E-Collar Alternatives for Dogs and Cats

Soft, Comfy E-Collar Options

Cat wearing a medical cone
Anne Lowe / Public Domain

Elizabethan collars, or more commonly known as e-collars, are often used in veterinary medicine and sometimes referred to as a cone, lampshade, or "the cone of shame" as in the movie Up. These plastic cones are fitted to individual pets and are used to prevent dogs and cats from biting, scratching and licking wounds, incisions, or other injured areas. Cumbersome and sometimes uncomfortable for the pet, they nevertheless serve an important purpose.

While animals do need some kind of protection to allow wounds to heal, there are now a variety of new products that are more comfortable and less cumbersome than the e-collar. Traditionally purchased from your veterinarian post-surgery or after cleaning up a wound, hot spot, or​ another injury, these collars may now be purchased at many pet supply stores. These collars are a great way to prevent self-trauma, for eye problems such as corneal ulcers and for recurring situations such as hot spots, paw or tail injuries, or lick granulomas.

About the E-Collar

The e-collar was invented about 40 years ago by a vet named Joel Ehrenzweig. Until its invention, vets and pet-owners had rigged their own devices to keep pets from scratching and licking wounds and hot spots; not surprisingly, some efforts were more successful than others. The e-collar does exactly what it is intended to do: allow wounds to heal without interference. Unfortunately, a large, unyielding plastic cone has many drawbacks—not only is it uncomfortable, but it can interfere with a pet's ability to eat, drink, hear, and see.

The downsides to the e-collar led to some inventive alternatives intended to make the healing process pleasanter and more comfortable for pet and pet-owner. While all of these alternatives have their plus sides, however, none is perfect.

Alternatives to E-Collars

Any alternative to an e-collar must be practical, low-cost, comfortable, and effective. Of course, no one product can achieve all this for every pet, so some options will be better than others for your particular cat or dog.

There are five basic types of e-collar alternatives:

  • Soft e-collars
  • Inflatable collars
  • Neck control collars
  • Pet clothing
  • DIY options

Soft e-collars are exactly what they sound like: softer, more comfortable versions of the usual hard plastic option. Soft e-collars come in an amazing range of sizes and shapes; one of the most popular is the Comfy Collar. This uses a flexible combination of nylon and foam material, along with "stays" that can be loosened to allow your pet more freedom of movement. Because it is softer, however, it is subject to being chewed and tugged; in addition, because it's made of opaque fabric it severely limits your pet's line of vision.

Inflatable e-collars come in several different designs; it's worth looking at more than one option to determine which is right for your pet. The Procollar, for example, is very much like an airplane pillow: it fits around your pet's neck but doesn't extend beyond the shoulders. This means it's very comfortable but doesn't stop a dog or cat from reaching its hindquarters. If your pet has an upper-body injury, this might be a good option.

Neck control collars are intended to immobilize the animal's neck and are thus fairly uncomfortable. Bite Not is one such product; while it doesn't impinge on vision, it does make it difficult for your pet to raise or lower its head to eat or sleep.

Pet clothing takes a completely different approach to wound protection. Rather than stopping your pet from moving its head or reaching the wound, pet clothing covers the wound with specially designed clothing. The "Suitical Recovery Suit" is a vet-approved option that is tough enough to stand up to some chewing and tugging.

DIY options may be a good option for some pets, especially those that are particularly mellow or small. Some pet owners craft pet clothing from children's sweatshirts or create soft collars from towels or other types of fabric. The key to success is to ensure that whatever you put on your pet is securely (but not tightly) fastened and that your pet can tolerate it well.

One of the hardest parts of using an e-collar is the guilt you're likely to feel when your pet is unhappy or uncomfortable. To help your pet through this hard time, be sure to choose the most comfortable option available and, of course, give your pet extra love and attention to let him know he's not being punished.