Can I claim my pet as a dependent?

Tax Tips

Pets are a lot like children. Look at their similarities: they’re cute, loving, playful, attention-craving, and they can’t wait for you to get home. They also poop, pee, whine, ignore your commands, and break stuff. (Hey, it’s not all lovey-dovey.)

Like children, pets rely upon you to support them, which can get expensive — especially if you buy your supplies at that big-box PetStore. Add to that veterinary bills, grooming, licenses, cleanup and repairs caused by pet damage, not to mention the cost of the pet itself… ouch.

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers’ Association, Americans are expected to spend more than $10.5 billion on their pets in 2008. (That’s billion with a B, as in "B-1 Bomber").

So in light of that grim statistic (at least for those who don’t own PetStore stock), it doesn’t seem that silly for tax-paying pet owners to wonder: "Am I allowed to claim my pet as a dependent on my tax return? Can I get some compensation for my contribution to the $10.5 billion? Puleeeze?"

Um, no. You’re more than welcome to try — people have — but if caught you better have plans for someone else to take care of your beloved pet(s) while you are on the sort of "vacation" made famous by Al Capone.

Although the IRS doesn’t specifically spell it out, it is tacitly implied that dependents — at least for taxation purposes — must be human.

Now before you argue that your dog thinks he’s human or that your parakeet acts more like a human than your 2-year-old (I believe you! I believe you!), hear me out.

The rationale behind this "must-be-an-actual-human" requirement is that children of the species Homo sapiens have the potential to grow into adult taxpaying Homo sapiens, whereas dogs, cats, birds, gerbils, fish, rocks, etc., do not. It’s as though the IRS is sowing the seeds — or at least providing the fertilizer — for growing the next crop of taxpayers.

Here’s another way to look at it. Pets do not pay taxes, so why should the government provide tax incentives to the owners of these adorable freeloaders? Ahhhh, now do you see? Makes sense, huh?

Next week, I’ll tell you how to distinguish between human dependents and animal dependents.