Does my dog need to sleep with a cone?

As a loving pet owner, you want nothing but the best for your furry friend, especially when he’s recovering from surgery or injury. One common accessory recommended by veterinarians is the cone collar, also called the Elizabethan cone. And while it’s essential for your dog’s safety, you might be wondering, if your dog needs to sleep with a cone or even if he needs to be wearing it all the time. 

Believe me, I know how hard this is. Your pup probably just had surgery, he doesn’t feel very well and the wound is itching. On top of that, there’s suddenly this huge thing around his neck. He keeps bumping into furniture, can’t sniff anything properly and did I mention his wound is ITCHING? 😩

He just looks so depressed and lost with that thing on. I know you feel this overwhelming urge to help him somehow. It’s so tempting to take the collar off, sure it’s gonna be fine, he’s a smart boy…

But the truth is, dogs are not humans and cones are a necessary evil to keep them safe. If you remove the cone before the wound is healed, there is a high chance it will result in your pup bleeding all over the place, prolonged recovery, possible wound infection, and in many cases a trip to the emergency room.

This comprehensive guide is about all those questions you might have and how to help your pup during this difficult time (Did I mention that his wound is itching?!)

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

dog with a collar cone

What exactly is a dog collar cone?

A traditional cone collar, also called the Elizabethan collar or E-collar, is a protective device designed for dogs to prevent them from accessing and interfering with their wounds, surgical incisions or skin irritations. 

Its name is inspired by the elaborate ruffled collars worn during the Elizabethan era. 

The collar is typically made of lightweight, sturdy materials such as plastic or foam, forming a cone shape around the dog’s head. This cone shape extends outward, creating a physical barrier that limits the dog’s ability to lick, bite, or scratch the affected area. 

The Elizabethan collar is widely used to promote healing, prevent infection, and ensure a smooth recovery process. While it may look a bit silly and even earn the nickname “cone of shame,” (I hate this nickname!), it serves a crucial purpose in keeping your pup safe. 

Why does my dog need to wear a cone?

Dogs are required to wear a protective cone after surgery, injury or when they are dealing with some form of skin irritation. 

Dogs have a natural instinct to lick their wounds as a form of self-soothing and healing. When a dog licks a wound, it stimulates the release of endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that can provide temporary relief from pain or discomfort. 

Additionally, animal saliva contains certain enzymes and antibodies that have some antibacterial properties and may help in cleaning the wound. 

However, licking can also be problematic. While it may provide temporary relief, it can also hinder the healing process.

Introducing bacteria from your dog’s mouth to the surgical site can cause skin irritation, inflammation, and potential infection. Not to mention that dogs love to pull their stitches out or cause further injury to themselves.

This is why it’s important to prevent dogs from licking their wounds and to use protective measures like cone collars to ensure proper healing and prevent any complications.

Your dog needs to wear a cone to prevent them from licking, biting, or scratching their wounds. By effectively preventing them from reaching their wounds, the cone helps maintain the integrity of the incision site, reduce the risk of infection, and speed up the recovery time.

The cone collar literally serves as a physical barrier between your dog’s mouth and its wounds. It prevents them from interfering with the healing process and causing further damage. 

How long should a dog wear a cone after surgery or injury?

How long should a dog wear a cone collar after a medical procedure depends on several factors. 

The golden rule is, your dog should wear the cone for a period specified by your veterinarian. 

Your vet knows how long the healing process takes for his specific wound. He’s also the one monitoring your dog and his recovery. And he knows your pup’s medical history.

It’s important to strictly follow your vet’s instructions regarding the duration of cone collar use to ensure optimal healing and prevent any setbacks or complications. 

Generally, the duration may depend on the type of surgery or injury, the location of the wound, and the individual dog’s healing progress. 

Typically, the collar should be worn continuously for the initial days following the procedure or injury to prevent any interference with the healing process. 

Afterward, the veterinarian may advise gradually reducing the time the dog wears the cone collar, allowing supervised periods without it while closely monitoring their behavior and wound condition. 

Remember, every dog’s situation is unique, so consulting with your vet is crucial in determining the appropriate duration for your pup’s specific case.

What to do if your dog keeps taking the cone off

So, your pup seems to have a sneaky talent for Houdini-ing his way out of that cone, huh? Don’t worry, this is a common complaint of many pet parents. Some dogs are master escape artists when it comes to those cone contraptions. 

But, he needs it for his own safety. So what can you do?

Ensure proper fit and adjustment

First, double-check the fit. Make sure the collar is snug enough to stay in place but not too tight to cause discomfort. If it’s too loose, your dog may find it easier to wriggle out. 

Since there are different sizes, you need to choose the right size for your dog. To measure and fit a cone collar, start by measuring the circumference of your dog’s neck with a soft measuring tape. Make sure to measure at the base of the neck, where the collar will sit. 

Once you have the measurement, select a cone collar that matches the size range recommended by the manufacturer or your veterinarian. 

It’s important to choose a collar that allows your dog to comfortably move and breathe without being too loose or too tight. 

A good idea is to use a 2-finger rule: if you can place 2 fingers under the collar around your dog’s neck, it should be loose enough that he can breathe and drink normally, but not loose enough that he can wiggle out. 

Signs that indicate the cone collar needs adjustment include difficulty in eating or drinking, excessive pawing at the collar, or any signs of discomfort such as redness or irritation around the neck. 

If you notice these signs, it may be necessary to adjust the collar to ensure a better fit. You can do this by loosening or tightening the collar’s straps according to your dog’s needs. Be mindful not to make it too loose, as your dog may still be able to reach their wounds.

Secure the collar around the neck

Securing the cone collar properly is crucial to prevent your dog from removing it or causing any further damage. Fastening the collar’s straps or closures according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Make sure they are snug enough to keep the collar in place, but not too tight that they cause discomfort.

It’s important to check the collar regularly to ensure it remains securely fastened. 

You can also use additional measures such as attaching the collar to your dog’s regular collar with a clip or using a small piece of Velcro to secure it further. 

However, be cautious not to make any modifications that may compromise your dog’s safety or comfort.

Remember, every dog is unique, and the proper fit and adjustment of a cone collar may vary depending on its size and shape. 

If you’re unsure about how to measure, fit, or adjust the collar, ask your vet 🙂 

dog with a collar cone

How to make a dog with a cone more comfortable

While most dogs adjust to a cone in a few days, some struggle and become depressed. However, there are several ways you can make it less stressful for your pup. 

Here are a few strategies you can try if your dog refuses to wear a cone collar:

Introduce the cone gradually

For many dogs, a cone is a scary weird device that impairs vision and movement. On the first day, introduce the collar to your dog by allowing him to sniff and explore it before putting it on. Offer positive reinforcement, such as treats or praise, to create a positive association with the collar. 

Remove the cone only when it’s absolutely necessary

While it may be tempting to remove the cone every time you witness your dog’s struggle, the best way to help him adjust is to stay consistent and firm in keeping the cone on. Only resort to removing the cone when it’s absolutely necessary. 

Over time, your furry friend will become more skilled at maneuvering. 

Offering extra attention and reassurance can help alleviate any anxieties he may have about the peculiar device encircling their head.

Help your dog with eating and drinking

One of the major difficulties faced by dog owners is making eating and drinking with a cone as effortless as possible. Although the cone may create some challenges, it doesn’t mean that these activities become impossible for your dog. 

Consider using a shallow bowl instead of a deep one and offer support by stabilizing it while they eat or drink. 

Ensure that their water supply is conveniently placed, away from any obstructions like cabinets or walls that may hinder their ability to drink freely.

Help your dog sleep comfortably with a cone

One of pet owners’ most common problems is that the dog won’t sleep with a cone. 

I know that a cone can be restrictive and potentially disrupt your dog’s normal sleeping patterns, but there are ways to make it more bearable. 

First, ensure that your dog’s sleeping area is big enough to accommodate him and the huge piece of plastic around his neck. If your pup’s usual sleeping place is too small or in the corner, offer a large space or an open area where he can fit comfortably. 

Consider providing extra padding or a soft pillow to cushion his head and body. 

You can even help him to lie down in a comfortable position.

Make sure the cone is tight enough that your pup can’t wiggle out of it but loose enough that he can comfortably breathe even when lying down. 

Again, try the 2-finger rule – if you can place 2 fingers under the collar around your dog’s neck, the collar should be loose enough that he can breathe, but not loose enough that he can wiggle out. 

If your dog usually sleeps in a crate, gently guiding him in and out can help prevent him from getting stuck in an uncomfortable position. 

Ensure the crate is big enough for him and his cone to comfortably fit in. If not, offer him a different sleeping area while he’s wearing a cone. 

Make adjustments to your home environment

Remove or rearrange any obstacles that your dog may accidentally collide with. 

Pushing your chairs in, removing unnecessary obstacles, creating clear pathways, and providing extra space around furniture can help prevent your dog from bumping into furniture or walls. 

Additionally, you may want to consider using baby gates or restricting access to certain areas of the house to minimize potential accidents.

The best way is to observe and improve. If you see that your pup has a problem with a specific area, try to improve it and remove the obstacle if possible.

If for example he gets stuck between a table and a couch, move the table and create a wider space for him. 

Try a plastic cone alternative

Not every dog gets used to a plastic cone. Some have a hard time adjusting, and I know it’s tough to see a family member struggling.

If your dog is depressed wearing a cone and nothing seems to be working, talk to your vet about cone alternatives. The good news is that nowadays there are several good options that might be better suited for your pup. 

  • Hard plastic cone: this is the typical huge plastic cone around a dog’s head
  • Soft e-collars: soft cone is a comfortable alternative to plastic cones because it’s made from soft fabric. Some have a hard skeleton which makes them a bit more rigid and harder to take off
  • Inflatable collar: these pillow collars might be good for some dogs, but can puncture easily and may not effectively block access to all body parts
  • Neck brace collar: neck collars can provide stability and immobilization for dogs with specific injuries or conditions. The idea is to keep your dog from bending his neck enough to reach the affected area
  • Onesies and recovery suits: might be a good option for dogs that don’t scratch at their wounds, but try to lick them excessively

But again, talk to your vet before you switch to a different collar! The cone must match your dog’s specific needs.

Be patient and support your dog

Most dogs get used to the cone collar in a few days. But if you have a nervous pup who needs your support, be patient. 

Positive reinforcement, patience, and lots of love is the best way how you can help him during this difficult time. 

how to help a dog with collar cone

How to clean and maintain a cone collar

Dogs get their cones dirty from saliva, food, and other yucky and sticky stuff and need to be cleaned regularly. 

The best thing to do is to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific guidance. 

In general, most cone collars can be cleaned using mild soap and warm water. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners as they can damage the collar’s material.

If your dog’s cone collar has a fabric or removable parts, check if they are machine washable. Follow the recommended washing instructions, such as using a gentle cycle and mild detergent. Always allow the collar to air dry thoroughly before putting it back on your dog.

As for maintenance, regularly inspect the cone collar for any signs of wear and tear. Check for frayed edges, cracks, or damaged fasteners. If you notice any significant damage, it’s advisable to replace the collar to ensure your dog’s safety and the collar’s effectiveness. 

The frequency of cone collar replacement or updates can vary depending on several factors, including the quality of the collar, your dog’s behavior, and the specific condition or injury being treated.

printable pet planner for busy dog owners

Monitoring the healing process

Although this is a bit off-topic,  I’m just going to add this section because I think it’s really important. 

If your pup is wearing a cone, there is a reason for it. Most likely he had surgery or an injury, which means you should monitor the wound closely. You probably talked about this with your vet, but repetition makes a master 😛 

To check if a wound is healing properly, carefully observe the area for any signs of improvement. Look for gradual closure of the wound, reduced swelling, and the formation of healthy granulation tissue. The wound edges should appear clean and free from excessive redness, heat, or discharge. Additionally, if your dog is experiencing less discomfort or pain, it’s a positive indicator that healing is progressing.

However, it’s also important to be aware of signs that may indicate infection or complications. Watch for any increased swelling, redness, or warmth around the wound. Excessive discharge, pus-like fluid, or a foul odor are also warning signs of infection. Other concerning signs include persistent bleeding, non-healing wounds, or the presence of black or necrotic tissue. 

The best advice I can give you is to take your pup to a vet if something seems off. 

Ok, this was exhausting… but I hope I answered all your questions ☺️ If not, post a comment below!

Hope your pup gets used to his cone and will recover quickly 🤗

PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet health tips, subscribe to my newsletter! Today you will get a free pet planner as a bonus 🤗

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