April 17 is just around the bend, and while doing your taxes is never exactly what we’d consider fun, the potential for animal lovers to receive a tax break or two might make you smile.
If you have ever wondered whether it was possible to claim a cat or dog as a dependent on your taxes, the answer is … well, sort of. Although the IRS doesn’t consider fur babies the same as human children, there may still be a handful of deductions you can take at tax time. Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA, and TurboTax tax expert, gave PEOPLE a few tax deduction tips for pet owners this tax season.
1. Animal shelters: Do you give donations and/or volunteer at your local non-profit animal shelter? Keep receipts and letters as you may be able to claim tax deductions for your donations and some expenses of your volunteer work if you foster pets for the organization.
2. Fostering a dog: Maybe you and your family want to open up your hearts and become a foster pet parent. If you work with a qualified 501(c)(3) organization, you may be able to deduct your expenses as a charitable contribution. That means that your veterinarian visits, pet supplies, food and other related expenses could qualify. Don’t forget to keep track of your mileage, provided the trip is for the organization.
3. Moving the family pet: If you are changing jobs and meet a couple of tests, you can deduct your moving expenses— including the cost of moving your dog, cat or other pet from your old residence to your new home. Your pet — be it a Pekingese or a python — is treated the same as your other personal effects.
4. Service animals: Another situation where you may be able to deduct expenses is if your furry friend is a service animal. To be considered a service animal, it must be trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, like a seeing eye dog.
5. Working pets: If you have a guard dog to protect your business you may be able to claim some of the costs as a business expense. Also, you may be able to deduct expenses such as training, veterinarian care and even pet food!
Greene-Lewis also gives an anecdote about a couple who owned a junkyard and was allowed to write off the cost of cat food they set out to attract wild cats. Since the feral felines did more than just eat — they also took care of snakes and rats on the property — making the place safer for customers. The case eventually reached the Tax Court, and IRS lawyers conceded that the cost was deductible.
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To stay on the safe side and be sure all your filings are legit, keep accurate and thorough records of your pet’s “working hours” in the office or out in the field. Much like other business deductions, your pet’s value is specially determined and written off as a cost over a period of time for tax purposes.