How to Use a Dog Cone (Shame-Free)

Published December 1, 2021
Senior dog with Elizabethan collar

Hearing that your dog needs to wear a cone can make any pet owner's heart drop. But the cone of shame isn't a form of punishment -- it's designed to protect your dog and keep them from causing self-harm. If you're having difficulty with a dog cone, expert advice on how to correctly fit one and appropriate alternatives can ease your struggle.

What are Dog Cones Used for?

A dog cone, also referred to as an Elizabethan collar or "e-collar," for short -- not to be confused with electronic training collars, which are also sometimes called e-collars -- is a device that prevents a dog from self-traumatizing. Most dogs feel naturally compelled to lick any wound or abrasion; however, too much licking can irritate the fragile tissue, introduce bacteria, and slow healing. If a dog takes it too far, they could even chew out their stitches or cause worse damage.

This is where a cone comes in. The rigid, plastic material connects around a dog's neck in a cone shape and serves to block their ability to access certain areas. These are typically surgery sites or wounds that need to be left alone to heal, but it can also help to prevent scratching. A few common scenarios when a cone may be beneficial include the following.

  • Prevent licking of a surgical incision
  • Prevent chewing out stitches
  • Prevent scratching the ears or face
  • Prevent licking of a hotspot
  • Prevent chewing a bandage
  • Prevent rubbing the eyes
  • Prevent licking off ointment
  • Prevent over-grooming

Selecting the Correct Cone Size

Pomeranian with protective cone

A dog cone will only be effective if it truly keeps the pet from accessing the area they need to avoid. For this reason, it's crucial to select the correct cone size. Most come with standard sizing (typically extra small, or XS, through extra large, or XL) based solely on the length and width of the cone. However, the right fit for your dog depends on several factors.

You should consider their nose length, neck girth, flexibility, and the location you're trying to prevent them from getting to. If you're at the vet, the veterinary staff will select the right cone for your dog; however, should you need to find one yourself, you may need guidance. Use these tips for proper cone fitting.

  • Consider nose length: The cone should always extend past your dog's nose. If the area of interest is on your dog's paw, you may need to select an even longer cone to prevent them from getting to it.
  • Perform the finger test: The cone should be snug enough to avoid slipping off your dog's head, but shouldn't be so snug that it feels uncomfortable. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to comfortably slip two to three fingers between the cone and your dog's neck. Any more and it needs tightening; any less and you should loosen it immediately.
  • Secure the cone: Is the cone past your dog's nose but gaping at the neck on the tightest setting? Don't size down, simply secure the base of the cone to your dog's collar. Thread the collar through the narrow holes of the cone, then clip the collar into place.
  • Adjust as needed: After securing the cone on your dog, watch them. Are they able to slip the collar off their head? Can they still scratch or lick the affected area? If the cone isn't working, you may need to increase the size or seek out a more suitable alternative.

Tips for How to Use a Dog Cone

Goldendoodle with inflatable vet collar

Navigating everyday life with a dog cone can be a challenge for your dog. Be mindful of these tried-and-true tips from an expert.

  • It takes time: It takes at least a day or two for any pet to become accustomed to a dog cone. Be patient with your dog as they get used to it. Guide them through doorframes, help them up the stairs, and show them how to access their food bowl.
  • Elevate food and water: Many owners express concern about dogs not being able to drink or eat with a cone on. Your dog can easily perform these tasks while wearing one. However, it can help to move bowl away from the wall and slightly elevate it. This way, your dog's cone can go right over the bowl without bumping into things so they can eat with ease.
  • Avoid playing: If your dog is healing from a surgery or laceration, they should be taking it easy anyway, but any dog with a cone should avoid playing. The cone can obstruct a dog's vision and set them off balance, putting them at risk for injuries while gallivanting around. Stick to leash walks until your dog is done with the cone.
  • Leave it on while unsupervised: Unfortunately, anytime you don't have eyes on your pet, the cone must remain on. That doesn't just mean when you're away from home, but also at nighttime or when your attention is elsewhere. Removing the cone occasionally to give your dog a break is only permitted under close supervision. You must keep a close eye on your pup and stop them should they try to lick or chew.
  • Keep it clean: If your dog is a messy eater or likes to drool, the cone will probably become dirty. Either remove the cone or clean it while on your pet by wiping the material with a damp cloth. Do it daily or as needed.

Dog Cone Alternatives

Goldendoodle with inflatable vet collar

If you or your dog are not fans of the traditional, rigid cones, there are several other options. Consider these veterinary-recommended alternatives.

Medical Onesie

In some cases, you can avoid a cone by directly protecting the incision or wound. Many veterinarians recommend protective medical shirts for patients recovering from procedures like spay or neuter, as the suit covers the entire incision. It also protects the wound from debris in the environment. Cropped shirts, head coverings, and booties are also available for specific areas of concern.

Inflatable Protective Collar

These inflatable collars look like a donut and wrap around your dog's neck. They're soft, comfy, and don't obstruct your dog's vision. They prohibit turning of the neck, which can be great for wounds on the sides or rear, but may not be ideal for protecting the paws.

Neck Control Collar

These collars are similar to the inflatable collar, but are made of rigid, plastic material. They prevent dogs from licking by immobilizing the neck. Canine cone escape artists often graduate to these collars, as they're secured under the armpits with a strap to prevent slipping.

Soft Cone

Although they have the same shape as the classic dog cone, soft e-collars are typically made from a flexible material like foam. Some dogs do well with these cones, whereas others can easily lick around them.

There's No Shame in Wearing a Cone

As much as you may want to free your dog from the cone of shame, know that they're in it for good reason. The more compliant you are with keeping the cone in place, the faster your pup will heal. You can even have a little fun and decorate the cone!

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How to Use a Dog Cone (Shame-Free)