In the canine world, it’s often quite easy to tell when a dog has recently had surgery, or is dealing with some form of skin irritation. The plastic cone around their head is a dead giveaway.

But while the cone is a nuisance for dogs—and a bit funny looking to pet parents—it actually serves an important purpose.

If your pup is miserable and a traditional e-collar isn’t working, there are some alternatives that you can consider. Let’s dive into the world of dog cones to see why they are sometimes necessary and explore different options for our fussy canine companions.

Dog Cone Collars: When They’re Necessary

Dog wearing a cone being checked by a vet

For dogs, that huge plastic cone—sometimes referred to as an Elizabethan dog collar or e-collar—serves an essential function.

“E-collars are regularly used in veterinary medicine,” says Dr. Ashley D. Rossman, a veterinarian at Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital. “They are extremely important after surgical procedures to keep dogs from licking or chewing at their incisions. They are also used to keep patients from chewing or licking at infected or irritated areas, like hot spots.”

Cones also help prevent pets from scratching, licking, or chewing at their eyes when there are problems in that area, adds Dr. Karie Anne Johnson, co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service catering to the Chicago suburbs.

Problems with Traditional Dog Cones

Dog sitting uncomfortably wearing a cone

Important as they are, traditional dog cones aren’t always convenient. If they aren’t fitted properly, says Johnson, cones can make it difficult for dogs to eat or drink.

Fit problems can also result in dogs being able to reach the area that they are supposed to stay away from.

Additionally, plastic cones can be scary for our dogs, as they may amplify sounds or limit your pet’s field of vision.

“Some dogs may completely shut down with the cone on,” says Johnson.

Dog Cone Alternatives

Dog looking up sadly at owner while wearing a cone

Whether you’ve tried a traditional dog cone collar and it didn’t work, or you’re simply interested in avoiding issues that might crop up with this type of collar in the first place, there are some alternatives.

Each type of collar comes with its positives and negatives, so it might take some trial and error to find the option that’s most comfortable for your particular pet.

Store-Bought Dog Cone Alternatives

If the e-collar provided by your vet isn’t working, here are some store-bought dog cone alternatives to try at home. Just make sure to discuss these options with your veterinarian prior to using one with your dog.

Soft Collars

If the hard plastic is a problem, there are dog cone styles that come in a softer option.

“Some of the newer softer collars fold down to make it easier for patients to eat and drink,” says Rossman. “The softer collars that also maintain a shape are good if they are comfortable for your pet and prevent them from licking or chewing the affected areas.”

Be wary of collars that are too soft, however. Softer collars that do not maintain shape can still work, but you’ll want to make sure your pet cannot reach the affected regions.

“Many pets can actually very easily pull a soft e-collar off, since it is more flexible,” says Johnson. “Some pets may actually prefer the traditional hard e-collar to soft, since the soft is not see through, which means they can only truly see directly in front of them.”

Flexible Fabric E-Collars

Some soft e-collars actually come with a hard skeleton as well. “These are my favorite kind of e-collars,” adds Johnson. “Pets cannot see through them, since they are still soft fabric, but the hard skeleton makes it more like a traditional e-collar so it isn’t as easy to take off and it makes it more rigid.”

Inflatable E-Collars

Inflatable collars are also an option, and they may work in certain cases. However, these collars can puncture easily, so a pet parent should closely monitor the condition of the collar if they choose this option. Additionally, inflatable e-collars may not effectively block access to all parts of the body.

Onesies or Clothing

Bodysuits or onesies are a good option for abdominal surgeries or hotspots that can be covered with them. You can purchase a bodysuit created for this purpose, or you may be able to use a fitted t-shirt (depending on the area that you are trying to protect).

“If your pet is more likely to lick at an incision or wound instead of scratch or bite, this is a good option,” said Dr. Johnson. “It prevents them from getting directly to the site. This can also be an added second line of protection if your pet is Houdini with an e-collar.”

What About Homemade Dog Cone Alternatives?

Injured dog being cared for by a vet

Since the purpose of a dog cone is to keep your dog from reaching an affected area, there are options that can be fashioned from materials at home, but Rossman cautions against going this route.

Traditional and store-bought dog cone collars aren’t too expensive, so it’s usually pretty easy to find a vet-approved option from a pet store or directly from your veterinarian’s office.

Although comfort and safety are important when it comes to your dog’s cone options, it’s essential to keep the main objective in mind—preventing your dog from licking, scratching, or otherwise bothering an affected area.

Since that’s the case, be sure to always have a veterinarian check that any collar you decide to go with is properly fitted to your dog, and keep an eye on your pup while they need to wear the cone to prevent injuries.

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