Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.
Ah, the dreaded "cone of shame…"
Any time after surgery, we strive to send your pet home with an incision that looks as nice as possible. The plastic cone or E collar (for Elizabethan collar) was created to prevent licking. Without it, licking or chewing can cause irritation and infection, which may leave a hairless, discolored, ugly scar – for life.
Despite the stubborn urban legend that animal saliva speeds up healing, licking an incision is a sure way to slow down healing. The tongue, especially in cats, is so rough that it can destroy healing tissue and therefore delay healing. Worse: depending on the particular pet or level of discomfort, licking can lead to nibbling and chewing, especially when nobody is around to watch or distract them.
I cannot begin to count how many times pet parents ask me if their pet really has to wear an E collar. And I cannot begin to add up all the extra money owners have paid to fix open incisions at their vet or the emergency clinic. Pets have an amazing inherited skill, which allows them to chew up twenty stitches or staples in less than two seconds flat. By the time you realize it, it’s too late!
Depending on how bad the damage is, treatment may require rinsing the open area, cutting out damaged tissue and re-stitching the entire incision. For a little bit of perceived freedom from the evil cone, clients sometimes end up spending more money in anesthesia, surgery and antibiotics, and even another surgery to fix an entirely avoidable problem, not to mention the discomfort the pet goes through – and a longer recovery.
Leaving the E collar on at all times is the best way to get your pet used to it. If you feel bad for your pet and take the cone off, then put it back on when you leave, your pet may take it as a punishment and may try to destroy it. Patients can eat, drink, pee, poop, and sleep with a cone on. In fact, the stricter you are with the cone, the quicker they will get used to it. In addition, pets do not hold grudges, so they will not be mad at you for being strict with the rules.
As a surgeon, I have witnessed what seems like every conceivable complication. My conclusion is that the plastic cone is the only fool-proof way to avoid incision problems. If you cannot bear the thought of using the plastic “lamp shade", there are some other options your vet may recommend, and you can find other styles at local pet stores or online
If the incision is over the chest or belly, a T-shirt may be worn. Bitter Apple or similar product may be placed around the incision- not directly on the incision. However this does not deter some pets at all because some love the taste! Other options include a stiff collar that looks like a neck brace; giant donut collars made of foam or that you blow up; and various softer cones.
Collars are not to "shame" pets or annoy owners, they are essential for quicker and better healing of a surgical site or injury. Some might even call it a necessary evil or a cheap insurance policy. Next time your vet recommends an E collar or a similar device, please follow their advice. It truly is in your pet’s best interest.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Dog Cone vs Dog Surgical Onesie: Which Is Best?
Dogs lick their wounds every single time they have a chance to do so. It is something that comes naturally to all pets. You probably have read a few things about the benefits of licking their wounds, as it leads to quicker healing, but those aren’t true. Let me tell you at the onset that dogs should be prevented from getting in contact with their wounds after surgery. If you allow your dog to lick its wound, it could remove the stitches, re-open the wound, or cause an infection. Here, we are going to explore the classic dog cone vs dog surgical onesie as ways to prevent your dog from licking their wounds.
The traditional way of stopping a dog from licking the wounds is to force it to wear a dog cone. Teasingly called by some as the “cone of shame,” this option is proven to be useful as it completely rids the dog of access to all parts of its body, including the area of the wound.
The official name of the dog cone is “Elizabethan collar,” referencing the high collars worn by people during the Elizabethan era. While there’s no arguing the effectiveness of the “cone of shame,” most dogs feel uncomfortable with it since it is hard, stiff, and grossly uncomfortable. It is why, for the past several years pet owners have come up with a bevy of alternatives that specifically address the disadvantages of a dog cone. One notable dog cone alternative is the onesie (click this link to view the best dog onesies).
We’ll discuss the arguments for a dog cone and a dog medical onesie and figure out which product is the best option for dogs after surgery.
The 'Cone of Shame': How to Help Your Dog Feel Comfortable Wearing an Elizabethan Collar
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Memes abound of pups wearing the dreaded cone post-surgery. While it might be quite entertaining for us humans to watch our dogs try and maneuver with a lampshade on their head, it can be pretty stressful for them. Simple things like eating food or drinking water are more complicated, and their vision and hearing are different while wearing an e-collar.
Some dogs take wearing a cone in stride. For others, the increased difficulty of movement, change in hearing and vision, paired with feeling a bit "off" while medicated, can really stress them out. If you take off their cone for mealtimes, you might notice that they run the other way when you grab it to put back on or spend a lot of time trying to wiggle out of it or try to paw it off.
Stress makes it harder for your dog's body to recover after surgery or trauma, so the less stress, the better! With some simple conditioning, it will be much easier for you to put the cone on your dog any time they might need it. This might be post-op, after an injury, or if you're using an Elizabethan collar to help prevent licking or chewing due to skin issues. If you take some time to teach your dog some body awareness and how to move while wearing this giant lampshade, you'll save your furniture and knick-knacks from being knocked all over the place.
It's easy to help your dog feel more comfortable wearing a cone! If you know they have a surgery coming up soon (such as a spay or neuter), ask your veterinarian for a cone to use for desensitization a few weeks ahead of time.
Introducing Your Dog to the Cone: 6 Easy Steps
What You'll Need:
Hold the cone, or place it on the ground in front of you. Do not try and put it on your dog in any way. Reward with a treat any time your dog shows interest in the cone. Any time they sniff, touch it with their nose, or even look at it, praise and give a treat. Keep this session short and fun. Repeat as necessary until your dog shows no fear or stress when in the presence of the cone.
Now hold the cone with the wide opening facing your dog (backward as far as the dog is concerned). Praise and treat for any head movement into the cone area by your dog.
If your dog is tentative about putting their head into the cone space, that’s okay! Just go slow and reward for small increments. Repeat as necessary until your dog is comfortable with placing their head in the wide opening of the cone. You can encourage this by luring your dog. Place a treat in your hand and reach through the neck opening of the cone to entice them to follow.
Switch to presenting the cone with the small opening facing your dog (the correct way) — praise and reward for any movement they make to put their nose through the opening. You can encourage them by luring with a treat in your hand, reaching through the opening, and having them follow it through as you pull it back towards you. Repeat as necessary until your dog is comfortable placing their head through the smaller opening.
Start to add duration. Praise and reward your dog for keeping their head in the cone longer and longer. You can start to clip the collar closed, reward, and then immediately unclip.
Continue to increase the duration your dog is wearing the cone. Add in rotating the cone around their head while they’re wearing it. Reward heavily throughout. Add tapping on the cone to the routine on the inside and outside, which helps your dog get used to the different sounds they will hear while wearing the cone.
Walk around with your dog while they’re wearing the cone to help familiarize them with the environment and learn how to maneuver with it on. Encourage them to keep their head up while walking to avoid catching the cone on the carpet or floor. Help them move through doorways and around corners so they can acclimate to the different movements.
Watch this video to see these steps in action as I introduce the cone to Clover the Portuguese Water Dog:
Keep each session short and sweet, about 3 to 5 minutes long. Or you can count out a certain number of treats (20– 30) and end the session after you've used them all up. The goal is for your dog to view the Elizabethan collar as something neutral or positive — not something to be scared of or run away from. By pairing it with fun, food, and praise, you prevent the cone from becoming an additional stress on your dog during their recovery.
The stiff plastic cone collars can be tough to assemble, even if you've done it before! Watch this video for step-by-step instructions on how to put the cone together and see this article to see how Mary Berry got through her first cone experience:
Did you know that you can also help your cat get used to wearing a cone? If you have a cat, check out our article Your Cat in a Cone: Elizabethan Collar Desensitization to see how to go about it!
Why Do Dogs Wear Cones?
The cone of shame is a protective device that’s placed around your dog’s neck. It’s designed to stop your dog from scratching its head and licking its body, including wounds, surgical incisions, and other injury sites. Licking these parts is an instinctive response and should not cause any alarm. However, it keeps the wound moist and may result in possible infections. The area can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Some wounds heal faster without any form of interference. The cone is handy because it acts as a protective barrier from your dog’s tongue to their wound. It stops them from having access to their injury for healing and recovery.