Sometimes called a cone, lampshade, or party hat (or even the ‘cone of shame,’ although we don’t like that one so much!), an Elizabethan collar is a plastic device that fits around your cat’s neck and is designed to keep them from licking, biting, pawing, scratching, or rubbing at injuries, sores, or post-surgical sites that have sutures or staples. Essentially, its purpose is to keep your cat from hurting themselves during the road to recovery – although surely they’ll do their best to convince you its sole purpose is kitty disgrace!
|| How Should the Collar Fit? ||
A cone that fits well will be snug around your cat’s neck – loose enough to slide one or two fingers underneath the edge of the collar, but tight enough to prevent your cat from pawing it off. Depending on the area of the body that needs protection, the outer edge of the cone should extend a little past the tip of your cat’s nose. If the injured area is on a paw or tail tip, the cone might need to be a bit longer, as these areas are easier for your cat to reach. If the area of concern is on your cat’s head (like irritated eyes or ears, or a face wound) the purpose of the cone is to prevent them from scratching or pawing their face, or rubbing it against floors and furniture – in this case, the cone could be slightly shorter.
|| Why Does My Cat Need to Wear an Elizabethan Collar? ||
Whether your cat is recovering after surgery or you’re trying to treat a sore or injury, the key thing we want to prevent is further damage or infection. When areas of their body are irritated or itchy (as these sites tend to be) cats tend to lick at them – while an ‘urban myth’ exists that saliva is good for healing wounds, this is quite definitely not the case. We also want to prevent any sutures that have been placed from being ripped out, requiring another trip to the veterinarian and either sedation or anesthesia to repair.
|| How Long Does the Collar Have to Stay On? ||
Unfortunately this is one of those ‘tough love’ situations – no matter how many pleading looks they give you or melodramatic poses they spread out in, the cone needs to stay on until their wound has fully healed or the sutures are removed. This usually means somewhere between 10 and 14 days – while it may be tempting to slip the collar off a little early, we all know that the itchiest part of a healing scab is the final stages!
The last thing we want is to have to start all over again at square one when they’ve already survived the majority of their cone-finement.
|| Can I Take the Collar Off? ||
Generally speaking, the collar also needs to remain on at all times unless your cat is under your direct supervision – and we mean direct! That means that not only is your cat in your direct sight line at all times, but that you’re paying enough attention to stop any licking, biting, rubbing, scratching, or other shenanigans the moment they begin. Cats are crafty, and masters of slipping away out of sight – if you’re not able to keep a close watch, it’s time for the cone to step back in. If you have a Feline Houdini who is quite good at escaping their cone, you might need to fasten it more securely – this might mean tying the cone onto their regular collar or harness (or kitting them out with a harness). You can also try creating a makeshift harness out of gauze bandaging that criss-crosses under the chest and across the back, to make it more challenging to slide the collar off.
|| Can My Cat Go Outside With the Collar? ||
If your cat usually goes outside, we recommend blocking off their outdoor access during their recovery period – not only does the cone pose some navigational challenges and increase the likelihood of your cat getting caught or tangled in something, they are also more likely to get their wound or surgical site dirty while they explore outdoors.
|| Does My Cat Need Any Special Care While Wearing the Collar? ||
While some cats get used to wearing the cone quite quickly, others have more trouble figuring out how to move normally. The cone shape also changes how noises reach their ears and limits their lines of vision, changes that can be stressful at first. Cats can also get stuck more easily when they have the collar on, so try to block off tight areas like underneath beds or behind couches.
Some litter boxes can also be harder to get in and out of while wearing a cone, so you might want to remove the lid of the litter box to make this a bit easier. You also might need to raise your cat’s food and water dishes – perhaps four inches or so off the ground – to make them a little easier for them to reach. A mat underneath the dishes can also help contain the mess from any clumsy spills that might occur.
While the cone does a great job of preventing your cat from reaching their wound site, it will also keep them from grooming the other parts of their body – so they might appreciate it if you gave them a hand. You can brush their coat, or give them some extra pets and scratches to help prevent matting (and get some extra cuddles in as well!).
|| Ahead of the Curve: Acclimatizing to the Cone ||
If you have the chance, it can minimize stress and anxiety if you allow your cat to get used to wearing their cone before their procedure. There are a few steps to this process, and the key to remember is to proceed slowly, and back up to the previous step if your cat seems at all averse to the cone along the way. Taking the time to create pleasant associations is what this process is all about!
Hold the cone, or place it near your cat – but don’t try to put it on your cat at this point. Any time your cat sniffs the cone, touches it with their nose, or even looks at it curiously, offer them a cat treat or play with their toy. The goal here is simply to create a positive association with the cone, and to give your cat time to get used to the new object.
Start practicing placing the cone on your cat and taking it back off. Ideally, you can do this by encouraging your cat to place their head inside the cone – you can put a bit of your cat’s wet food on a spoon or hold a treat in your hand, and use this to lure them into the cone. You can have them wear it for a super-short period of time at first, even just ten seconds or so, before taking it off and offering more food. Comfort is key here!
In this stage you’ll start to increase the amount of time your cat keeps the cone on. If they start to freeze, struggle to back out of the cone, paw at it to try to remove it, then you can shorten the time they wear it (essentially returning to Step Two). Feed or give them treats while they wear it, or if they are play-motivated, use this time to play with their favourite toy.
Allow your cat to move around with the cone on, encouraging them to walk and explore using treats, wet food as a lure, or toss a toy for them. You can guide them up to different perches, letting them get used to their new centre of gravity. Keep praising them and rewarding them with treats, and it will be likely that they feel a lot more comfortable going about their day wearing the cone.
|| The Bottom Line ||
We know that having your cat wear cone is no one’s idea of a good time – not yours, and not theirs. However, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. You want to do everything possible to ensure that your cat has a smooth recovery, and to limit their chances of further injury or infection. Cats are lucky to have humans who are able to take the big-picture view, and who can understand that the short-term irritation is worth keeping them safe and healthy. It’s our role as cat-guardians to stand firm, keep that collar in place so it can work its magic, and to keep our furry patient entertained and make life as easy as possible while they’re wearing that extra gear.