[Updated October 4, 2017]
ALTERNATIVES TO THE DOG “CONE”: OVERVIEW
1. Shop for a cone-alternative before your dog’s surgery, when he’s still feeling well.
2. Have your dog “try on” several different products. Have him wear them around the store for as much time as you can afford, to see how he deals with each product’s challenges.
3. When choosing a product, take your dog’s anatomy and size into account.
4. If your dog may have to wear one of these products for an extended period of time, consider buying a couple or three, so you can find the one that works best for him.
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.
Dog Cone Alternatives
Rickey seemed to be most comfortable wearing a product that his owners guessed he’d hate; so much for being able to tell what might work best while in the store. You really should take your dog to the store and try various models on him.
The doughnut-shaped ProCollar, distributed by G&B Marketing, of Vista, California, features an inflatable core with a durable cover. (The cover feels like vinyl – not our favorite material – but doesn’t have the distinctive “stink” of vinyl. The package doesn’t say what the material is.) A Velcro strap secures the outer perimeter of the collar; the dog’s collar is run through loops on the inside ring of the product. (One must have a collar that can be unsnapped or unbuckled; collars that slip over the dog’s head won’t work with this design.)
The ProCollar is available in five sizes (X Small to X Large). That sounds like plenty, maybe, except that 25-pound Rickey required the “large” size. Truly large dogs would not be able to use this product.
Rickey was easily able to navigate his home while wearing the ProCollar. He seemed to understand his limitations and cope with them without getting upset. Unlike his peeved response to crashing into the furniture with the stiff vet-supplied cone, Rickey barely seemed to notice when the cushioned ProCollar knocked into something. He also seemed to appreciate that when he lay down, the cushion provided him with a little pillow. Seriously! His owner thought he missed sleeping with his chin on something after his need for the ProCollar was past.
We were able to find the ProCollar in a number of chain pet supply stores (Petco and Petsmart) and catalogs, from $15 to $25, depending on size.
Jorgensen Laboratories, Inc., of Loveland, Colorado, offers the Soft-E-collar. It’s another cushioned collar, but this product is shaped more like a life-saving ring than a doughnut: wider and flatter. The outer material appears to be a nylon blend. A flap of material on the inner perimeter of the product is tightened by tying a cord (which runs through some grommets on the material flap) to secure the collar on the dog’s neck (see photo below).
The width (and perhaps weight) of this product made navigation a bit more difficult for Rickey; lying down was also more difficult in this collar. A larger dog may not find it as difficult as Rickey did.
The Soft-E-Collar comes in nine sizes (yay!), from XX Small (0 to 5 pounds) to XX Large (95 pounds and up). (Rickey wore a Medium, for dogs 30 to 55 pounds.) We found this product in an independent pet supply store; we also found it offered in many pet supply catalogs. As but one example: we found it for $19 to $49 (depending on its size) from BellasPainRelief.com. (By the way; this site is a great source for products for disabled dogs of all types.)
Here’s a product with a very different design. The BiteNot collar, distributed by Bite Not Products, Inc., of San Francisco, California, resembles a neck brace for humans – the kind people have to wear after they get whiplash. The interior surface is a thinly padded foam rubber material; the outer surface is a stiff plastic shell. Velcro fasteners – and a nylon strap that wraps around the dog’s shoulders and under his armpits – hold the product very securely in place.
The BiteNot collar is available in seven sizes. In this case, the required size is determined by the length of the dog’s neck, from the back of his ears to the top of his shoulder. (It’s meant to prevent him from bending his neck enough to lick himself.) The smallest size is 3.5 inches wide; the largest is 8 inches wide.
This would be my top choice for a dog who had succeeded in removing all other products; as long as the dog has a discernible neck, it fits really securely. What if the dog is one of the (nearly) neckless breeds, like a Pug? Probably not the best pick. This worked fine on Rickey (although fastening the Velcro with all his ruff hair was a challenge), but dogs with extraordinarily long necks or wounds on their front feet might not benefit at all from the collar.
This product ranges in price from about $20 (smallest size) to $45 (largest) and is sold at several online retailers.
The final two products that Rickey tried most resemble the classic cone; each offers improvements to the concept, however.
As suggested by its name, The Comfy Cone is a cone, but instead of being stiff and unyielding, it’s cushioned and bendable. The inner material seems to be foam rubber; the outer material is a tough nylon. Numerous strips of Velcro fasteners and a ring of elastic “belt loops” (meant to be laced through by the dog’s collar) hold the cone in place.
As also suggested by its name, the product was perfectly comfortable for Rickey. He seemed unperturbed when the cushioned collar crashed into things – and it did crash, since it affords its wearer with just as little visibility as a classic cone.
The Comfy Cone is available in five sizes, from Extra Small to Extra Large. Rickey wore a Large, which was probably larger than necessary; there is a lot of overlap built in (as you can see in the photo, left), so the sizing need not be precise in order for the product to be secure.
All that is good news. The bad news? While Rickey, like most post-surgical patients, was easily deterred from licking his sutures be this product, a very determined dog (such as one who suffers from chronic hot spots), could probably turn his head with enough force to bend the walls of the cone and reach parts of his body.
We found The Comfy Cone in many online and brick-and-mortar stores, from about $10 for the Extra Small to $30 for the Extra Large.
Distributed by All Four Paws, Los Angeles, California. See allfourpaws.com for a list of retailers, or call (866) 454-7768.
This product is another plastic cone. So what makes it an alternative? First, the plastic it’s made of is transparent; the dog can see through it! Brilliant! This one tiny thing makes a huge difference to the dog. It’s also much lighter in weight than the vet-supplied conventional cones, though not so light that its protective rigidity is compromised. And finally, both its inner and outer edges are lined with a material that feels like vinyl. This means no stiff edges cut into the dog’s neck, and when the dog does bump into something solid, the impact is a bit blunted.
The Kong EZ Collar is distributed by the Kong Company, of Golden, Colorado, and is available in five sizes, from Small to XXL. Rickey’s owner bought the Extra Large, which was also larger than required and has a lot of size overlap built in.)
We found the Kong E-Collar in numerous online and independent pet supply stores. For example, Pet Street Mall carries them for $8 to 16; petstreetmall.com or (800) 957-5753.
Note: Cardinal Pet Care makes a very similar, transparent, light-weight cone for a very similar price. These can be found in chain stores like Petco.