So, your vet suggested a cone. Confused? Scared? Not sure how your cat will deal with this? Don't worry. We're here to guide you through everything you need to know about cat cones and how to use one to help your cat get better.
What is a cat cone?
This is a simple apparatus shaped like an open-ended cone that envelopes the cat's face. These devices are known by a variety of names such as Elizabethan collars, E-Collars, Buster collars and then humorous terms such as
"cone of shame", "pet radar dish" and "lampshade".
Historically, veterinarians used to make their own pet cones for their clients. They would use pliable plastic sheets or cardboard to create them. Today there's a variety of ready-made commercial cones, readily available online or at your local pet store. Keep reading to learn about the different types of cat cones, store-bought and homemade.
Why would your cat need a cone?
The cone is used to prevent a cat from licking or chewing areas on her or his body. It can stop a cat from chewing on the stitches of a recent surgery site or grooming to the point of self-mutilation.
The cone can also prevent a cat from scratching or clawing at his or her own face. This can be useful following eye surgery or in the case of a facial skin lesion that the cat tends to scratch.
The cat cone is never a solution in its own right. You should only use it temporarily if and when instructed to by your veterinarian. Never use a cat cone just to try and prevent a cat from scratching its face or licking a part of its body. You have to get Kitty to the vet first for a full diagnosis and for treating the source of the problem.
Does my cat really need a cone?
That's actually a good question. Because it's so uncomfortable and stressful, the cone should only be used as a last resort. Some veterinarians will put a cone on any cat undergoing surgery, including routine spaying and neutering. That may not be necessary. Most cats do very well without any restrictive devices. They may lick the area of the wound, but as long as they don't chew and pull on the stitches, this should not be a problem.
Talk to your veterinarian about your options. If you can observe your cat's postoperative behavior, you should be able to see in time if Kitty is pulling on those stitches. If and when that happens, you can use a cone or some alternative measure to protect the site of the incision. If the cat is just licking at the wound occasionally, without nibbling on the stitches, there's usually no need for a cone.
Types of cones & alternatives to Cat Cones
A traditional Plastic Cat Cone
This is the most common type of cone, easily identifiable by its round sturdy shape. Plastic cones come in a variety of colors and designs.
Some plastic cones have a softer edge, covered with fabric, like this one (available on Amazon here)
If you can, try to get a see-through plastic cone. It lets in more light and can help the cat manage its surroundings better.
Talk to your veterinarian about trimming the edges of the cone. This may prevent some of the unwanted behaviors while allowing your cat a better view and ease of movement.
Made of foam and covered with colorful fabric, this soft version of the cone may be more comfortable for some cats. Others may manage to fold the cone by pressing it against a hard object, thus rendering it ineffective.
Some cats do well with a soft pliable cone like the Kong EZ E-Collar. It comes with its own drawstring, but TCS members comment that it's best to attach it to a proper cat collar as many cats don't like the feeling of a string around their necks.
Inflatable Cat E-Collars
Inflatable cones are soft donut-shaped Elizabethan collars like this one by Kong. They're lightweight and less obstructive than traditional cones but aren't as limiting as the traditional plastic cone, so may not always be suitable.
The Paper Plate
It's entirely possible to create a homemade cone. Some veterinarians still suggest the simple method of using a large paper plate as an Elizabethan collar. It's cheap and readily available but some cats can tear through the paper.
Post-surgical jacket and recovery suits
In some cases, you can use an alternative to the dreaded cone. If you're trying to protect an area on the cat's body (not the face), you can use a garment to cover the body with. These jackets, sleeves or suits are generally less stressful to cats than a regular cone.
There are several commercial options, like this one by Suitical -
For homemade versions, our members have used baby onesies, like this one -
Or a sleeve made of an old teeshirt. You can either use a very stretchy teeshirt, cut off the sleeves and gently pull it over the cat's body, or you can get creative and create a version based on knots, like this one -
So, which cone or cone-substitute should you use? It depends. If you're trying to prevent a cat from licking or chewing on an area that can be covered with a "suit" that is probably the best option. The garment won't limit Kitty's movement and won't get in the way of eating or drinking. However if it's the face that you're trying to protect from the claws, some kind of cone is probably the only solution.
What to expect when your cat wears a cone
Cones are never fun. Most cats hate the feeling of the cone around their neck and there's usually an adjustment period. During the first few hours, many cats have difficulty even walking around with the cone. Some cats walk backward while others walk into walls. Some cats refuse to walk at all and resort to crawling or dragging themselves across the floor. Be patient and give Kitty time to adjust to the new situation.
Do monitor your cat's behavior closely during the first few hours. Make sure that the cone is effective in keeping your cat from licking, chewing or scratching at the problem area. Cats can even hurt themselves if they try to use a hard plastic cone to scratch against. Some cats manage to wriggle their way out of the cone and others may get stuck in narrow places or under a bed so keep an eye on Kitty and block problem areas ahead of time.
Even if your cat is used to going outside by herself, she needs to stay inside for as long as she's wearing a cone. A cat's vision and hearing are limited by the cone, making him or her extremely vulnerable to the dangers that lurk outside.
How will my cat eat and drink while wearing the cone?
Some cats manage to reach their food and water even when wearing a cone. Some don't. Keep track of Kitty's eating and drinking behavior during the first day to make sure he or she can actually consume the contents of their feeding dishes. If the cone keeps their face too high above the floor, try elevating the dishes by placing them on a stable yet narrow base. If that doesn't work, you can try cutting off some of the cone to make it shorter. If all else fails, you'll have to take the cone off for a few hours a day to allow your cat enough time to eat and drink.
How will my cat groom while wearing the cone?
Your cat is unlikely to be able to self-groom while wearing the cone. Even a shorthaired cat may need your help during this time. Brush the coat to prevent matting and provide your cat that much-needed skin stimulation. Our member @Columbine helped her coned cats by scratching the areas they couldn't reach. She suggests drawing an imaginary circle away from the stitches and then scratching gently around that area without putting any pressure on the surgery site.
Remember, this is only a temporary thing! It may be uncomfortable but sometimes it's just unavoidable. The cone can benefit your cat and it won't last forever! We're here for your cat and you while the journey lasts, so why not start a thread about your cat's health problem and cat cone adventure in the cat health forum?