“Is that really necessary?”

“Does he really need that thing?”

“But we will watch him!”

Regarding e-collar use, I’ve heard it all. Although they may seem extreme and look ridiculous, e-collars play a very serious role in veterinary medicine. The purpose of the dreaded cone is to deter your pet from licking, biting, rubbing, or traumatizing a sensitive area. It may be applied post-operative so that a pet doesn’t get to their surgical site. It may even be applied to a pet with allergies or a hot spot to stop them from scratching at the area and causing more damage.

Why are they so important? Say, for example, that your dog has just undergone surgery. Chances are, the experience was not only stressful on you, but also on him. He had to spend a day in an unfamiliar place, with lots of strange noises and smells, different people he doesn’t know or trust, and then fall asleep unexpectedly and wake up (possibly) missing body parts, disoriented and with a weird plastic lampshade on his head. That must have been some party!

Meanwhile, you altered your schedule to drop your dog off at the hospital, worried all day about him, then paid for a procedure you may not even fully understand the purpose of AND got your pet back with a plastic satellite dish on his head. As your veterinary technician, I explain to you that if your dog gets to his neuter site, chances are, we may have to re-anesthetize him for another surgical procedure to repair the damage. You will understand, at that moment, the financial penalization of this and will want to do everything in your power to avoid this scenario. Then, I bring your dog out to you and the questions begin. Not, “is this recovery hard on him?” or “what are the effects of anesthesia we should look for?” but “how many channels does he get?”

Once you are told that the e-collar is necessary until his recheck in two weeks, you start to panic. How is he going to eat? How is that going to work in bed with us at night? And then it happens. Your dog comes running at you full force and the cone takes you out at the knees. Or he tries to walk through the door and the cone hits the door frame and he gets stuck. Though funny, you feel bad. And do the inevitable … you take the cone off.

Now your dog is happy and so are you. Then, you turn your back for one second to take the garbage out to the curb. Or to answer the phone. It is at these moments of distraction that it will happen (Murphy’s Law) and your dog will do everything in his power to lick at that neuter site because it’s just so darn itchy from being shaved, sore from being poked and prodded and smells of funny antiseptic used during surgery. Next thing you know, you’re back at the veterinary hospital, checking your dog in for his next procedure, a neuter site repair. And we begin all over again. The truth is, you cannot keep your eyes on them at all times. You must eat, sleep and go to the bathroom (not to mention work!).

Still not deterred from taking off that e-collar? Fortunately, there are other options available. There are soft e-collars, inflatable ones, Bite-Not collars, body stockings, even clothing that can serve the same purpose of deterrence if necessary. Even with an e-collar (or e-collar alternative) on, it is important to examine the area of concern a couple of times a day, just to make sure your pet is not getting to it, or using other things (like furniture or the floor) to satisfy that itch.

Consult with your veterinarian to see which is the best option for your pet, and what they will tolerate and provide the best outcome – a speedy, happy, healthy recovery for both you and your pet.

Natasha Feduik is a licensed veterinary technician with Garden City Park Animal Hospital in New York, where she has been practicing for 10 years. Natasha received her degree in veterinary technology from Purdue University. Natasha has two dogs, a cat and three birds at home and is passionate about helping people take the best possible care of their animal companions.