Surgery for dogs is never easy, and the challenges don’t stop once your dog is home with you. Keeping a dog cone on your dog is important for many procedures, but why are they important, and how long do they have to stay on?
A cone helps prevent dogs from licking, scratching, or biting a surgical site until it completely heals. Although cones can sometimes affect a dog’s ability to eat, sleep and play, with a few adjustments, you’ll be able to help your dog through the healing process.
Following surgery for pets, it’s common for owners to struggle with the ‘cone of shame’, including how to put it on (and keep it on!). We often get questions on how to help your dog eat, sleep and play with the cone on.
In this article, we discuss a range of ways you can help keep your furry friends comfortable, happy, and healthy during the entire recovery period. Continue reading to learn more.
Why Do Dogs Need Cones After Surgery?
Cones, also known as an “Elizabethan Collar” or “Buster Collar”, stop a dog from biting or licking the surgical site after an operation. It also stops them from scratching their face while a wound is healing.
The veterinarian prescribes cones after the dog has undergone a surgical procedure to allow the surgical site to heal properly. This is important for large incisions that become itchy as they heal, as the dog will inevitably try to scratch or lick the wound. Licking and scratching introduces bacteria to the wound, causing a dog’s stitches and incision to become infected.
Most commercially available cones are made of plastic, but there are other types in the market, like ones that are inflatable or made of softer plastic. Regardless of the exact kind of cone, they will generally be attached to the dog’s collar via strings or tabs at the sides. A collar should never be too big and just short enough to allow a dog to eat and drink as normal.
How Do You Put a Cone on a Dog After Surgery?
To put a cone on a dog after surgery, follow these steps:
- Make sure that your dog is relaxed and not in a mood to play, as it will make wearing the cone on them harder than it should be.
- If the cone is deconstructed (a flat shape rather than cone-shaped), take both ends of the cone and attach them in a way that small and big holes are created. There will generally be points of attachment at both ends. If you find it difficult, you can ask your vet to show you how to attach it before you leave the clinic.
- Place their head first into the smaller opening of the cone. Be mindful of their eyes, ensure their ears are not squeezed back by the opening and are free to move around.
- The attachment points from the cone to the collar will differ depending on the type, model, and make. Some cones have built-in attachment options that you can clip onto the collar, while others will need some form of fabric or gauze that goes around small hooks or holes at the smaller opening and ties onto the collar.
- Not all cones will fit snugly or firmly onto all dog sizes and breeds. If the cone is too loose, check for additional mounting points that may allow for adjustment. If there are none, ask for a smaller cone. Remember that a cone is only as effective as how secure and firmly it is attached to the dog’s collar.
How Long Should My Dog Wear a Cone After Surgery?
A cone should stay on for at least ten days while the surgical site is still healing; this is usually a sufficient length of time for most procedures. However, your veterinarian’s advice will still hold more weight, so keep it on as long as prescribed.
Removing the cone once in a while isn’t bad, especially during walks or if the dog is bumping into things too much during the adjustment period. The primary concern is that you should be around to watch and prevent any scratching or licking on or near the surgical site. Do not leave it off for too long as you want your dog to be used to wearing a cone for the entirety of the prescribed period.
You should stop using the cone only when all wounds are fully healed, and your veterinarian usually decides this. If the vet thinks it’s too early to remove the cone despite your dog’s wounds looking like they’re fully healed, it is too early. The veterinarian is a professional and you should always follow their advice on caring for your pet after surgery.
Lastly, if your dog has been wearing the cone for quite a while, you may have to clean and tend to the area a little bit, this is normal. You may use a rag dipped in soapy water to routinely wipe it down to help remove any smells or bacteria from developing.
How Do I Make a Dog Cone More Comfortable?
Most dogs will not enjoy wearing a cone, as it prevents them from licking and scratching itchy areas, so ensuring that your dog receives lots of love, treats, and attention will help them during the recovery period.
Generally, placing stockings, towels, or gauze between the dog’s skin and the cone makes it a little more bearable. You may also add to your dog’s comfort by adding pillows and blankets to their bed and a bowl that is easier to reach with a cone on. It may be difficult to strictly enforce cone-wearing on a dog. As such, below are some things you can do to encourage them to keep it on:
- Give them rewards – Rewarding your furry friend with tasty treats for keeping the cone on encourages them to leave it alone. Include praise or kind words that they recognise as a positive affirmation to help reinforce the idea that keeping the cone on is good behaviour.
- Play with distracting toys – Focused activities such as food puzzles and mind games let your dog focus on other things and allows them to keep their mind away from the cone. Avoid strenuous activities that can strain your dog’s neck with the cone on.
- Show love -Recovery is stressful for the dog and the owner. This means the dog may feel lethargic or not be in the mood to move as much as they normally do. So keep your dog showered with love and let them know that you’re with them every step of the way.
- Provide a comfortable bed and clear obstacles -Your dog’s movement will be limited, so making sure their sleeping area is easily accessible is a must. Place the bed at ground level so your dog won’t have difficulty climbing into it. Pillows or rolled blankets will allow your dog to prop up their head during sleep.
The limited visibility caused by cones makes it difficult for dogs to navigate small, tight spaces. So keep the house free of clutter and things your dog may bump into. Push the chairs inside tables, and guide your dog when walking through door frames if possible.
- Placing additional cushions and keeping feeding bowls accessible – In one study, 77.4% of owners claimed that their dogs had a poorer quality of life when they wore a cone. It affected their health, mental state, and behaviour due to the interference of their movement brought about by the cone.
Among these, 60.2% had difficulty drinking, while 67.5% experienced difficulty playing. You may also use calming agents like Adaptil to help your dog stay calm and reduce anxiety caused by the cone.
Lastly, it’s recommended to use smaller and shallower feeding bowls and place them higher than the floor. This lets dogs eat comfortably and efficiently, even with a cone on.
Can You Cut Down a Dog Cone?
Yes, cutting down a dog cone is fine, provided that it is done to keep the dog more comfortable without compromising its purpose. Plastic cones will leave sharp edges when not cut properly, so use very sharp scissors and cut 1.2cm to 2.5cm at a time around the edge, and see if it fits well.
When to Temporarily Take off a Dog Cone
Basically, anytime your dog finds it difficult to do an essential activity (such as eating), it won’t hurt to remove it for the time being until they finish. Of course, there will be times when the cone has to be temporarily removed from your dog.
However, ensure that you do this sparingly, only when your dog cannot do important functions under your supervision. This means that you should be close enough to your dog to stop them from trying to scratch or lick the surgical site if they try to. Be sure not to keep the cone off for too long, so they don’t get used to not having it on.
If it is the first time your dog has needed a cone, you may occasionally find them in distress. This is normal, and you could opt to remove it for a moment to calm your dog down or check if there’s anything else that’s causing the distress.
If you know that your dog will be wearing the cone for longer than 10 to 14 days, you can try to purchase different cones they could wear depending on a certain time of the day or circumstances. For instance, you may purchase a fabric cone for when it’s time to sleep, a shorter cone when you’re nearby and able to check on him, and a longer one for when you’re away.
Can I Take My Dogs Cone off to Sleep After Surgery?
You should avoid taking off your dog’s cone while they are sleeping, as they are designed to allow dogs to sleep normally. It may take them some time to get used to, and it may be tempting to remove it to help them sleep more comfortably, but cones should be kept on as long as possible, including at night.
How Do You Feed a Dog With a Cone?
A shallow and wide bowl where their food is easy to reach helps dogs with cones to eat. If their anxiety prevents them from eating, try to modify the cone so that it still serves its purpose while making it less uncomfortable.
While most dogs can eat and drink normally with a cone, some find it difficult to do so. They may find it physically difficult or feel anxious and stressed about having to wear one, preventing them from eating. In any case, making meals physically accessible and assisting your dog are some quick and easy things to do to help him.
Since their spatial awareness has not yet adjusted, a first-time cone wearer will bump into things when they arrive home. This also means that their first meal time with the cone will be challenging, if not frustrating.
What if My Dog Won’t Eat With a Cone?
If your dog doesn’t eat with a cone on, you can trim it, use a shallow bowl or plate or remove the bowl completely.
It will take your dog some getting used to, but some unorthodox methods include feeding them a treat after they successfully eat from the bowl. This gives them the idea that being able to eat properly with the cone on is a good deed that will be rewarded.
What Are the Alternatives to a Dog Cone?
Some of the main alternatives to traditional cones are:
- Soft Cones -The hard plastic cones usually given by the veterinarian are sometimes too uncomfortable or stiff for dogs. Newer soft cones can fold down, making eating and drinking a breeze for your furry friend. However, make sure that you aren’t purchasing a cone that is too soft, as they may not hold their shape that well and may allow your dog to lick, bite, or scratch the surgical site.
- Inflatable Cones -Sometimes referred to as doughnut cones, inflatable cones are also a good option, and they work in certain circumstances and certain breeds. However, they puncture very easily, so these should only be used when someone can keep an eye on the dog.
- Flexible Fabric Cones -Some fabric cones come with a hard skeleton that keeps the shape intact. However, the fabric material prevents them from being able to see through the cone and only directly in front. So this may not work well for all dogs.
- Clothing – Onesies or bodysuits are an excellent alternative for dogs with abdominal surgeries or hotspots. Some bodysuits are created for this specific purpose, or you can use a fitted pet shirt. However, this only works if your dog prefers to lick the surgical site. If they are more likely to scratch or bite the wound, the fabric will likely rip and endanger the surgical site.
Ultimately, your veterinarian’s advice should be followed at all times. You can consult your vet with any concerns you may have with the cone or before any decision to modify or swap it out for an alternative. If you want to get a second opinion or consult a different vet, you can contact Paw & More Veterinary Centre to book an appointment.
How Do I Cheer up a Dog in a Cone?
One way to cheer up your dog is by rewarding them with a treat or a pet whenever they interact or show interest in their cone, such as sniffing, touching it with their nose, or simply looking at it. This reinforces a positive attitude towards the cone and helps keep them engaged and cheerful.
This article is published in good faith, for general informational and educational purposes only. Paws and More Vet Centre does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. This article should not be used as a substitute for veterinary advice, including for diagnosis or treatment of a pet’s medical condition. Always consult a veterinary professional before making decisions on your pet’s health.