The Dreaded E-Collar: Why It's Your Best Bet for Wound Care

Dog wearing Elizabethan collar
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“How can I change your mind about this?” is a phrase I often find myself resorting to when owners refuse to take home the Elizabethan collar.

Known in vet circles as the “E-collar,” and among in-the-know pet people as “the cone,” the device is undeniably a menace to petdom and a source of stress for caring parents and veterinarians the world around.

Despite its evident hatefulness, vets like myself keep prescribing it. In fact, we foist it upon unsuspecting owners by trotting out their post-surgical charges with glee — as if they really do look super cute in a collar that makes them look like they could tune in to every TV channel on the planet.

But without it, a middle-of-the-night visit to the emergency hospital for self-evisceration is potentially in the cards. We need E-collars so your pets won’t try to rid themselves of unwanted stitches or lick their wounds into gaping, infected submission.

Nonetheless, veterinarians are sensitive to pet anxiety over the E-collar issue, not to mention yours. That’s why, depending on the severity of the situation, we sometimes (and only under very strict supervision by owners) let pets sport clever alternatives to the Elizabethan torture device.

The reality is, however, that nothing works as well as the dreaded cone, but here are some options that your vet may consider.

Bandages

If the wound is on an extremity, bandages are sometimes feasible. Unfortunately, bandages get licked and chewed. Plus, they present their own hazards, like ingestion, depending on the bandage material.

Unsavory Flavors

Deterrents like bitter apple have been creatively applied to bandages to keep pets’ tongues at bay, but they are no match for the most motivated pets. In other words, serious lickers and chewers need not apply.

Clothing

T-shirts and baby onesies don’t always do the trick for most pets, but cover-the-site clothing often works well as an add-on to the Elizabethan collar. This approach is especially helpful when dealing with resolute pets who find ways around the cone.

Pseudo-Cone Substitutes

I’ve tried the Bite-Not collar — a stiff plastic neck brace that's no better than an Elizabethan collar — and soft E-collars, which I only use when a pet seems to have a low drive for assailing his wounds.

Boarding

Around-the-clock vigilance by a pet professional? There’s no substitute.

Sedation

When all else fails (and I mean everything else), sedating a pet — done in tandem with professional observation — is sometimes the only way that a wound will heal. It’s sad to have to go there, but when the alternative is losing an eye ...

My ultimate advice: Don’t give your vet a hard time about the cone. After all, it’s in your pet’s best interest — and your best bet is the E-collar.


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