It’s never fun when your dog has to go in for surgery. But sometimes, the post-surgery experience can be even more grueling. That’s because you might be put under strict orders to keep your dog in an Elizabethan Collar, or E-collar (or the “Cone of Shame”, as some might say). Meanwhile, your dog is probably frustrated and confused. They don’t know why they’re being forced to wear this strange new contraption!
If it’s your dog’s first time in the E-collar, read on to learn how to make the “Cone of Shame” as comfortable as you can for them.
Purpose of the Cone
However gawky and unsophisticated you might think the cone looks, it does its job very effectively. Namely, that job is to prevent your dog from scratching, licking, or otherwise injuring surgical sites or wounds.
In other words, the cone is there to help your dog recover from surgery as quickly as possible, without any additional accidents. So really, the cone is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, it keeps your dog safe and offers the best path toward recovery. But it can also make daily life more difficult for both you and your dog.
How The Cone Affects Your Dog
What effects can you expect the cone to have on your dog? Here are some main ones:
Limited vision and hearing. If you had a cone on your head, it’d mess a bit with your vision and hearing. Likewise, it can take your dog some time to adjust to these sensory limitations.
Hunchbacking. The natural weight of the cone can cause some dogs to lower their heads while wearing them, almost like they’re hunchbacks. It’ll be harder for them to walk around, and they may start bumping into obstacles like sidewalks.
Difficulty eating, drinking and going potty. With the cone on, your dog won’t be able to burrow their heads into places they previously could. This can make it harder for them to sniff out a place to potty. In addition, eating and drinking out of bowls become more difficult.
You Have To Stay Disciplined!
Given all these impairments, it’s easy to pity our furry friends. Especially if they begin whimpering and pawing at the cone. But as a responsible dog owner, you can’t give in here. Nobody likes the cone… but it has a purpose. It’s to keep them safe, so the best course of action is always to keep the cone on as long as possible despite protest (although wait until tip #6!).
10 Tips For Making The Cone More Comfortable
Let’s jump right into our 10 tips for making the Cone of Shame more comfortable for your dog.
1. Ease Your Dog Into It, If Possible
If you know in advance your dog is going to need a cone (i.e. they have surgery in a few days), you can use this knowledge to your advantage. A dog who suddenly has to wear a cone after surgery is less likely to take it well versus another who has eased into it. This is generally true for introducing anything to your dog. Ideally, a week or two prior to your dog’s surgery, get a cone from your vet. At first, just place the cone in front of your dog and reward any curiosity. Slowly work your way towards getting the cone on your dog, and then have them wear it for longer and longer periods of time. It’s all about baby steps, as outlined in this procedure by Preventive Vet.
2. Ensure a Good Fit
An Elizabethan Collar is, after all, a collar. So fit it properly, as you would with any other collar. For a normal collar, you may have heard of the two-finger rule to determine how loose or tight the collar should be. Similar guidance exists for E-collars–you should be able to fit two fingers between the cone and your dog’s neck. The length of the E-collar matters too. Ideally, the cone should extend a little past the tip of your dog’s nose.
3. Use Positive Reinforcement (For Walking, Pottying, Eating, etc.)
Got treats? Now’s the time to carry them around with you everywhere. In your everyday routine, your dog may have trouble with simple actions such as walking, pottying, or eating. Having treats will help them positively associate these experiences, even when wearing the cone. Pottying perhaps is one of the biggest challenges. Anytime they manage to go potty, offer a nice chunk of their favorite treat. Feed it directly so that they don’t have to scramble around in the cone for it.
4. Give It Time
Often, dogs just need time. On the first day or two, you might find your dog whining a lot in protest. But after a few days, they’ll probably be back to their usual energetic selves. To speed up the process, try to be as empathetic and encouraging as you can. Having some treats out and using your “baby voice” can help communicate to your dog that life in the cone isn’t so bad after all.
5. Continue With Your Dog’s Usual Routine
This is a big one. So the cone has flipped your dog’s world inside out… fine. Let’s do our best to make that the only variable. Establishing a routine for your dog is always generally a good idea. It helps them settle in faster to a new environment. So for any routines that you’ve already established, keep them going! This means continuing to serve meals and go on walks at the same times. The fewer things that are out of sorts for your dog, the better they’ll adjust to the cone.
6. Cone-on vs. Cone-off?
I know we said to be consistent with the cone and to leave it on at all times. But maybe, just maybe… there are times when we can cheat a little. The purpose of the cone is to keep your dog from reaching their affected area while you are not supervising them. So technically, if you are able to keep a close watch on them, you should be able to take off the cone, right? Yes, but only if you’re able to stop your dog from getting at the surgical site in a moment’s notice. Literally a moment’s notice.
For example, if you’re cuddling with your dog while watching TV, you might be able to sneak in some cone-off time. On the other hand, if you’re busy with a task like chopping onions, you’re unable to tend to your dog immediately and thus the cone must be kept on. Of course, you might have a troublemaker on your hands: some dogs just aren’t suited for cone-off time. They might begin pawing and scratching as soon as the cone comes off. As a general rule: when in doubt, keep the cone on.
7. Make Adjustments In The House
Perhaps your dog likes to lie under your desk sometimes to rest. With the cone on, it can be hard for your dog to maneuver around your desk chair or other obstacles to get to her usual spots. As a result, you might want to move these things out of the way so your dog still has the option of resting there. This may apply to other areas as well. For example, if you let your dog sleep in your bed, the cone may make it hard for them to jump on and off–providing a ramp here could help.
8. Keep The Cone Clean
Dogs can get their slobber and fur all over the cone, making it dirty pretty fast. Yuck. For cleaning, simply use a damp cloth on both sides of the cone with a bit of hand soap. Scrub, rinse thoroughly, then dry with a towel before putting it back on your dog. Since your dog will be without a cone while you’re cleaning it, you might want to consider getting two cones so that you always have a clean one ready. Otherwise, continue to keep a very watchful eye on your dog as you’re cleaning.
9. Elevate Bowls With a Sturdy Bowl Stand
To help your dog with eating, consider elevating their bowls with a sturdy, non-slide bowl stand. Initially, your dog can be really clumsy with the cone. They may be hunched over to drink water from their usual bowl, but the bottom of the cone can get caught under the bowl. When they finish drinking, they raise their head and end up flipping the entire bowl over, causing a huge spill. This is an easy fix with a stand that keeps the bowl in place.
10. Look For Alternatives If All Else Fails
You may have gone through tips 1 through 9. Still, nothing is working for your dog and you’re stressed out. Most pets will get used to the cone after about 24 to 48 hours. If you’re past that and your dog is still clearly struggling, that’s okay. You may want to consider these alternatives to the traditional E-Collar:
Soft E-Collar. A soft E-collar is like the name suggests. They are usually padded with nylon to be more comfortable for your dog to rest in. One popular option is the Original Comfy Cone, which can also be folded back during eating and drinking.
Inflatable E-Collar. These kind of look like travel pillows. They’re nice in that they don’t block your dog’s vision or hearing. If you decide to get one, pay extra attention to sizing. Inflatable E-collars need to be the correct size and length to be effective in keeping your dog safe.
It’s never easy to have your dog go through a big surgery and face weeks of recovery in a cone. To anyone who’s currently going through this with your dog, I wish you all the best. I’ve been there, and I hope these tips help make the entire process more bearable for your dog.
Alexander Yu is a technical writer at AWS by day, and a freelance writer by night. He loves writing about a variety of topics, from personal finance to dog care. He lives in Seattle with Yuna, a yellow Labrador who makes sure all his clothes are always covered in fur.