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The ‘cone of shame’

For fast healing, veterinarian Lucy Richardson says it is important that pets keep their cones on

Buster collar, e-collar, cone of shame, lampshade.....these are some of the names used to describe this unique piece of veterinary torture equipment readily used by animal doctors worldwide.

It’s the plastic cone we put onto your pet’s head to stop them from licking their incision after surgery, and it is universally hated.

It’s a necessary evil which serves a very important role in the post-surgical rehabilitation period, but one which owners en masse can’t bear. We completely understand why. Your pets hate them and you love your pets.

Many times when we first put them on, the pet will stand very still and not want to walk, or will reverse backwards at speed trying to shake them off. Usually after a few minutes they will figure out that they can still walk whilst wearing a collar and start to get used to the concept.

But then they walk past you and the cone cuts into the back of your leg and your dog ricochets off you like a bullet, leaving you both yelping. Next, he bashes into the coffee table sending your cup of tea flying through the air and causing general madness and mayhem. Doorways are always a challenge as the dogs just can’t figure out why they can’t fit through and your paintwork will take a beating.

It’s not all bad though. I had one client remark that if they pointed their pet in the right direction, they could pick up satellite TV.

If the collar is fitted properly your pets can eat and drink with them on. They can also sleep comfortably wearing a collar. We find that the longer they wear them, the more used to them they become and life almost carries on as before. Our pets are incredibly adaptable and, mostly, very willing to please.

So why is it that vets collectively use this beastly device that no one (including us) likes? The answer is simple: there is no good alternative. I have seen owners try hundreds of different approaches (just Google it) to prevent their pets licking but nothing works as well as the old buster collar.

Wound healing happens from side to side not from end to end, meaning that it doesn’t matter how long the incision is, it will heal in around 10 to 12 days. So that gives us a golden period of healing which is fewer than two weeks, as long as the skin is kept clean and free from bacteria.

There have been 400 different strains of bacteria identified in a dog’s mouth so even one lick can transfer enough bacteria to harm the healing of the incision.

It is mildly frustrating as a surgeon when, having skilfully performed a beautiful sterile surgery, given careful discharge instructions for post-op care to the owner, you see the wound five days later wide open and not healing due to the dog’s constant licking at it. (We can definitely tell when you’ve taken the collar off and your dog has had a sneaky lick.)

We know how annoying buster collars are, but for now, it’s the best we have. I say all the time to my owners, “The longer you leave it on, the faster you can take it off.” And that is the absolute truth.

I have spent my entire career trying to find a solution to the buster collar dilemma – a solution that vets, owners and pets can all embrace. But until I get my eureka moment, we are stuck with the cone of shame, please don’t take it off too soon.

Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda

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Published March 03, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated March 03, 2022 at 7:48 am)

The ‘cone of shame’

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