Dog Behavior Problems: Elizabethan Collars

By Ellen Lindell, VMD, DACVB; Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM

What is a surgical collar, and when is it used?

Sometimes it is necessary to use a special type of collar to prevent your dog from licking a healing wound or incision. Surgical collars are often called “cones” and they are available in soft fabric as well as hard plastic.

Many dogs tolerate soft collars better than firmer plastic ones, but some dogs can maneuver around the soft material and harm themselves by licking or removing sutures. Your surgeon may strongly encourage you to use a plastic cone after your dog’s surgical procedure.

To provide full protection from licking, the edge of the cone must extend slightly beyond the tip of your dog’s muzzle. Thus, when the animal turns its head, it is unable to touch any area of its body with its mouth. The cone can also prevent your dog from scratching his head or ears.

Are there any alternatives to Elizabethan collars?

Whether you can use an alternative to an Elizabethan collar depends partly on what part of your dog’s body needs to be protected. For example, a neck brace prevents the dog from fully turning their head, thus reducing the ability to lick. Another option is to use a tee shirt or a commercially available surgical recovery suit.

Are there any special precautions I need to follow when using an Elizabethan collar?

It is important to check the collar daily to be sure that there is no skin irritation. The cone needs to be loose enough to be comfortable, but not so loose that it easily slides off.

"It can help to distract your dog with treats."

Whether you use a cone, neck guard, or recovery suit, the protective gear should fit comfortably. Still, some dogs need help adjusting to wearing anything other than their familiar collar. It can help to distract your dog with treats. Lickable treats work very well, particularly when you are using a cone, because you can bring the food directly to your dog’s face. There is no need for your dog to try to bend or turn their head.

Also consider that even clear cones reduce the dog’s field of vision, and the shape of the cone can amplify noises while reducing your dog’s ability to locate the source of the noise. This means that your dog can startle easily. Be sure to talk to him quietly to announce your approach.

It is important to make sure that your dog can easily reach into his water bowl. It is not normally necessary to take the collar off while your pet eats or drinks. However, you may wish to raise the bowl or set it on a platform to allow him to reach it more easily.

If your surgeon feels it is safe, you may be able to remove the collar for leash walks. Never allow your dog to go outdoors unsupervised while wearing an Elizabethan collar. It is important to supervise your dog very carefully whenever he is wearing his protective gear.

Some dogs are adept at removing any device and can quickly damage the area being protected. Also, a dog could be injured if he were to trip while going downstairs, or if his cone were to get wedged into a tight space.

If your dog is not adjusting easily to the cone, talk with your veterinarian. Medication can be prescribed to reduce anxiety so that your dog can be safe and calm.

Related Articles