11 Tips For A Pet-Friendly Deck

Keep your pets safe and comfortable on your deck with these easy pet-friendly deck ideas

One of the first things we do when getting a pet is setting up our indoor spaces to accommodate them. But what about your deck? Is your outdoor space as comfortable for your pets as your indoor living space is?

We love designing decks to suit the people - and animals - who will use them. Check out these helpful tips for tailoring your outdoor space to your pets. Implementing a few of these tips will make your space more friendly - and the joy on your pet's face will make it the most worthwhile house project you've done in a long time!

A cute, small dog enjoys a light gray deck with cable railing and a gorgeous view of the ocean

How To Plan A Pet-Friendly Deck

#1: Install A Locking Gate

A Trex composite deck railing with a gorgeous metal gate attached

Gates give your pet clear boundaries, protecting them from wandering down the stairs or tearing off on an adorable quest to destroy your flowerbeds. Make your deck a safe, enclosed play space for your pet with a handy swinging gate that locks.

Fortunately, there are a wide range of gate styles to choose from, so you can find an easy-to-install option to match your specific railing look. And you won't believe how much easier you'll find it to relax on your deck without having to worry for your pet's safety or chase them down when they run off.

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#2: Save Floor Space For Play & Lounging

A dog lounges comfortably on a TimberTech PVC deck

The floor plan of your deck immediately tells your guests what's most important in the space - and that goes for four-legged friends, too! Make sure to plan your deck's layout, furniture, and footpaths with your pet in mind.

Create dedicated spaces for your pet to both lounge and play. An overcrowded deck will feel stifling for a dog who wants to run around and explore the sights and sounds of the outdoors, so leave some open space for your pet to run and play.

You may also want to make space for a pet bed. We recommend a simple pad, rather than a plusher dog or cat bed with folds and wrinkles that stinging insects could hide in. Of course, pets can often claim your human seating for themselves - like the dogs below - so make sure you have enough seats for you, your pets, and your human guests to share!

A beautiful wood railing next to a classic pergola with dogs enjoying the space

#3: Avoid Toxic Wood Treatments

Some wood deck cleaners, stains, and treatments can have toxic elements. Typically, this isn't a huge concern - your dog would have to ingest a lot of treated wood to be in danger. But's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to pets, so we recommend checking that any deck cleaner or stain you use is non-toxic - and of course keeping pups away while you're treating the deck.

Even better, you can avoid the toxicity altogether with composite or PVC decking. There are a few key benefits to using these low-maintenance decking options when it comes to pets:

  • Safety: composite and PVC decking doesn't need staining or pressure-treating, avoiding any toxicity concerns
  • No splinters: your pet's soft paws are vulnerable to cracking, splintering wood. Composite and PVC deck boards don't crack, split, or splinter - they're always smooth and comfortable under your pets' bare feet
  • Scratch-resistant capping:early-generation composites got a reputation for being soft and easy to scratch. But manufacturers have responded by capping modern composite boards with thick plastic shells that are designed to resist scratching. Pressure-treated wood has no such capping against sharp dog claws
A deck surface alternating two different colors of deck boards at random for a uniquely appealing look
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#4: Choose Light-Colored Decking

A dog smiles happily in the sun on an oceanside deck

Your dog doesn't wear shoes or sandals. (We assume. If they do, that sounds adorable and please send us photos.) So walking on a hot deck surface with bare feet can cause your pet real pain.

While composite decking has sometimes gotten a reputation for getting hot in the sun, the truth is that any material - wood, composite, PVC, aluminum - will heat up in direct sunlight. The most important factors that determine how hot your boards get are (1) the color of your decking, (2) how much direct sunlight they're getting, and (3) the ambient temperature around your deck.

That's why we recommend choosing a light color for your deck boards - light gray, soft brown, or an almost-white look You can learn more about keeping your deck cool in the sun with our guide on how to plan a barefoot-friendly deck.

For inspiration, here are some of our favorite light-colored composite and PVC deck boards:

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#5: Create Shade

A stylish LINX pergola creating a lovely outdoor sitting area

On a nice, sunny day, we humans can get hot sitting out on our deck. Imagine doing it with a fur coat on! Adding a shaded area to your deck space is a win for both you and your dog, cat, or other furry pet.

Overhanging trees can provide shade, but also drop leaves, acorns, and debris onto your deck. Adding a shade structure like a pergola is the best way to keep your deck cool, shaded, and comfortable for you and your pets.

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#6: Make Sure Railing Is Up To Code

A good, strong deck railing is essential to keeping your pets safe. If you've got an older deck, it's a good idea to check your railing yearly to make sure it's still holding strong with no rotting or loose elements.

If anything is loose or wobbly, see if you can tighten up any loose bolts or screws. If the railing parts themselves are rotting or breaking down, you may have to replace the railing with a sturdy new one.

A dog sits by a sturdy metal deck railing, enjoying the safety and security of a code-compliant deck

Read more about repairing a loose deck railing: DIY: How To Fix A Loose Outdoor Railing

Building codes generally require that no opening in your railing be large enough for a 4-inch sphere to pass through. That's especially important when it comes to smaller pets like little dogs or cats. Making sure none of your rails, balusters, or cable runs can flex more than 4 inches apart will keep your smallest deck guests safe and secure.

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#7: Include Food & Water Stations

Keep your pets happy and comfy by setting up food and water stations. Water is especially important on hot summer days. There are even some dog bowls that attach directly to your deck railing like the one below.

A dog bowl attached to a metal deck railing with a unique deck railing attachment

This is also one more good reason to use composite or PVC decking on your deck surface. If a water bowl spills, any standing water can cause mold, mildew, or water damage to form on wood decking. Composite decking resists water damage and PVC decking is completely impervious to any water damage, giving you one less thing to worry about.

#8: Use Capped Deck Boards

Pets' claws can scrape and scratch up wood decks, or peel the paint off a painted wood deck. So choose composite or PVC deck boards, which are created with a thick, protective capping around the outside of each board for a look that lasts:

A look at a composite deck board made of wood-plastic composite capped by a tough layer of synthetic plastic
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#9: Stick To Pet-Friendly Plants & Flowers

You can't always keep your pets from eating at your plants, shrubs, or flowers. And because some plants can make animals sick, it's important to make sure you have only pet-safe options on and around your deck space.

Here are some good pet-safe plants and some plants to avoid, according to BetterPet:

Pet-safe plants:

  • Lilacs
  • Magnolia bushes
  • Marigolds
  • Rosemary
  • Sunflowers
  • Snapdragons

Plants to avoid if you have pets:

  • Tulips
  • Rhododendron (Azaleas)
  • Hyacinth
  • Geraniums
  • Lily of the Valley (or most other lilies)
  • Sago palms

#10: Create A Dedicated Digging Area

Pets need entertainment, both indoors and outdoors. To keep pets from damaging your deck, furniture, or plants, give them a fun alternative to play with. For dogs, in particular, a sandbox or dedicated digging area can provide hours of safe, healthy outdoor fun.

You could construct a physical sandbox out of wood or composite deck boards. Or you could add one extra section to your garden that you'll leave open for your dog to dig in. Once you've trained your dog as to where he should and shouldn't dig, you'll keep your dog happy and entertained, and your flowers safe and healthy.

#11: Use Outdoor Lighting For Safety

A lighted screen porch with fascia lighting to illuminate a dog's path along the house

Lighting up your deck adds usable hours to your space - both for you and your pets. Adding lighting to your deck can be especially helpful for dogs, giving them a bright, well-lit path out to the yard for late-night or early-morning bathroom breaks.

Check out the porch above - you can clearly see how the dog has followed the path of recessed fascia lights again and again. Lighting up the space helps your dog feel safe, and helps them avoid any tripping hazards or unexpected stairs.

A dog enjoys a brightly lit deck at night
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Share Your Photos! #PetsOnDecks

A dog and owner enjoy the sweeping view from a gorgeous pet-friendly deck

If you've got a deck you love to enjoy and a pet you love to enjoy it with, we want to share your joy! Snap a photo on your deck, porch, or patio and tag @decksdirect on social media.

You can check out the hashtag #PetsOnDecks to see all the photos of people and pets enjoying their outdoor spaces. Because who doesn't need more cute dog pictures in their life?

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