You just went to the animal hospital and picked up fluffy or fido after his medical procedure or surgery. Along with instructions for care and medications to go home, you are introduced to and expected to use a simple but extremely important protective device. This device will prevent your furry family member from licking, biting, kicking, scratching, or rubbing the area of your body that is injured, sore, or has surgical sutures or staples on it. it is intended to protect the animal from harming itself.
yes folks, we’re discussing the dreaded “Elizabethan collar” named for the silly high collars worn in the Elizabethan era (think Shakespeare). also more commonly known as an “electronic collar” (not to be confused with an electric shock collar), or ‘cone’, ‘donkey cap’, ‘cone of shame’, ‘satellite dish’, ‘lampshade’ , ‘party hat’…etc. it is simply meant to be placed around the animal’s neck, encircling the head and creating a protective barrier between the head and the mouth of the rest of the body. this barrier prevents them from biting or licking your lesion, wound, incision site, etc., or to protect head injuries, including eyes and ears, from being hit by the animal. scratch or rub them. They come in many varieties, from clear plastic to shaded plastic, from soft plastic cloth materials to soft or more rigid plastics. some can be custom adjusted with Velcro straps, while others have pre-cut sizes that fit together.
A cone will fit snugly around the neck, loose enough to fit a finger or two between the collar and neck, but tight enough that the animal cannot remove it. hard edges should not put pressure on the neck. the cone should extend slightly past the tip of the animal’s nose, depending on the area of the body it is protecting. For example, wounds near the tips of the tail or feet may require a larger cone. As long as the animal can access these areas with its mouth more easily. With wounds or head injuries, the cone is designed to protect the face, eyes and ears from being scratched or handled, or from rubbing against surfaces such as the floor, sofa, walls, etc. and therefore could be a bit shorter.
It’s not a punishment or torture device, despite what cats or dogs would like you to think. An electronic cone or collar is an extremely important protective device. animals may object to it, sometimes strongly or obsessively, at first. they may use passive measures such as bowing their heads as if embarrassed or walking around the house banging their now gigantic heads against furniture, walls, or, my personal favorite, the backs of their legs. many will pretend they can’t eat or drink with the cone on. others will be more dramatic and furiously try to remove the e-collar with their front and/or hind paws. some will roll around like crazy, acrobatically jump and contort their bodies in an attempt to dislodge the infamous cone. be strong, this is mere theatrics. fido or fluffy is trying to make you feel sorry for them or feel guilty for being a keeper of the cone.
The time for “tough love” is now. The cone should remain in place until the site is fully healed and/or the sutures are removed. most sutures and staples are left in for 10 to 14 days. other injuries may take less or longer to fully heal. a good rule of thumb is to leave it on until your vet appointment, at which time you will be told if the cone can come off or should stay on.
Many animals, especially cats, will pretend they can’t access their food, but be aware that they refuse access to their food and water bowls with the cones on in protest. the bowls can, if the protest is serious, be supported by other items, such as a box or books, or another bowl upside down to facilitate access. the bowl can also be placed and held by the owner’s hand inside the cone to allow the animal to eat or drink. for very stubborn cases, the cone can be temporarily removed while the animal is eating, but only under direct supervision. Direct supervision means that the animal is in full view of the owner, and the owner can immediately stop any unwanted licking, biting, rubbing, or scratching. as soon as the animal is finished eating, or the owner is not under direct supervision, the cone should be replaced immediately and safely.
houdinis: Some animals are very good at escaping from the cone. in these cases, the more secure attachment of the e-collar may be necessary. this can include tying the cone to the animal’s normal collar or harness or even creating some type of harness out of a gauze bandage etc. this may have been done in the hospital before discharge. As always, feel free to call your friendly neighborhood RVTs at NTVH for suggestions.
Unfortunately, not everyone will leave the cone on, for whatever reason. some animals can cause or prolong the infection. others may rip sutures and need another trip to the vet and may even require another anesthetic to repair them. some will dislodge surgical implants or damage casts and splints. many times this leads to an injury or infection that is much worse than the original injury. many animals have injured themselves quite severely, painfully, and sadly, even fatally. I have personally seen the aftermath of a dog and cat that were eviscerated after routine sterilization surgeries, simply because they were not wearing a cone. the dog survived after further emergency surgery including removal of a damaged spleen. the ramifications of the incident will be lifelong for her. the cat was not so lucky and the poor girl was put down. both would have been perfectly fine after their sterilization if the cone had simply been on. another horror story is about a pug after eye surgery who scratched his eyeball and then proceeded to eat it.
yes folks, these stories are extreme examples and are meant to scare you, just for the sake of your furry family member. what makes these stories all the more regrettable is the simple fact that they could have been prevented by using a simple device known as the cone. Sounds pretty simple, right? and if you feel mean and guilty about making them use the cone now, just think how you will feel when something bad or fatal happens. It really is an easy decision:
please keep the cone on!
p.s. On the plus side: Once upon a time, a good friend of mine, Rosie, a yellow lab, hated her pussy, until she quickly learned that Caprice, the bossy feline of hers, her housemate, couldn’t slap her when she she had the cone on. in fact, I saw the expression of understanding on her face when she discovered this. After years of living under the tyranny of the cat, it was time for revenge. let me tell you guys, i never saw that cat get so much exercise… but that’s another story for another day. the main relevance here is that the function of the cone is protection.
until next time friends
written by ap, rvt