How Does Your Pet Really Feel About E-Collars?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • As pet parents everywhere have long suspected, dogs and cats are miserable when forced to wear the “cone of shame”
  • We now have some science to back up our suspicions — the results of a survey of over 400 pet owners from several different countries
  • The survey results show that e-collars often have a negative impact on multiple aspects of pets’ daily existence and diminish their quality of life
  • Pet parents are also affected, not only by their animal’s discomfort with the cone, but also by injuries they suffer and property damage resulting from the pet’s e-collar
  • If your pet needs to wear an e-collar for some reason, consider exploring alternatives to the traditional plastic lampshade style

According to the results of a study published earlier this year — and surprising to exactly none of you with animal companions — the Elizabethan collar, aka E-collar, aka “cone of shame” makes dogs and cats miserable.

As always though, it’s nice to have a little scientific backup for what we already suspected, having watched our furry family members attempt to navigate their environment while wearing one of the blasted things.

E-Collars Impact Both Pets’ and Owners’ Quality of Life

E-collars are placed on pets with good intent, such as to protect a surgical site or hot spot from being licked, chewed or scratched. But until now, there’s been almost no research on how the contraptions impact animals mentally and emotionally. According to the study, conducted by researchers at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, e-collars not only affect a pet’s quality of life, but his or her owner’s as well.1

The researchers conducted an online survey of people whose pets had worn an E-collar in the last year to determine how the cones impacted their animal companions’ sleep, eating, drinking, exercise, interactions with other pets and general quality of life. Most of the 434 respondents were in Australia, with others in the U.K., U.S., New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and Sweden.

According to the survey results, the collars interfered with drinking and playing, and in some cases resulted in injuries or irritation to the animal, along with injuries to the owner and property damage. The majority of respondents reported a reduction in quality of life when their pet was wearing the collar, and many were reluctant to even keep it on due to changes in the animal’s behavior or mental health.

“Elizabethan collars are used to prevent self-trauma, especially after surgery, so they do play an important role,” explained study co-author Dr Anne Fawcett. “But we also learned that some animals suffer from misadventure, injury or irritation due to the collars themselves. Other casualties included furniture, buildings and the legs of owners when Elizabethan-collar wearing owners ran into them.”2

E-Collars Seem to Create More Problems Than They Solve

According to the survey results, the cone of shame presents several problems for cats and dogs, including:

  • Difficulty drinking — 60.2%
  • Inability to play — 67.5%
  • Itching/irritation, bumping into walls, falling downstairs and psychological distress — 25%
  • Problems with eliminating, grooming, being fitted for a harness or lead, getting through a dog or cat door, sleeping in a crate, and navigating indoors “without smashing into doorways, tables or chairs” — 10%

In general, the study found that e-collars have the potential to cause pets distress, which in turn causes distress in their owners.

“Some animals found ingenious ways to remove the collars themselves, for example running under furniture at speed, but damaged or poorly fitted Elizabethan collars could increase the risk of injury to animals,” Fawcett explained.

Pet parent comments in the survey were also enlightening, for example:

  • A Bulldog wound up with a very wet, inflamed neck from drooling into his cone, and seemed very down and depressed when it was on
  • A dog in Europe faced outside in 2 feet of snow couldn’t move without having his collar fill up with the white stuff
  • A cat who’d licked a spot on his body until a huge ulcer developed was thoroughly miserable in the cone, which interfered with virtually every aspect of his life
  • A person developed bruised shins from her e-collared pet banging into her
  • Another owner said that over the years, his dog’s cones had caused a lot of damage to doors and plasterwork
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Recommendations Based on Study Results

Based on the negatives associated with e-collars, the researchers recommend investigating alternative methods that serve the same purpose, such as inflatable collars, neck restraints, visors, socks, and body wraps or clothing. Thankfully there are several different types of collars that achieve the same goal.

“We also recommend that members of veterinary teams advise pet owners about the potential negative effects of the collar, including the potential for discomfort or injury,” said study co-author Yustina Shenoda.

“At a minimum we recommend giving owners tips around assisting their animals with drinking and eating, and encouraging owners to monitor their pets when wearing them. This advice could be provided verbally or through a brochure that clients can take home.”3

Cats, Car Rides and the Cone of Shame

As those of you with a cat in the family are well aware, very few of our feline friends enjoy a ride in the car. Not only do kitties despise car rides, many also suffer from motion sickness. You’d be amazed at the number of cats who manage to throw up virtually every time they ride in their owner’s car — even if it’s just a trip around the block.

A few years back I read a suggestion from veterinarian Dr. Tom Morganti, who practices in Avon, Connecticut, about a possible solution to the problem.4 Morganti had a cat patient who vomited every time he rode in a vehicle. The cat’s owners had long ago resigned themselves to the need to hose out the family car after taking their pet for a ride!

One day, the cat, by this time a senior, underwent minor surgery that necessitated the placement of an e-collar around his neck so that he couldn’t access the surgical site. For the first time in his life, the cat made the car trip home without throwing up. When his owners brought him back for suture removal, the kitty was still wearing the collar, and he made the return trip without vomiting as well.

Morganti has since suggested e-collars as a treatment for car sickness for more than a dozen cats as well as a couple of dogs, and in each case so far, it has worked.

If you have a pet with motion sickness during car rides and want to try the e-collar trick (assuming the cone will be less uncomfortable for your furry family member than nausea and vomiting), you can buy a collar online or at your local PetSmart or Petco. To accomplish this goal, make sure it’s the lampshade type that reduces peripheral vision.