Pet influencers are hotter than ever. But how do dogs tax?

by Ana Lopez

A dog-tired husky with bright pink ears rests on the marble hotel floor, snoozing before his next meet-and-greet. Around him, the atrium echoes with the sound of Louboutin’s click-clack and the chatter of businessmen over overpriced cocktails. The stone resting place isn’t as comfortable as the plush pet bed he’s used to, but the pup’s plush Louis Vuitton dog vest provides protection as he recovers from the busy routine of an elite dog influencer.

With more than 7.5 million followers on TikTok, Swaggy Wolfdog is a straight celebrity – he (or at least his team) is used to being approached by strangers, who might ask for a selfie. But as I approached the classy pup and his handler, something possessed me. All I wanted to know was how an influencer dog – or its owner – files a tax return. So I asked.

It’s a reasonable question. For a human influencer, creating content and building an audience is only half the battle. To live sustainably, creators need to know how to run their own businesses, considering questions about whether or not to get an EIN number, when to register an LLC, how to budget with a variable monthly income, and how to they have to file taxes. How much more complicated does the paperwork get when the breadwinner is also a bone winner?

“The dog has its own LLC, and everything the dog does we write off. From dog food to sometimes when we go out of town, he’s got his dog hotel and now he’s got clothes,” says Aaron Phillips, a record producer who works with Swaggy Wolfdog’s owner, a musician named Swagrman. “All his dog food, all his friends’ dog food… and human food, because he likes chicken.”

Swaggy’s situation is not like most influencer dogs. He fends off paparazzi Hollywood boulevardto throw pool parties with a horde of bikini-clad models, who have been getting scratches on their chins lately Juice Wrld and hanging backstage at a star singer music festival Camilla Cabello. But filing taxes can be daunting, even for pets who have thousands rather than millions of followers like Swaggy.

To help manage emerging pet influencers, Harvard Law School graduate Loni Edwards founded The Dog Agency in 2015.

“Before, people didn’t think of it as a business,” Edwards told businessupdates.org. But when her French bulldog Chloe became an early pet influencer, she saw an opportunity.

“We were invited to these events in New York, and when people found out I was a lawyer, they were like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got this contract, can you help me?'” Edwards said. “And so I unofficially looked at contracts with people, helped and guided them.”

Now, The Dog Agency is one of the top talent companies for pet influencers. But Edwards takes a more conservative approach to dog tax than Swaggy’s team.

Edwards points out that the rules vary by state, and it’s best to consult a tax advisor when running a small business. Still, she helps clients figure out which pet expenses can be considered a business expense.

“If you have a car and use it for work five days a week, you can write off that percentage of the time you use it for work. It’s like dog food,” Edwards explained. “If the pet is creating and influencing content half the time, then [write-off] 50%.”

The same goes for a home office. A dog may not sit at a desk typing, but the dog’s owner likely needs dedicated space to create content, edit videos, and store pet gear and supplies. According to the tax authorities, a small business owner can deduct up to $1,500 for a portion of their home used exclusively and regularly as an office. Someone commuting to an office space elsewhere doesn’t qualify, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an Instagram-famous puppy in a WeWork.

If you’re buying an item specifically for a pet business, it’s easier, Edwards said. If you’re going to dress your Golden Retriever in an “Airbud” costume for a Halloween-themed TikTok, then that dog-sized basketball jersey would count as a write-off.

Once your pet climbs the ranks at the dog and pony show, consider how to register their business. According to Colleen Wilson, the owner of talent agency Pets on Q, most pet influencers don’t need LLCs until they make more than $100,000 a year.

“On our list of over 2,000 animals, you would probably have less than 10 animals that have set up an LLC,” Wilson told businessupdates.org.

Sometimes creators set up LLCs for legal protection, but those concerns aren’t that relevant to an animal. Wilson said, “It ends up being a bit more work to set up as an LLC because the risk of them being sued as a dog is like… what are you going to do there?”

When it comes to taxes, Wilson points out that there’s a much simpler way to figure out what counts as depreciation. If you are fostering an animal through a registered nonprofit organization, all unreimbursed pet care expenses are tax deductible.

Aside from the dos and don’ts of tax deductions, the pet influencer business gets even more complicated.

“For tax purposes, we first need to find out what their valuation is,” Wilson said.

It may sound crazy to quantify a dog’s business potential, but Pets on Q has its approach down to a science. Wilson explained that pets typically have a lower return on brand campaign investment than a human influencer, so their sponsored post rates would be about a third lower.

Animal influencers are cheaper because a pet generally doesn’t make as strong a case for buying something as a human. Sure, Boobie Billie can template for Esquire and partner with Nordstrombut she can’t tell you or her dog uggs run a size too big, or as her Old navy dress is surprisingly preferable to her Gucci cardigan.

If animal influencers aren’t as successful in sales, they can make up for it through pure love. “People are less likely to hate them like a Kardashian or a celebrity who could screw up in the future,” said Wilson.

Your pet may never be in the dog house again after that punishing American women because they don’t work hard enough, but there are also disadvantages. Pets generally don’t have very long lifespans – a real tearjerker of a business liability. The loss of a beloved animal can be devastating, but that grief becomes even more complex when that pet also brings home the bacon (but not literally, because bacon can cause vomit in dogs and cats).

Edwards experienced this firsthand when her dog Chloe the Mini Frenchie died of a unexpected medical error in 2017. She has since repurposed Chloe’s Instagram to post about her new French bulldog, Emma.

Last year, beloved TikTok star Noodle the Pug passed away at the age of 14. The geriatric pup was frail in his old age, so he went viral in 2021 when his owner, comedian Jonathan Graziano, created a game called “bones or no bones.” If Noodle could stand on his own (he had bones) that would mean a good day – but if he didn’t have the strength (no bones) then maybe it was a universal sign to wear comfy pants and to stay inside.

Edwards represented Noodle, but she doesn’t think Noodle’s passing will be a financial drag for Graziano. from Graziano children’s book about Noodle is already a New York Times bestseller and another Noodle book is coming soon.

“It’s as much Jonathan as it is Noodle,” Edwards said. “So there’s longevity there, and Jonathan is preparing to nurture and bring in new senior saves, so he’s staying with the theme of the account.”

Influencing pets is a dog-eat-dog industry, but Wilson tries to keep her perspective.

“The amount of money these pets and their owners are making is kind of ridiculous,” she said. “Where I work, it’s a really interesting, interesting world.”


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