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If your pet has ever been injured or had surgery, they may have been sent home wearing an Elizabethan collar, also known as an e-collar, recovery collar, or affectionately, the cone of shame. An Elizabethan collar is a plastic cone placed around an animal's head to prevent them from licking or biting a wound. Unfortunately, some pets find Elizabethan collars uncomfortable, and there has been much debate about whether they're truly necessary.
Let's discuss Elizabethan collars for dogs and cats and their pros and cons.
What Is An Elizabethan Collar?
An Elizabethan collar is a plastic cone placed around a pet's neck to prevent them from causing infection or further injury to a wound.1 There are several types of cones and alternatives, and the sizes vary based on the size of the pet since the goal is for the cone to extend beyond the nose to prevent licking and chewing a wound.
Elizabethan collars for dogs and cats are typically worn for a week or more, depending on how long it takes for them to heal. Since cones prevent pets from hurting themselves, they're especially beneficial when pet parents can't be around to watch their pets and prevent them from licking or biting themselves.
There are several types of Elizabethan collars for cats and dogs, including:
- Lampshade: The lampshade e-collar is the most common type, and they're made from a flexible plastic that fits around the pet's neck to prevent them from licking their wounds. Dogs and cats seem to dislike this type of e-collar the most because it's the less flexible option available, and it may block their sight because it must extend beyond the nose.
- Flexible/soft: Flexible or soft e-collars are made from more flexible materials and have a thin layer of padding to provide pets with additional comfort. They're more comfortable for dogs and cats but not as effective as the more rigid designs because of their flexibility.
- Inflatable: Inflatable e-collars, often known as donuts, have an inflatable, circular design covered in soft material. Unlike other types of e-collars, they're not cone-shaped, so they won't block a pet's sight and only prevent them from being able to turn their heads to lick themselves. But, of course, because they don't extend beyond the nose, it's possible for a dog or cat to still lick their wounds, depending on the location.
What Are Elizabethan Collars Used For?
Pets, especially dogs, lick their wounds because it's soothing and their way of cleaning it. Unfortunately, when a pet licks its wounds, it can prevent proper healing and cause infection or further injury. Vets use e-collars to stop this behavior and prevent dogs and cats from licking their wounds to prevent them from injuring themselves.1 A few instances where an Elizabethan collar might be necessary for pets include:
- Recovering from wounds: Dogs and cats with a surgical wound or injury will receive an e-collar to prevent them from licking the wound, which can prevent proper healing or cause infection. For example, vets often recommend cones after spaying and neutering or after removing a tumor.
- Excessive licking behavior: Dogs and cats can excessively lick or chew themselves, causing open wounds. If there is no underlying cause of the behavior, they may do this when they're anxious or have another type of behavioral problem. While you're treating the underlying issue, your vet may recommend an Elizabethan collar to prevent your pet from causing further harm to their skin.
- Allergies/skin issues: Parasites like ringworm and skin allergies that cause itching can force dogs and cats to scratch themselves and create wounds. If your dog or cat is scratching themselves, you must determine the cause and treat skin issues to reduce pain and discomfort. However, an e-collar can help them heal any wounds they've created while your vet treats the underlying issue.
- Scratching of the face/head: Dogs with ear infections may scratch their ears and worsen their infection or cause further pain. Of course, there are several medications available that can reduce itchy ears almost immediately. Still, some dogs may continue to scratch themselves, so vets may recommend an Elizabethan collar to prevent your dog from injuring themselves. While ear infections in cats are less common, a vet may give your cat an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from worsening their infections or accidentally removing any of the medication by scratching at themselves.
Pros & Cons
If your pet has ever used an Elizabethan collar, you may have noticed they either tolerate it or try to rub it against the furniture to get it off. Unfortunately, while e-collars may not be the most comfortable thing your pet has worn around their neck, they are necessary. Cats with Elizabethan collars may be less tolerant than dogs because they're not used to wearing anything other than a collar around the home. Dogs and cats may experience the same type of discomfort as e-collars can make it difficult to fall asleep, play with their favorite toys, and enjoy their regular daily activities. Let's discuss a few pros and cons of e-collars.
Elizabethan collars are important tools for vets, and not wearing e-collars can cause pets to chew their stitches, delay healing, and even cause infections that may result in the need for surgery.1 Therefore, they effectively prevent more dangerous situations, even though they may be slightly uncomfortable for pets. Ultimately, because a dog may open their wounds or cause infection by licking, Elizabethan collars can save lives by preventing injuries.
E-collars are lightweight and sturdy to prevent pets from harming themselves while ensuring they can do their regular daily activities like going on walks, napping, eating, and drinking water. They're also affordable for pet parents and easy to clean. The classic lampshade e-collar is the most effective because it provides full coverage to prevent the licking, chewing, or scratching of wounds.
Elizabethan collars can cause anxiety in pets because they're uncomfortable and block their peripheral vision (depending on the type of e-collar used). They can also cause ulcerated skin if the plastic digs into their necks when the pet tries to take them off, or they can cause dangerous situations.2 For example, a dog might try to walk into their crate while their pet parent isn't monitoring them and get stuck because of their collar. In addition, dogs and cats can easily bump into things and knock them over because they don't have full visibility.
Still, most pets get used to their e-collars after a few hours of wearing them, but pet parents should keep them safe by either monitoring them or keeping them in a safe space where they can't walk into anything.
Many pet parents also think their pet's e-collar will prevent them from eating or drinking. However, a properly fitted collar should never prevent a dog or cat from reaching their food or water bowls. Still, depending on the type of bowls you use, you may have to use a plate to give them easier access.
Can my pet sleep with an Elizabethan collar on?
Yes, most pets can position themselves to sleep with an Elizabethan collar on. Both dogs and cats with Elizabethan collars shouldn't have difficulty sleeping. However, if your pet seems to have difficulty, you can discuss alternatives with your vet to ensure your pet can get the sleep they need to properly heal. Pets will eventually get used to their cones, and it usually takes a few hours in most cases for them to become comfortable wearing them. In addition, the more you make them wear the e-collar, the faster they'll get used to it and find comfortable positions.
It's important not to take the cone off when your pet is sleeping because you can't monitor them at all times, so they may wake up and start licking their wounds. Therefore, letting your dog or cat sleep in their Elizabethan collar will help them become more accustomed to it to prevent any discomfort or anxiety they may feel when wearing it.
Is there an alternative to Elizabethan collars?
There are many alternatives to Elizabethan collars and many variations on the classic cone. Of course, many vets will tell you the original plastic lampshade cone is best because it offers full coverage to prevent your dog or cat from licking their wounds. Alternatives to traditional Elizabethan collars include:
- Inflatable e-collars: Inflatable e-collars are a good option for many pets because they prevent them from moving their head to reach their wounds. However, even though this option allows your dog to see more than the traditional e-collar, they're not as effective and don't offer full coverage. Therefore if your dog's wound is easily accessible, an inflatable collar might not prevent them from licking or biting their wounds. Still, inflatable collars could be a good choice for your pet if you want to prevent them from knocking into things that could be dangerous.
- Neck collars: Neck collars work similarly to inflatable collars. Instead of going around the dog's entire head, they only go around the neck to restrict movement, so they won't block your pet's vision and are less likely to cause distress. Depending on the type of material they're made from, some are more effective than others because they're stiffer. However, these collars can prevent your dog or cat from being able to eat or drink easily because they keep the neck in an upright position.
- Cloth cones: Cloth cones use the same cone or lampshade shape as traditional Elizabethan collars for cats and dogs. However, they're made of soft, collapsible materials. They're more comfortable for pets, but they may collapse too easily, making it easier for your pet to lick their wounds if not supervised.3
- Recovery suits: Recovery suits are completely different from cones; they consist of a soft fabric that covers most of the dog's body. They don't restrict movement or block a pet's peripheral vision but can cover up wounds to prevent licking. Unfortunately, they don't cover the legs or face, so if your dog has a wound, they shouldn't lick or scratch in those areas, recovery suits won't work.
Before changing your dog's Elizabethan collar to an alternative, discuss different options with your vet. In some cases, there may be a reason why your vet gave your cat or a dog a traditional Elizabethan collar. However, depending on the type of e-collar you choose, your vet might send you home with instructions and recommend that you monitor your pet since all alternatives are less effective than a traditional e-collar.
How do you stop a dog or cat from licking a wound without a cone?
If your vet recommends a cone, your pet should use one to prevent licking a wound and causing infection. If you cannot monitor your pet at all hours of the day, it's always best to listen to your vet's advice. However, if you're concerned about using a cone, you can discuss potential alternatives with your vet, such as using a recovery suit, anti-lick spray, or dressing the wound differently.
Are inflatable collars better than cones?
Inflatable collars aren't necessarily better than cones, but they can make pets feel more comfortable and be a good solution for pets who don't tolerate cones. Unfortunately, they're not as effective because cats and dogs who are flexible and determined may still be able to lick their wounds. However, they can be effective for some pets. Always talk to your vet if you'd rather use an inflatable e-collar instead of a cone to ensure it's a good idea for your pet.
Elizabethan collars are a useful tool to prevent dogs and cats from causing further injury to themselves when recovering. Unfortunately, many pets may find themselves uncomfortable or experience stress while wearing them. Talk to a Dutch vet if you're concerned about your pet's behavior while wearing an e-collar. We can help you find the right alternative to keep your pet comfortable while preventing them from injuring themselves or causing infection.
"The Importance of E-Collars." MSPCA, 14 Sept. 2017, https://www.mspca.org/angell_services/the-importance-of-e-collars/.
Shenoda, Yustina, et al. "'The Cone of Shame': Welfare Implications of Elizabethan Collar Use on Dogs and Cats as Reported by Their Owners." Animals : an Open Access Journal from MDPI, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 20 Feb. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7070745/.
"Alternatives to the Cone of Shame." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/alternatives-cone-shame.