, there are instances when owners can save money on their tax bills.

By MSN Money producer Jan 16, 2014 8:22PM

By Paul Sisolak,

Pets play an important role in our lives. We feed them, clean them, play with them and spend some of the best times of our lives with them. We provide them with all the same medical care and comforts afforded to any one of our family members. After all, our dogs, cats and other diminutive friends are no different than people, really; they're our family, so shouldn't it seem obvious that Fido and Rex get the same tax return breaks as their human brethren?

Dog in purse © CorbisAnimal lovers have long lobbied for a formalized, nationwide pet tax deduction policy -- something to compensate for what we spend annually at the groomer, the veterinarian or the pet store.


Thousands or millions of dollars? Think again. According to The Huffington Post, Americans spend some $45 billion a year on pet care.


In 2009, a Michigan senator introduced a bill that would give pet owners up to $3,500 a year in tax refunds for "qualified pet care" costs. It was an ambitious, heavily inclusive piece of lawmaking that would've saved pet owners a chunk of money. Unfortunately, the HAPPY Act (short for Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years) didn't pass muster on Capitol Hill, despite a decent showing of public support.


In spite of the HAPPY Act's demise, there are some examples of tax-deductible pet care for our four-legged friends. 

Pricey pets 

Like raising children, taking care of pets can be an expensive proposition that leaves our search to save money on pet care a full-time job. Between food, checkups, health insurance and toys, it can become a true labor of love when considering what we pay each year.


Like any other household or utility bill, the costs of owning a pet adds up per animal. Courtesy of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: 

  • Small dog: $1,314
  • Medium dog: $1,580
  • Large dog: $1,843
  • Cat: $1,035
  • Rabbit: $1,055
  • Guinea Pig: $705
  • Small mammal: $340
  • Small bird: $270
  • Fish: $235

Since no national law exists on the books, none of these expenses are deductible. And the IRS won't budge if you try to claim your dog or cat come tax season -- no matter how human your bond is.

Animal owners should listen up -- your pets don't have to be left in the tax doghouse. There are a few caveats and exceptions to the rules that might qualify you for some tax relief this season.


Your family of ferrets or school of goldfish might not be tax exempt, but if you're dead set on getting a tax refund this year, look into some of the options below. Some might sound outside the realm of the animal kingdom -- your dog or cat as a business write-off? -- but qualify, nonetheless. And it's easier than getting a set of paw prints to sign that W-2.


No. 1: Moving the family pets 

No pet is an island -- at least to the tax man. Pets are property like any other household belonging, and can be taxed as such if you're relocating, since moving costs are sometimes deductible. It might sound strange to lump Rover and Checkers in with your ottoman, sofa and dining room set, but when they're tax exempt, who's complaining? 

No. 2: Pet food 

Is your dog or cat master of its own domain, keeping your property free of pests and unwanted vermin? Then their food comes tax-free.


Kiplinger wrote about the story of a couple who was allowed to write off the cost of cat food used to attract feral felines on their junkyard property. The wild cats reciprocated by hunting snakes and rats on the premises, making the junkyard safer for customers. Though the peculiar case went to tax court, IRS officials agreed in the end that the nomadic ninja cats could eat tax-free. 

No. 3: Guard dogs 

"BEWARE OF DOG." He's tax exempt, with exceptions. Fifi the poodle with a badge won't fly with the IRS. Entrepreneur Magazine says that the best tax-exempt guard dogs are the ones who look and play the part -- pit bulls or German shepherds are naturally intimidating canines with a penchant for making good watchdogs, and thus, can qualify for the tax-free club.


Your dog must also be actually guarding something, like a gated home or valuable property. In this case, it's the dog's services, not the dog itself, being deducted. 

No. 4: Animal adoption fees 

It's generally believed that donations made to nonprofits such as churches and other charities are tax deductible. This is true, to an extent. Fees paid, or donations made, to animal shelters are not deductible -- rescue organizations need initial funding to pay for operational costs like feeding the animals in their care.


Added donations, however, are technically tax-free. If you're interested in adopting a pet in need of a loving home, this is a good way to welcome a new family member and make a tax deductible gift in one. 

No. 5: Service animals

Seeing-eye dogs and others with special training are tax exempt as per the IRS. This doesn't mean that training your dog to fetch snacks for you while you veg out on the couch means living tax-free. By law, service dogs are licensed by their owners with special documentation and neck tags from a doctor. 

No. 6: Leader of the pack 

Being a professional dog is hard work that deserves a tax break. If your pet also works in show business -- think pageant presenters or agility trainers -- they might be tax deductible. Experts emphasize that if your dog is a well-trained Lassie, it must be documented, business-related and a reasonable expense.


Remember, the 2014 IRS tax deadline is Tuesday, April 15, so there's plenty of time to configure your pets into your filing schedule. You might find your relationship is full of love, and free of taxes.

The sad end to the HAPPY Act 

Republican Sen.Thaddeus McCotter introduced H.R. 3501 in July 2009. McCotter had hoped that the bill, which he reportedly titled after the Rolling Stones song "Happy," would allow people the tax write-off on their annual pet expenses they'd always wanted, but never seen.


HAPPY picked up a lot of traction in the second half of 2009, according to Forbes, garnering endorsements from most every active animal welfare group: The Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Animal Law Coalition, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.


An online petition also circulated and surpassed the 30,000-signature mark in favor of the legislation.


Some animal rights activists had also said at the time that the bill was more than just a tax break. The monetary refund, they noted, would help keep animals in the home, and reduce pet abandonment, for families hit hard in the recession who couldn't afford the mounting costs to care for their pets.


HR 3501 languished in the House Committee on Ways and Means and never passed, leaving pet owners around the United States without an extra $3,500 to pocket after the April tax season.


Editors of the MyPet Health Guide speculated that the HAPPY Act failed because it gave our domesticated animal kin almost too much financial leverage, too many financial breaks that we homo sapiens get. Plus, the timing was bad; The Huffington Post alluded that proposing benefits for animals wasn't a priority during the peaks of the health insurance and economic crises.


"Nothing," said MyPet Health Guide, "raises an accountant's hackles more than seeing 'four dependents' listed on the tax return of a single man with a dog, two fish, and a ferret."

More from


Jan 17, 2014 3:09PM
At one time I felt that people should be allowed to have tax breaks on one pet per year.  But then I think about all the scum who already breed children just for the tax breaks.  That's bad enough and I'd hate to see animals thrown into that situation as well.  If you can't afford them, don't have them.
Jan 17, 2014 6:20PM
Instead of a tax break, I'd rather see a place on the tax return to donate $2.00 to a nationwide spay/neuter program instead of to the political party of my choice!
Jan 17, 2014 6:40PM
Spay and neuter: politicians, welfare recipients, and illegals.......
Jan 17, 2014 5:55PM
What we need is a flat tax. no exemptions above a set level. There would be no tax incentive to have too many of pets, children, whatever, no incentive for abuses.
Jan 17, 2014 2:41PM
Well, sadly, American Indian 3, pets get sick, injured, etc, and have to be treated.  Vets need to get paid, just like human doctors.  I agree that the expense is high (just spent over $4000 on my dog's leg injury over the past year), but I am thankful for the kind, caring vets who have saved my animals over the years. I know some are better than others, and they make mistakes like human care doctors. Sometimes nothing else can be done, unfortunately.

There is pet insurance, and I may check into that the next time I get a new pup.  But having vet bills and other expenses should be considered before committing to a pet. I don't expect the government to give me a tax break, but it would be nice if they could do it for seniors and lower income families so they could keep their beloved pets.
Jan 17, 2014 7:27PM

How about a tax deduction for the millions of illegal aliens that I am supporting with my tax money??

Obama and Dick Durbin think more of these  folks than they do of the working tax paying middle class

 folk that are paying the freight for these criminals !!

Jan 17, 2014 5:35PM

Your animals, and mine, are entertainment and therapy, love, etc. So is my TV, laptop, cell

phone.  We choose to make that committment.  My Dish costs me over $2500 a years,

cell phone $1000,  ISP to the moon.  I have to come outta pocket for these frills, just like

my animals.  Why should the general public pay for my entrapments.

Pay your taxes. I SURELY FREEKING DO.            



Jan 17, 2014 3:31PM
It's this type of legislative bullsh*t that is the reason we're deep a$$ in debt and can't get out.  Congressmen writing dumb-a$$ bills like this.  Pets are an option and you either have the money to pay to take care of them or you don;t, just liike children.  If you can't afford them, don't have them.
Jan 17, 2014 2:54PM
I recently paid over $4000 for ACL surgery on my rescue dog. Unfortunately, this issue was not diagnosed prior to my adopting him. I do not expect tax breaks for pet care. However, I have learned the hard way that Pet Insurance is the way to go. Especially if you are getting a breed that is known to have genetic issues. They do not cover pre-existing conditions so it is important to sign up as soon as you get your animal. If I had done that, the cost of this one operation would have paid the pet insurance for about 10 years.
Just because someone successfully managed to write off their pet food doesn't mean everyone can. The IRS will take you to court even if it's for a matter they previously lost on.
Jan 17, 2014 4:38PM
It's a nice idea for those people who do not have children as we are sick of being taxed for those of you who do have children, but on the other hand, the tax breaks for pets idea is too open to abuse.  I don't want to hear about people deducting $100,000 for cancer treatments for their dog or $20,000  a year for hand-made dog food.  Tax breaks should be for middle income people who can afford to take good care of a pet and need a tax break, not for poor people to get bigger tax refunds when they didn't pay anything in all year or for rich people who pay ridiculous amounts of money )and which a tax write off will continue to encourage)  . There are enough neglected pit bulls in the world without encouraging people to go out and get another puppy that they don't even take for a walk just so they can write it off.  Poor people should get on their feet and be able to take care of their own children before being encouraged to get more pets the taxpayers will be supporting.  I can't think of a proposal with a good intention that would end in so much fraud and misery.
Jan 17, 2014 6:31PM
if you need tax breaks for your pets, then you probably shouldn't have them in the 1st place.
Jan 17, 2014 7:03PM
Let me get this straight.  Some nimble bozo wants to give me a deduction for the companion animal I maintain for my own convenience while I am stripped of the crummy $250 deduction for uncompensated teacher supplies that I exceed many times over?  I have to exceed it because my students come to school with no paper, no pencil no nothing except $200 a copy sneakers and a $600.00 cell phone with a $100/month texting habit.  

Put all 45 centuries of recorded human history in a hat and I can pull a better one than this at random.
Jan 17, 2014 2:34AM
last year started with my beagle mix getting stones surgically removed from her bladder. The emergency vet and the regular vet bills added up to approx 2500.00 Thankfully she survived and is doing well. Ten days following her surgery my twelve year old boxer slipped on the ice, torn her tendon, went to emergency vet on a thursday they did nothing for the dog except schedule another appt for the next week. The vet the next week diagnosed cancer from a x-ray suggested cutting her leg and thigh off which i declined. after 30 days of suffering, three vets, multiple medications, finally after approx 1900.00 gone and no relief for the dog i had her euthanized. When the beagle mix dies i will have no more animals the vets have become like people doctors costly and useless ninety percent of the time.
Jan 17, 2014 5:38PM

The problem with allowing tax deductions for pets is that whatever isn't paid into the government in taxes by one source has to be paid for by another or compensated by fewer services, and do we as a society want to pay for other people's pets? As it is, we don't have enough of a social safety net to take care of seniors properly.

I'd just as soon see people get a tax deduction for one child, neutrality for a second and a tax penalty for a third, unless the additional children are adopted.

Jan 17, 2014 6:57PM
Health insurance for pets and humans should be included in Obama-care, most of us will be treated like a dog when all the good doctors quit practicing and we have to buy our meds and get treatment from the local veterinarian clinic.  Will happen sooner than you think.
Jan 17, 2014 6:19PM
I would be better off throwing my money out the window then giving it to good old Uncle Sam.Then I might could get some of it back.LOL
Jan 17, 2014 6:00PM
just a different way of getting more of my money
Jan 25, 2014 7:33AM
Where are the tax breaks for the single, straight person?
Jan 17, 2014 7:27PM
I can comprehend a one time refund for 'spay or neuter' on the animal--or a portion of the adoption fee from an animal shelter if the pet is already spayed or neutered.  Other than that---pet insurance is the way to go if you can't afford the yearly vaccinations and wellness checks and what-ever else might happen during the year.  But, yes, I would vote for the ONE time  deal on any pet, mine or my neighbors. 
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