Elizabethan Collars in Cats

By Courtney Barnes, BSc, DVM; Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

What is an Elizabethan collar?

An Elizabethan collar (also known as an E-collar or the “cone of shame”) is a plastic or fabric cone placed around the head to prevent an animal from licking or chewing at a surgery site, wound, or dressing.. It also helps keep a cat from scratching or pawing at their face or head.

Why does my cat need to wear an Elizabethan collar?

The collar's primary purpose is to prevent your cat from directly traumatizing a surgical site or injured area of the body. It is natural for cats to lick their wounds, but this can seriously delay healing and result in infection or injury.

Although many cats initially resent wearing a protective collar and often vigorously try to remove it, most cats quickly become accustomed to it. It is important to supervise your cat during the first few hours to make sure they don’t injure themselves trying to remove it, such as by getting a paw stuck in the collar.

How long does my cat need to wear this collar?

The collar must be worn until the wound has fully healed. Depending on the nature of the injury, it may be as short as a few days, or as long as a few weeks. To minimize the time that the collar must be worn, it is important to follow the instructions you receive from your veterinarian. Some cats have chronic or recurring skin issues that necessitate long-term use of the collar.

Can I take the E-collar off?

In general, it’s not advisable to take off the collar, since it can be challenging to properly replace and reposition on the cat once it’s removed. However, in some situations, as advised by your veterinarian, you may remove your cat's collar for periods when you are able to offer close supervision. When replacing the E-collar, always ensure that you can fit two fingers comfortably between the collar and the cat's neck. This will ensure that the collar does not restrict your cat's ability to breathe or swallow.

If you are unable to replace the collar properly, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Is it safe to let my cat go outdoors wearing the collar?

No. E-collars restrict a cat’s field of vision and can prevent your cat from seeing potential dangers. It is also easy for the collar to get caught in plants or bushes and may restrict the cat's ability to walk in tight spaces or jump up or down. It is recommended that a cat wearing an E-collar be kept indoors unless on a leash or under direct supervision.

What special care does my cat need when wearing an E-collar?

Your cat can eat and drink normally with a properly fitted E-collar. It may be cumbersome and messy at first but most cats quickly adapt. You may need to elevate or change the shape of the food and water bowls to make it easier for your cat to eat and drink. Some cats find it easier to eat from a plate or saucer rather than a bowl, while others will initially refuse to eat while wearing the E-collar.

"Your cat can eat and drink normally with a properly fitted E-collar."

The E-collar should be kept clean and free of debris. It is important to check that the collar at least once a day to ensure it  is not causing irritation or abrasions on your cat's neck; if so, you may need to adjust it or use a different size.

Your cat will be unable to groom itself while wearing an E-collar, so it is important for you to brush or groom your cat regularly, especially if she has long hair.

What else is important for me to know?

Many cats will inadvertently knock over objects or accidentally get stuck in confined spaces until they become accustomed to the collar. Check your home for areas where your pet could become trapped and, if possible, eliminate these areas or restrict your cat's access to them. Some pets become more nervous or easily startled while wearing the E-collar, since their peripheral vision is obstructed, and they are unable to see things to the sides and above themselves normally.

My cat really hates the cone; are there alternatives?

While most cats become accustomed in a short period of time, there is the occasional cat that will not tolerate it. Some cats will benefit from a few days of a sedative medication to help them adjust to wearing a cone. Options other than the traditional plastic cones include soft fabric cones, donut-shaped collars, or recovery suits (“onesies”). Ask your veterinarian what alternatives may be recommended.

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