Is a Therapy Dog Tax Deductible?

Headshot of Bryce Warnes
October 17, 2022
October 17, 2022
Bryce Warnes
Content Writer
Fact-Checked by Richard Huynh, Tax Attorney

Therapy dogs can make excellent private practice partners. 

The ability of therapy dogs—and animal assisted therapy (AAT), in general—to lower stress, treat symptoms of anxiety, and help clients open up during therapy is well attested. Plus, there’s nothing like a furry friend to help your office feel more like home.

Depending on your dog’s level of certification, you may be able to write off some or all of the cost of caring for them. Read on to learn about therapy dog tax deductions.

What is a therapy dog?

The terms “therapy dog,” “emotional support dog,” and “psychiatric service dog” are often used interchangeably. Which is a mistake: these three terms refer to three different classifications that directly determine tax liability.

Therapy dog training and certification

A therapy dog is specifically trained and certified to provide emotional support or relief to patients in a clinical setting.

While at work, a therapy dog may visit multiple people with multiple different conditions. They often serve to comfort patients in hospitals (including children’s hospitals), hospices, or mental health treatment facilities. 

A therapy dog is trained to be a calm, friendly companion to patients, remaining focused and obedient despite unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells, large crowds and lots of movement,  and the presence of other animals.

The training process for a therapy dog is intensive, involving multiple tests, practice visits to facilities, and supervision by certified trainers. In order to be considered a true therapy dog, they must be certified by an organization such as the Alliance of Therapy Dogs or Therapy Dogs International. After certification, they receive the American Kennel Club (AKC) Therapy Dog Title.

When they aren’t working, therapy dogs typically live as companions to their owners.

Emotional support dog training and education

An emotional support animal (ESA) receives no formal training. However, they do provide their owner with a source of comfort and may help to alleviate symptoms of psychological distress.

ESAs are recognized at the state (not the federal) level. Some states may make provisions to allow ESAs on public transit, for instance, while others do not. 

To have their dog recognized as an ESA, an owner typically needs to get a letter from their doctor or mental health practitioner attesting to the fact that the dog provides emotional support and helps alleviate symptoms.

An ESA serves just one person, the owner, rather than seeing multiple patients in a clinical setting.

Psychiatric service dog training and certification

A psychiatric service animal (PSA) is trained to serve one individual with a specific set of symptoms. 

These may include symptoms of:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism
  • OCD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Phobias
  • PTSD

PSAs are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, owners have the right to bring their service animals with them to locations that restrict access by non-service animals.

Individuals can train their own service dogs, or get help from a professional trainer. They do not need paperwork proving their animal is a service dog. However, for the sake of convenience, owners may get certification from an organization or training school attesting to the fact that their dog is a service animal.

Full training for a PSA typically takes one to two years, according to the Official US Service Animal & Support Animal Registry.

Tax deductions for your therapy dog

Deducting as a personal expense: Service vs. Emotional Support Animal

A service animal is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and costs related to keeping one are tax deductible medical expenses, so long as you can show:

  • There’s a medical necessity, and
  • The animal is certified to perform a specific service 

Unfortunately, under ADA, an emotional support animal does not qualify as a service animal, so costs related to keeping them are not tax-deductible. 

Broadly, the therapy dog expenses you are able to deduct are those related to making the dog accessible to patients, as an ordinary and necessary part of running your business.

Those may include:

  • Transportation costs to and from work locations (e.g. mental health facilities other than your office)
  • Leashes, collars, and travel crates for use on the job
  • Beds and food dishes for use in your office or at work locations

You may be able to deduct other costs, too, such as:

  • Adoption fees
  • Therapy dog training, supervision, and certification
  • Veterinary bills for vaccinations and other shots necessary for your dog to enter a training program

These items begin to cross over into an accounting gray area, however. If your therapy dog is also your personal companion or the family pet, that means you’re getting private “use” out of them. And pet-related costs you incur privately—rather than in the course of doing business—are not tax deductible.

That likely applies even to costs that overlap with the cost of keeping your therapy dog fed, groomed, and healthy so they can do their job, such as:

  • Regular vet bills (e.g. checkups, treatments, medication, etc.)
  • Pet insurance
  • Food
  • Toys
  • Grooming
  • Care products (e.g. toothbrushes, nail trimmers, etc.)

So, for now, unless a cost is incurred explicitly in the course of making your therapy dog available to patients, assume it is not tax deductible.

Before claiming any therapy dog deductions on your tax return, be sure to consult with an accountant. They can help you determine which deductions are valid and which aren’t according to your particular situation.

Interested in more ways to save on your tax bill? Learn about tax deductions for therapists.

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post.

Bryce Warnes is a West Coast writer specializing in small business finances.

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