Elizabethan Collars in Dogs

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 dog from scratching or pawing at their face or head.

Why does my dog need to wear an Elizabethan collar?

The collar's primary purpose is to prevent your dog from directly traumatizing a surgical site or injured area of the body. It is natural for dogs to lick their wounds, but this can seriously delay healing and result in infection or injury. It is important that a protective collar is used, especially when the dog is unattended and could inadvertently injure himself.

My dog appears very upset when he is wearing the collar. He bangs into objects and this frightens him. Can I do anything?

Many dogs initially resent wearing a protective collar. They bang into objects and get frightened or upset. However, most dogs get used to the collar after a few hours.

You can ease the transition by keeping your dog in a confined space where there are no movable objects such as stools, chairs, and tables that would move if knocked. Remove anything small that could get knocked off tables or shelves by the cone. It is important to supervise your dog 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.

The collar restricts vision from the sides and behind and initially causes difficulty for many dogs when they must walk in tight or narrow spaces. It is important to assist them as much as possible.

How long does my dog 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 dogs 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 dog once it’s removed. However, in some situations, as advised by your veterinarian, you may remove your dog'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 dog's neck. This will ensure that the collar does not restrict your dog'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 dog go outdoors wearing the collar?

This is not recommended due to the increased risk of injury to your dog. Your dog is at greater risk of becoming entangled in plants or bushes that could result in injury and distress. Most dogs tolerate a collar quite well if given controlled exercise on a leash.

Will eating and drinking be a problem for my dog?

Your dog can eat and drink normally with a properly sized and fitted E-collar. If your dog normally eats or drinks from a deep bowl but refuses to eat with the collar on, try offering food in a shallow dish or plate. If you feel you must remove the protective collar, make sure your dog is supervised while eating, and replace it as soon as the meal is finished. Elevating the food or water will help some dogs eat while wearing the protective collar.

What else is important for me to know?

It is important that both sides of the collar are kept clean. If it is difficult to clean the collar while your dog is wearing it, you may remove and clean it with a damp cloth, but make sure your dog is fully supervised so that he does not injure himself. If the E-collar is causing irritation around the neck, you may need to adjust it or use a different size.

My dog really hates the cone; are there alternatives?

While most dogs become accustomed in a short period of time, there is the occasional dog that will not tolerate it. Some dogs 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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