Cone of shame. Lampshade. Satellite. Whatever you want to call them, e-collars (Elizabethan collars) are a useful tool that the veterinary world can use for a myriad of reasons. But are they really necessary?
"My dog or cat runs into walls, has trouble eating/drinking, and won't go to the bathroom with one on," are all things we hear from clients regarding e-collars, and we completely understand these concerns. However, please understand that e-collars are just as important as something like a medication to help your pet heal. This article will tell you how helpful they really are (when used correctly), and will discuss proper fit and wear, the different types available, and some tips and tricks to make things easier for you and your pet.
First of all, please know that AHNA always wants to choose or recommend what is best for your pet. So if your veterinarian says your dog or cat needs one, they are just looking out for your pet's (and your!) best interest. And AHNA staff will always try and work with you to do the least restrictive thing to protect a sensitive area. Sometimes, this just may be a t-shirt to keep a dog from getting at an incision; other times, your cat may need a hard plastic cone to protect an eye injury. In each case, AHNA will consider the area in question, the temperament of the animal, the wishes of the client, and other variables before making a recommendation.
So why are e-collars and other such things so important? Mainly, to keep your pet from licking, biting, and scratching a certain area. It's natural-if something is irritating us, as humans, we scratch or adjust something. If a medical professional tells us to leave something alone, we generally will have the self-control to not scratch or pick at something, knowing that we could impede healing or cause an infection or even make things worse. But animals lack this self-control, and thus we have to make choices to protect a given area, be it a hot-spot that we want to heal, an eye we want to protect, or, most commonly, a surgical incision that we want to keep un-infected and together.
There are also times, though rare, that a staff member can use a hard plastic collar instead of a muzzle for certain situations. This can keep a staff member safe while also minimizing stress on an animal, if he/she is unaccustomed to a muzzle.
A properly sized e-collar extends beyond your pet's nose, but not too far so that the animal cannot eat and drink. Some people will cut the plastic ones with scissors to make it easier for their pet. DO NOT do this.
If the e-collar is too short, it will not be effective to protect an area. This is less important if we want to keep an animal from scratching the face, but still applies.
If your pet is having trouble eating or drinking, you can try using a shallow bowl or even a plate for food. Do not use a drinking fountain or automatic feeder during this time. A cat may need a shallow litter box. As a last resort, the collar can be removed for eating/drinking if and only if you are constantly with your pet and not distracted by anything. It just takes SECONDS for a pet to lick an incision and remove sutures/staples, or to make a hot-spot even bigger.
It is also okay to take one off a dog if he/she will not go to the bathroom with one on, provided that your dog is on a non-retractable leash. You cannot take the e-collar off and then just let your dog out to roam around in a fenced yard.
If the e-collar comes off for any reason, you must have complete control of your pet, and you must have active eyes on them at all times.
Regarding fit, as stated that it must be large enough to extend beyond the nose. You should be able to place it over the animal's head (sometimes you have to squish the ears a little), and then tie it to an actual collar so your pet cannot remove it. You also should be able to slip two fingers under the e-collar to ensure that it is snug, but not too tight.
(Example of a properly fitted e-collar to prevent licking.)
The above applies to hard plastic collars. Soft e-collar can be effective even if they are inverted, which often happens, especially if a pet has to wear one for an extended period of time. The goal is to keep an animal off an area, and soft ones that are "backwards " (they kind of make an animal look like flower) usually achieve this goal.
A con to this type of collar is that it can narrow an animal's field of vision. However, even with that con, these are definitely more tolerated by dogs and cats. Again, proper fit matters. Like a plastic one, these should be large enough to extend beyond the nose, and you should be able to slip two fingers under at the neck to ensure that it's not too tight. These either have a toggle cord or a cloth tie to adjust the fit. The larger the dog, the larger the collar, which can make it a little more difficult to fit the giant breeds.
There are two more styles on the market: the donut style and the comfy cone. A donut style is just like it sounds: it is an inflatable ring that goes around an animal's neck and looks like a donut, hence the name. Though they may seem better for pet, they are the least restrictive tool a veterinarian has. They are effective in some situations, but not all, so AHNA doesn't use or sell them. Most local pet stores and online stores carry these.
Many larger dogs and families prefer these type of collars (if acceptable for protection) due to the size of the collar needed compared to the cone type of collars.
Another type is called a Comfy Cone. The Comfy Cone is a soft, cone-shaped e-collar made with foam-backed, padded nylon that is easy to clean and is water-resistant and repellent. The tight gauge of the nylon even prevents cats from getting their claws into the material!
The Comfy Cone uses Velcro for tight closures, making it easy to get the cone on and off animals quickly. And the cone can be reversed inside and out, as well as front to back to support shoulder and upper back injuries.
Similar to the Comfy Cone is Fear Free Recommended KVP Calmer Collar. This soft, cone shaped collar has a patented EasyFeed™ opening which allows animals to eat and drink with the collar on. The collar's soft blue inner lining also has a calming effect. Multi-color Velcro® strips allow for easy adjustable sizing.
Calmer provides full body coverage and is machine washable for continued use. The Calmer features calming pocket for use with Tranquil-ease gel patch (sold separately).
All the above cone types of collars may cause limited vision.
No matter what type your veterinarian uses or recommends, here are some things to remember:
- Your pet may bump into walls, door jambs, etc. and may even rub against a wall to get it off or back up when you put it on. These are very common reactions, and most animals will adjust. Do not take it off. Remember that it just takes seconds for damage to be done. If your pet is struggling to adjust to it, please call AHNA for guidance.
- You may have to make adjustments for eating/drinking. Remember to not use a water fountain or automatic feeder.
- The same goes for the bathroom. Cats may need a shallow litter box or you may need to take it off your dog when you take him/her out on a (non-retractable) leash.
- Your pet may not be able to clean themselves, and may need help with hygiene. Try using baby wipes. Do not bathe your pet. The incision or area in question needs to stay dry.
- If they have never worn an e-collar, be prepared to help your pet get used to it. You may have to help them through doorways until they get used to wearing it. Keep them on a leash and help them go up and down the stairs until they are comfortable doing it themselves.
- When taking your pet outside, keep them on a leash,. Do not let your cat outside without a leash while wearing an e-collar. They should not be allowed to free roam with an e-collar on due to the increased chance of getting stuck on something.
- Help your pet get accustomed to the collar before they have to wear it. By using positive training and introduction to the e-collar during a non-stressful time, many cats and dogs do not have as much stress wearing one as if you just put it on during illness or recovery. If your pet needs a surgery (including spay and neutering), use positive training for the e-collar before the surgery. This will be an aid for a fast and better recovery with less stress to your pet and your family.