If there is one image that is synonymous with the vet, it's of a dog (or cat) leaving the clinic wearing an Elizabethan collar.
Elizabethan collars - also known colloquially as the e-collar, 'cone of shame', lampshade and radar dish - are primarily used to prevent animals from traumatising themselves, and to protect surgical wounds.
They may look a little ridiculous, but they are very important as veterinary patients don't tend to follow post-treatment instructions when left to their own devices.
The problem is that many animals seem unhappy wearing Elizabethan collars, and they may be removed prematurely by animals, or their humans. As a veterinarian, I would send animals home wearing Elizabethan collars, and occasionally have owners report back that their pet (and they) were miserable.
I teamed up with Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student Yustina Shenoda, epidemiologist Professor Michael Ward and animal welfare veterinarian Dorothy McKeegan to survey pet owners around the world about how they felt Elizabethan collars impacted their animals.
Over 77 per cent rated their pet's quality of life poorer while the collar was worn, particularly if it interfered with an animal's ability to drink or play or caused skin irritation.
Armed with this information, we developed some pointers to share with pet owners. All you have to do is remember the mnemonic "E-COLLAR".
E is for Elizabethan
Elizabethan collars are recommended by your vet to protect your pet from self-trauma and interfering with surgical wounds while they heal. Remembering why they are there is important!
C is for Collar
Collars should be an appropriate size: large enough to protect the sites on the head, limbs, or body that need protecting, but not so large as to impede movement unnecessarily. Collars should be fitted appropriately to ensure they remain in place while maintaining comfort. Your vet team can help you place and remove the collar and check that the fit is appropriate for your pet.
O is for Observation
Observe your pet whenever the collar is removed to facilitate activities like eating or drinking. It only takes a few seconds for an animal to access the parts of themselves the collar was preventing them from accessing, and that can lead to the need for further treatment (such as the need to perform repeat surgery which in turn requires a longer recovery).
L is for Look Out!
Animals wearing an Elizabethan collar, especially exuberant canines, can bump into owners or objects. Be mindful of where your pet is to avoid collisions.
L is for Lifestyle
Life at home can be a struggle, in particular for those pets who are unable to use the dog or cat door or stairs due to the collar. Assistance or supervision may be required. Alternatively, access to a particular area of the house or yard may need to be restricted while the collar is in place to avoid misadventure.
A is for Assistance
Assistance with drinking, eating or other activities may required. For example, some animals do better if their bowls are slightly elevated. Some may need temporary hand feeding. This can require additional time but is temporary.
R is for Ring or Return
Ring or return to your veterinary hospital if you believe that your pet is not coping with the Elizabethan collar, or if the collar becomes damaged. I cannot stress this last point enough. Don't suffer in silence. There are other means of preventing self-trauma in animals that your veterinarian may recommend. These include alternative methods of physical restraint (for example dressings or protective clothing if appropriate), anti-anxiety medication, sedatives, anti-itch medication and pain relief.
You can read the full study here: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/10/2/333
Written by Dr Fawcett BVSc(Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL). Lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.