It is large, cumbersome, creates bruises on the backs of your legs, and is affectionately known as the “cone of shame”. Despite its ungainliness, the Elizabethan collar is a vital part of your pet’s recovery after major surgery. Although owners may sometimes find the cones distressing, remember that the majority of pets tolerate these very well.
The classic E-collar (short for Elizabethan collar) is a firm clear plastic collar in the shape of a lampshade that is attached around the neck to prevent a pet from accessing an incision or wound. An E-collar may be threaded through a pet’s normal collar or it may be fastened on with a separate tie. The tie should be tight enough that it will not slip off, but you should be able to fit at least two fingers between the tie and the neck. Some patients excel at removing their collars, but there are various styles of collars available to help prevent your dog or cat from bothering his incision. Some are inflatable, and others are made of a soft material.
Why is the Elizabethan collar important?
Contrary to popular myth, saliva is not beneficial for wounds. It can introduce infection, which inhibits healing or creates abscesses. A surgical incision should remain clean and dry to prevent infection and for proper healing. If pets remove their sutures too early, wounds can break down and fail to heal in a timely manner. The consequences of a pet’s ministrations can be severe, requiring additional surgical procedures to repair damage. For example, if your pet chews at her abdominal incision, she may remove all the sutures and chew through the body wall. This can cause the internal organs to fall through.
Not all surgeries require the use of an Elizabethan collar, depending on the pet, but there are some procedures for which E-collars are especially critical. These include orthopedic surgeries, in which hardware has been placed on the bone. In these cases, infection of the bone can necessitate removal of the plate. E-collars are also useful for ophthalmic surgeries, in which even a single paw swipe of the eye can cause serious damage. Some pets will chew any incision, and these pets should wear E-collars at all times while they heal. For incisions that are on the torso, T-shirts can sometimes work well to protect the incision.
How will my pet eat and sleep wearing her cone?
After a short adjustment period, most pets handle their E-collars very well. Pets can usually eat, drink, and sleep with no trouble while wearing their cones. To facilitate eating for your pet, make sure the bowl is smaller than the diameter of the collar. You may need to raise the dish if the collar is bumping against the floor as your pet reaches for the food bowl. Some pets may need assistance at first in navigating stairs. Be wary if you decide to remove an E-collar even for a short period of time. It takes only a few minutes for a pet to completely destroy an incision!
So make sure you keep that E-collar on as directed by your veterinarian until those sutures are out (usually 10-14 days) to prevent painful and costly complications.