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.