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Elizabethan Collar (E-Collar)

     Under no circumstances should your pet be allowed to lick an incision. That is a recipe for disaster. By far, the best way to prevent your pet from causing infection -- complicating recovery, and increasing both your pet's discomfort and your expense -- is an Elizabethan Collar (E-Collar).

     Some of the material on this page may be graphic, and the language may seem harsh. Unfortunately, this seems necessary. If there was one thing I could eliminate from my patients, it would be problems caused by failure to use the E-Collar.

E-Collar alternatives

E-Collars are cumbersome and/or scary and/or annoying to your pet. 
I get it. 
I have dogs and cats, and have used E-Collars for them.
I feel your pain.

     You know what's worse, though? Your pet's surgery failing, having to be repeated, or your pet losing life or limb because of infection.

     Almost every week, I see clients come in so proud because they did not use their E-Collar and their pet never touched the incision. 
     And almost every week, I see clients come in telling me how they watched their pet so closely, and everything was fine...until that one time...

  • Your pet does not understand what has happened.
    • Your pet senses discomfort and tries to alleviate it by licking. The stimulation of licking the skin can generate pressure that stimulates endorphins.
    • Your pet may try to chew out whatever is hurting it.
    • Some pets will not bother the incision.
    • Some pets will. Don't give your pet the chance to ruin everything...read on...
  • Everyone has heard the "old wives tale" about dogs mouths being clean and anti-septic.
    • We all know what dogs and cats eat and/or lick, and it's not hard to appreciate just how wrong that old tale is.
  • Watching your pet and saying "No-No!" any time the pet licks the wound is just not good enough.
    • Any/every time your pet licks a wound, the wound is being contaminated with E. Coli, Pasteurella, or even nastier anaerobic bacteria (the type that can cause gangrene).
    • Maybe it's a "minor" incisional infection.
      • More antibiotics
      • More time in the E-Collar
      • More inconvenience
      • More expense
    • Possibly a resistant infection due to contamination of the wound while your pet was on antibiotics.
      • Prolonged therapy
      • Quite likely expensive treatment
      • More time in the E-Collar.
    • Maybe the infection erodes through the deeper tissue and results in:
      • Devastating joint infection
      • Devastating implant infection
      • Major incisional infection 
      • Possibly causing dehiscence and requiring another surgery or perhaps weeks to heal
    • Or maybe -- in the case of an abdominal incision -- your pet chews the whole way through the incision, herniates their intestines, and then eats their intestines.
      • Maybe there's enough intestine to salvage your pet with major surgery.
      • Maybe there's not, and your pet dies or has to be euthanized.
    • And, all because the E-Collar seemed mean.
      • I wish there was some way to get the clients of "2 weeks after" to talk to the clients of "immediately post-op." 
      • I wish there was some way I could convince the clients to listen to their vet's voice of experience.
      • Clients with such major (potentially catastrophic) complications USUALLY realize they made a terrible mistake in not using an E-Collar. And then they start using it, but sometimes, the damage is too much to recover from.
  • Failing to use an E-Collar is the number one source of preventable complications.
  • If YOU had surgery, and you knew there was something you could do to massively decrease the chance of failure, wouldn't you do it? And, if you love your pet, shouldn't you be tough for 2 weeks to decrease the risk of a bad outcome? Inconvenience is nothing compared to catastrophe.

OK...enough of the soapbox. It's up to you to do right by your pet...

E-Collar alternatives 

  • Bucket
    • My preference. This is what I have used in my own dogs.
    • They are long, but not wide, and so less prone to damaging property and/or inhibiting your pet's movement.
    • How to make a bucket E-Collar
      • For a medium to large breed dog, get a 5 gallon bucket from a hardware store. 
      • You may be able to find something relatively transparent (see-through), but if not, your pet can deal with an opaque collar
      • Cut a round hole in the middle of the bottom of the bucket just big enough for your pet's head to fit through
      • Sand down the edges so they are smooth and cannot cut your pet. And/or cover the edges with duct tape so they are not sharp.
      • Drill holes in the bottom of the bucket at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions
      • Drill paired holes in the bottom of the sides of the bucket to match each of the holes in the bottom
      • Tie loops (using bailing twine, roll gauze, etc.) between the paired holes on the sides and bottom so there are four loops
      • The loops can be secured to your pet's collar or to a harness if needed
      • Alternatively, a long piece of roll gauze can be run through the loops and then secured to your pet in cross-your-heart and finger-trap fashion to prevent your pet from getting the collar off.
      • Some pets may need sedation to keep the E-Collar or bucket on.
  • Other alternatives are generally inferior and only effective if your pet is not trying very hard. I recommend standard E-Collars or bucket-types. Your pet MAY be OK in one of these, but you are increasing your risk of complications and must take all responsibility for any complications or occur.
    • Bite-not-type - a rigid collar spanning your pet's neck. These decrease your pet's ability to bend his or her neck, but are very limited in their ability to prevent access to a limb or back half of the body.
    • Doughnut/inner tube-type - again, they slightly decrease your pet's ability to bend his or her neck, but are very limited in their ability to prevent access to a limb or back half of the body. A large enough doughnut on a small enough dog MAY prevent your pet from being able to reach the front leg.
    • Flexible E-Collar - by their very nature, they can be pushed out of the way and allow a pet access to anywhere on his or her body.
  • Maybe your pet will be fine with one of these options. I personally wouldn't risk life, limb, or additional surgery in my own pet.

If you have questions or concerns, please e-mail Dr. Christiansen.