The flooring problems that pet owners face are two-fold: the damage that can occur from pets with toenails or claws, and the problems of staining from liquid or solid "accidents" that occasionally occur with just about every pet on one time or another. These combined issues can rule out some flooring materials unless you are prepared to go through frequent and thorough cleaning, as well as occasional replacement of the entire flooring. Carpeting, for example, is a difficult flooring material for homes with many pets, since stains will seep in and claws can shred the fibers. A top-end hardwood floor will almost certainly get scratched and require refinishing under the assault of active dogs.
The most pet-resistant flooring will be one that is entirely moisture and stain resistant, and very hard to resist damage from claws and toenails, but such flooring materials may not accomplish your design goals. Even better is a flooring that is anti-slip to prevent injury to your pets. If you have pets, choosing the right flooring will involve balancing design preferences, resistance to pet damage, and your tolerance for replacing or deep-cleaning the materials at regular intervals.
Beginning with the most pet-resistant floorings, here are some materials you will want to consider if you have pets, recommended by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and realtor organizations.
Poured, Sealed Concrete
Concrete flooring is sometimes considered harsh and industrial, but perceptions are changing, and concrete can be an excellent flooring for many homes, especially those with a modern decor. Concrete can be treated in a variety of ways, including polishing, texturing, staining, and chemical treatments, which can achieve a variety of visual effects that work well in modern and contemporary living room styles.
Concrete is hard, and if sealed, it is virtually impervious to pet stains. The hardness of the surface can also be softened in a living room using throw rugs and area carpets. If these pieces become damaged by your pets, they are easy enough to machine wash or replace. Radiant below surface heating systems can also eliminate the cold feeling that comes with concrete floors.
Be aware that polished concrete flooring can be slippery underfoot, and may not be the best choice if your dogs run through the house. Some dogs have been known to suffer hip injuries from sliding on slippery floors.
Ceramic flooring—both traditional ceramic tile and porcelain tile—is a great option for pet owners because the material is so durable that even the biggest dog’s paws and the sharpest cat’s claws won’t be able to damage it. If you use glazed ceramics, the material will also be impervious to stains and liquid penetration. At the same time, the glaze can be printed by the manufacturer to take on a variety of designs or patterns, giving you a wide range of decorative options for your living room. Grout lines can be stained by pets, but this can be prevented by occasional resealing of the grout.
Unglazed ceramics, such as terra cotta, are not naturally impervious to stains unless they are regularly sealed, and these floors are usually softer than glazed ceramics and can be damaged by pet claws. The best ceramic tile for homes with pets will be glazed, matt-surface tiles.
The same virtues associated with ceramic tile also come with most forms of natural stone, such as slate. Many people find stone to be more natural and appealing than ceramics. Natural stone needs to be treated with a chemical sealing agent to make it impervious to water penetration and stains, but if properly cared for, it can be a great, long-lasting flooring choice for pet owners.
Note: Avoid polished and honed materials such as marble and granite, as these can scratch beneath pet nails. Instead, opt for natural clefted products, such as slate and limestone, which have a rougher texture. Choose a multi-colored stone to help hide dirt, hair, and debris.
Luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) is an improved form of resilient vinyl that comes in plank form and is assembled with "click-lock" systems. It is thicker and more durable than a standard vinyl sheet or vinyl tile flooring and has an improved wear layer that is much more resistant to scratching. It is a very good flooring material for homes with pets. Modern luxury vinyl comes in many, many different designs and is often hard to distinguish from stone, natural wood, or ceramic flooring. This is a very affordable flooring that also reduces the "click-click" sound of pet toenails on the floor.
Natural cork is another relatively new type of flooring that can be a very good choice for pet owners. It is a good choice for homeowners who want the look of hardwood in a flooring material that is resistant to scratching and staining. It also resists the growth of bacteria and mold.
Cork is both resilient enough to absorb sound and hard enough to be somewhat resistant to scratching. It is not, however, scratch-proof, and you should still keep pet toenails well trimmed. But it is a decidedly better choice than hardwood for homes with active pets.
For best performance, cork flooring needs to be periodically sealed with a good, tough surface sealer.
Another flooring that looks remarkably similar to hardwood is bamboo, a natural material made from processed fibers of farmed bamboo. Most people are surprised to learn that most forms of bamboo are actually harder than hardwood, making it extremely scratch-resistant. However, bamboo comes in several different types, and make sure to choose a flooring with a high hardness rating, as indicated by the Janka test. Bamboo flooring that is strand-woven tends to hold up best in homes with pets.
Bamboo is also quite resistant to moisture and stains, thanks to the resins used in the manufacturing process. Pet stains wipe up very easily. If there is a drawback to bamboo, it is that claws will click audibly when your pet walks across the surface. This is not a sound-absorbent flooring.
Sheet Vinyl or Vinyl Tile
Older types of standard sheet vinyl and vinyl tile have good resistance to stains and moisture penetration, but the clear wear layer is rather thin and heavy pet traffic can scratch it over time. One advantage, though, is that standard vinyl flooring is quite inexpensive, and replacement every few years does not require a large investment. Standard vinyl is not a very elegant flooring and it is rarely a good choice for living rooms, dining rooms, or family rooms. It does nothing to improve real estate value. But it can be an excellent inexpensive flooring for areas that see moisture, or for utility areas.
Flooring Materials to Avoid with Pets
In addition to carpeting (from which stains are very hard to remove) and hardwood (which is easily scratched and stained), several other flooring materials are best avoided if you have active pets:
- Engineered wood flooring: Although it may perform somewhat better than solid hardwood, engineered wood flooring uses a surface layer of true hardwood that can be scratched. And because the surface layer is relatively thin, you can't refinish these floors the way you can with solid hardwood. Although attractive, these floors are easily damaged by pets.
- Laminate: People are sometimes drawn to plastic laminate flooring since it looks like hardwood and is thought to be stain-proof. But moisture can seep through the cracks of laminate flooring, and the surface wear layer is more susceptible to scratches than almost any other hard flooring material. This is also a very loud flooring under the "click-click" of pet toenails. Most people with active dogs come to regret installing laminate flooring. Finally, laminate can be a very slippery surface, and some pets may suffer hip injuries from sliding around on the floor. If you are attracted to laminate flooring, check out luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) instead, which has a similar look and much better performance for pet owners.