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The Cone of Shame: Elizabethan Collars and Your Pet

Posted December 11, 2013 in Dog Surgery A-Z

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

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com, and follow him at www.facebook.com/DrZeltzman.