August 2010 Issue
Comfortable Dog Cone Alternatives
Alternatives to classic Elizabethan collars are more comfortable and just as effective for your dog.
My mother once phoned me to tell me that one of our family dogs, an oversized German Shepherd, had required surgery for an embedded foxtail in one of his back paws. She told me that the vet sent her home with a gigantic plastic disc that she understood was to be put on the dog, to prevent him from licking or chewing his bandage or paw. Giggling, my mother told me, “Your father put it together . . . but how do I put it on the dog? I mean, is he supposed to look like a tulip or a prince?”
I could understand her confusion. The dog was so leggy that he actually could wear the Elizabethan collar either way; wearing a conventional “cone” like a “prince” would render dogs with shorter legs immobile. In contrast, most dogs have to wear these protective cones the way in which they were designed to be worn – like a dejected, bumbling tulip. Most dogs are miserable while wearing a classic, veterinary-supplied cone. Lacking peripheral visibility, they crash into furniture and doorways. With the wide, flaring cone, they get stuck in tight spots in the house.
Every dog owner should be aware that, today, there are a number of alternatives to the classic Elizabethan collars to prevent a dog from licking a wound, aggravating a hot spot, tearing out his surgical stitches, or removing a bandage. The alternatives offer a dog greater comfort, better mobility, and improved visibility.
Cons of classic cones
Are the classic plastic cones really all that bad? It depends on which dog you ask. Some dogs seem to accept the weight of the heavy plastic, the restricted visibility imposed by the opaque material, the need for increased clearances around the house, and even being gouged by the thick plastic tabs that are supposed to be belted by the dog’s collar at the base of the cone.
But many dogs seem to suffer more from the cones than from whatever necessitated their use! I’ve known many dogs who wouldn’t eat or drink with a cone on. I’ve seen some dogs who, after bashing into doorways and furniture, became extremely reluctant to move – or even lift their bodies or heads from the floor – as long as the cone was on.
Very recently, this very thing happened to a friend’s Shetland Sheepdog, Rickey, who had to undergo a long and complicated surgery. His surgeon removed a large (but fortunately benign) tumor that had surrounded the poor little dog’s esophagus, stomach, and other areas in his abdominal cavity, leaving a surgical scar almost the entire length of Rickey’s tummy. After a day or two of recovery in the hospital, the veterinarian sent Rickey home with a classic, heavy, opaque cone to keep him from fussing at his stitches.
Rickey’s family was delighted to have him home. But the usually spunky Sheltie seemed depressed, deflated by difficulties with his Elizabethan collar.
And so his owner called me; we had communicated about Rickey all through his long illness, diagnosis, and even the surgery. “He may be in pain from the operation,” she told me. “But honestly, I think he’s far more upset about the cone!” She asked me if I knew of anything she could do to keep Rickey from bothering his stitches . . . but without making him as miserable as he was with the cone.
If you and your dog were ever in a similar position, and you called your vet for advice, you were probably told that being quiet was good for the dog, and that it was just as well that the cone reduced his activity. There is a certain value to the advice; you certainly don’t want a post-surgical dog to race around the house. But what if he won’t even eat or drink, or fails to walk around enough to eliminate urine and feces as frequently as he should?
I knew there were alternatives to the classic cones – and that all of them are more comfortable for dogs. I also knew that WDJ hadn’t reviewed those alternatives for quite some time. So I made a list of other products designed for the same purpose as classic cones, and told my friend to buy every one that fit Rickey and give them all a try. WDJ would repay her – and take them off her hands when she was done. You know, in exchange for a little product feedback?
Glad to have something to do to help Rickey, my friend’s husband raced all over the Bay Area, picking up products in a variety of pet supply stores. The good news: While Rickey was unable to lick or chew at his sutures while wearing any of the products, he was happier (and hungrier) in every single alternative product than he was when wearing the classic veterinary-supplied cone. His legendary appetite quickly returned, as did his spunk and spark (and bark!).
Not long after Rickey had his stitches removed, he modeled all the products for my camera. I can attest that the dreaded white classic cone literally depressed the underweight (but gaining!) Sheltie. In contrast, he appeared considerably brighter with the alternatives.
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