What You Should Know If Your Dog Needs to Wear a Cone
It's inevitable. Your dog will likely need to wear an Elizabethan collar—also called the E-collar or the "dog cone of shame"—at some point in her life. As funny as they look, dog cones serve an important purpose, especially when your pup is healing from an injury. Here's what you need to know about these kooky but critical health accessories.
Why Dogs Need to Wear Cones
"We put cones on animals to prevent them from chewing or scratching at an incision or a spot on them that we are trying to get to heal," says Sara Ochoa, DVM, at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, Texas. "Cones are important to keep your pet from causing any problems with their skin or surgical site. Some pets will easily make things much worse for them and even remove stitches from a surgical site causing major complications."
The cone acts as a physical barrier to prevent them from licking or tearing at their wounds. Besides surgery, Ochoa says if the dog is scratching or itching excessively at a specific spot, she'll put a cone on the dog to prevent that.
Cone sizes vary based on the size and face shape of the dog. "You want it to extend out 3–4 inches beyond the tip of their nose," Ochoa says. "Pugs could actually have one that's smaller than a dog that's even their same size just because their faces are so small. And then you get a Doberman with a really, really long nose. They have to have one that's even longer than a lab needs."
How to Prep for Cone Wearing
You can pick up a dog cone at your vet's office before the surgery and let your dog adjust to it. Ochoa says it will take about two to three days for the dog to adjust to wearing one. When your dog is wearing it, give them treats to create a positive association. And take your time.
"Be patient with them," Ochoa says. "They get there. But it takes a while."
Ochoa also suggest prepping your space for a cone-wearing canine. Even the most well behaved dog could wreak havoc at home wearing a cone. "I've had dogs break lamps," Ochoa says. Before your dog arrives home, make sure you don't have valuables or fragile items that could be hit by the cone.
How Long Dogs Should Wear the Cone
A cone should stay on for about a week while your dog is healing. "Usually about seven to 10 days is all you need," Ochoa says. The cone needs to stay on the entire time the dog is healing, especially if you won't be around to watch her.
You can consider taking the cone off during walks, or try using a longer leash until the dog becomes spatially aware of what's around them while wearing the cone.
Before you stop using a cone, check in with your veterinarian that it's ok to do so. "Make sure everything's healed," Ochoa says.
Note: The cone is on long enough that you'll need to do a little care and cleaning of it. Use soap and water on a rag to periodically wipe it down to avoid funky smells.
How to Put the Cone Back On
If you do take the cone off for walks, you'll need to know how to get it back on her when you're done. Here are Ochoa's steps to put a dog cone on securely:
- Untie the strings holding it together.
- Put the cone over the head like you would if you were putting on a shirt.
- Check that your dogs' ears are inside the cone.
- When you tighten the cone, you want to make sure two to three fingers can fit between the rim and your dog's neck. The cone should be tight enough to stay on without causing the dog discomfort.
Alternatives to the Plastic Dog Cone
"If your dog has anxiety or is jumpy or doesn't do well with people rubbing their face, it's probably best to look at those alternatives, and ask your vet if they have any options," Ochoa says.
Ochoa has seen dogs repeatedly run into walls and tables in an effort to break their cones and ultimately escape them. If your dog doesn't like the feel of a plastic cone, here are some dog cone alternatives:
Inflatable collars resemble neck pillows and are a softer option than the traditional cone. As the name suggests, you inflate them. Many animal health pros like the inflatable collars because they are a bit more comfortable for the dog and less destructive—no accidentally hitting a lamp on en end table.
"The bigger the dog, the more I recommend that one because the big dogs are going to tear up the plastic cones," Ochoa says. Smaller dogs with smaller cones are less likely to unintentionally cause damage to the home.
Neck collars are similar to the cervical neck braces a human might get. They're smaller and softer than a traditional cone and just wrap around the neck. "I've seen a few people use those, and they work really well," Ochoa says.
Soft collars are usually made out of fabric and are, as the name suggests, softer than a dog cone. One of the biggest disadvantages of soft collars is that your dog can't see through them, making it difficult for the dog to walk around with these on.
Surgical Recovery Suit
The surgical recovery suit is a large piece of fabric that covers the majority of the dog's body and can be a good option if your dog can't stand to have anything on her neck. Plus, they come in an array of colors and sizes so you can order a cute one for your pup.
To make a homemade recovery suit, try using an old t-shirt. Cut the shirt in half, then cut out four holes for your dog's legs. Create ties on either side of the shirt so you can put it on your dog and then tie it closed. You can use any shirt that will cover the wound and prevent your dog from licking at it.
You can make your own dog cone, too. Ochoa says she had one pet parent use a pool noodle to create a neck collar, while others have created homemade cones out of t-shirts and socks.