Named for their resemblance to the fashionable collars worn by humans during the Elizabethan period, E collars, as they are also called, are large, cone-shaped collars that prevent your dog's mouth from reaching her body. Usually used after surgery or serious wounds, these lampshade-like devices are irritating to some dogs, often leading their owners to feel guilty. However, in many cases, their use is of paramount importance, so consult with your veterinarian if your dog offers excessive resistance, as he may be able to suggest suitable alternatives.
Many veterinarians recommend fitting your dog with an E collar after surgery or if she suffers a serious wound. Courtesy of its bulky design, the collar prevents your dog from repeatedly licking or chewing the wound. In addition to prolonging the healing process, repeated licking can cause the wound or incision to become inflamed or infected. In a worst-case scenario, your dog could chew through her stitches with potentially life-threatening complications. Additionally, E collars may be helpful for preventing obsessive chewers from inflicting wounds to themselves.
Traditional E collars are made of very heavy plastic, but the cone-shaped design provides some flexibility. While manufacturers often make the cones in a few different sizes, each features an adjustable neck hole, which you can loosen or tighten to suit your dog. The collar should fit snuggly, but should not compress your dog’s throat; ensure that you slide two fingers under the collar. Some models remain tight via plastic snaps, while others require you to thread gauze through a series of holes and tie the collar in place. Most E collars are opaque, so your dog loses a great deal of her peripheral vision when wearing one.
Drawbacks and Downsides
While some dogs do not appear to be troubled by wearing these helpful tools, others respond poorly. Some become depressed or withdrawn, while others paw, wrestle and roll around wildly in an effort to get rid of the collar. Additionally, many dogs -- regardless of their level of comfort with the device -- become destructive while wearing them. While walking around the house, they clip tables, doorways and any item at head height, which can make E collars nearly as aggravating for owners as they are for pets.
Because some dogs simply refuse to accept E collars, veterinarians and pet owners have been forced to devise some alternatives. Several manufacturers produce alternative versions of the E collar, which may not be as objectionable to your dog. Some are similar in shape, but constructed from pliable materials, while others work like a rigid neck brace that keeps your dog’s neck straight, but does not extend from her head. Balloon-like pillows, designed to go around your dog’s neck, also may be more comfortable for your dog. It is also possible to treat the problem in an entirely different way: Rather than restrict your dog’s movements, cover up the wound with protective clothing, bandages or a combination thereof.
Homemade Neck Cones
In an emergency, you can fashion a crude E collar out of ordinary materials. Thick cardboard, rolled into a large cone and placed around your dog’s neck forms a suitable, if not terribly durable, E collar. Alternatively, you can make a stronger collar by cutting a hole in the bottom of a suitably sized plastic bucket. Wrap a soft piece of fabric around your dog's neck to protect him from any sharp edges, slide your dog's head through the bottom and secure it to your dog’s collar with a small rope or shoestring.