10 Better Alternatives to the Cat “Cone of Shame”

Last Updated on: October 7, 2020

The Elizabethan collar, E-collar, or “cone of shame” has been a staple of veterinarian post-surgery procedures for decades, having been invented in the 1950s or 1960s. Prior to this, veterinarians would make collars themselves, using materials lying around the surgery. Although extremely practical, the collar can be uncomfortable and can limit mobility. But it’s used for a reason, which is primarily to stop pets from chewing, licking, and otherwise interfering with stitches and post-operative wounds.

The E-cone can be a hindrance to cats and their owners, and many will attest to their pet’s capability of shedding the cone and gnawing on the stitches.

Whether your cat belligerently refuses to don their collar, wants something more comfortable, or you’re looking for a way to prevent your cat from knocking lamps and ornaments off the sideboard, we’ve listed 10 alternatives to this traditional protective item. We’ve included commercially available alternatives, as well as some that you can make yourself with household materials.Cat ball divider 1

1. Soft E-Collar

The soft e-collar has the same basic design as the traditional cone. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and even designs, but they all have one thing in common: they are designed to be more comfortable for your pet.

Unfortunately, soft e-collars are easier to bend and misshape. If your cat is unlikely to try and lick the site, a soft collar may prove enough of a physical barrier to stop them licking. If they are an especially determined licker, though, they are likely to find a way around the cone.

Soft cones tend to be shorter and less obtrusive than the standard collar, too. This means that your cat will have improved peripheral vision and should prevent her from walking into obstructions and obstacles. It could save the backs of your legs, too.

If you can’t find one to fit, you can make your own from soft foam sheets.


2. Pillow Collars

cat neck pillow
Photo credit: IRCat, Pixabay

The pillow collar is, as the name suggests, a pillow that is fitted around the shoulders and over the neck. It is much shorter than a cone and a lot softer, so it should be more comfortable for your cat.

One of the problems with an e-collar is that your cat will have to lay their head on the collar when they want to go to sleep or rest. It’s uncomfortable, and it can make even the most playful of cats thoroughly miserable. A pillow collar still works as a barrier to stop your cat from licking the afflicted site, but it will be more comfortable. Like the soft collar, these tend to be shorter than hard plastic collars, so they also enable your cat to enjoy a wider field of vision.

Although pillow collars are more comfortable than hard plastic, your cat may try walking backwards to get out of the collar. This can lead to injury, and a determined cat will usually find a way out of the collar, whether through double-jointed articulation or through scratching and chewing.


3. Cloth Cones

Cat with soft Elizabethan collar
Photo credit: Cat with soft Elizabethan collar by Belinda Hankins Miller

Cloth cones have the same basic design as the plastic collar, except that they are made from or covered in a soft cloth. This can prevent rubbing around the collar area and will be more comfortable for your cat than the hard plastic. However, this comes at a cost. The soft cloth is much easier for the cat to manipulate, so it doesn’t provide as effective a barrier as the hard plastic would. At the very least, cloth cones look less surgical, and they come in a host of colors and designs.


4. Inflatable Collars

Cat wearing inflatable e-collar
Photo credit: Cat wearing inflatable e-collar by AslanEntropy

Inflatable collars are similar to travel pillows that you can buy for use on flights and when traveling. They have a soft, velvety exterior, and although they are inflated, they should not be too easy to puncture. If your cat does manage to puncture the cushion, it can be repaired quite easily with cellophane tape, similar to repairing a puncture on a bicycle wheel.

The greatest benefit of this type of collar is that it will move and mold according to your cat’s position so she should be able to get comfortable lying down and moving around. It weighs less than a normal collar and does not protrude as far, which means that your cat should not be as prone to accidental striking and knocking.

As with a lot of the alternative styles of collar, the biggest pitfall of the inflatable collar is that it does not provide as much of a barrier to prevent your cat from licking and chewing the operation site. A determined cat will still find a way to get to the area.


5. Neck Control Collar

Cat wearing a harness on a walk
Photo credit: Cat wearing a harness on a walk by Trougnouf

The neck control collar is a wide, padded collar that does not protrude from the neck, but its thickness prevents the cat from being able to fully turn her head. This type of collar is usually used for dogs, rather than cats, but there are some feline models available and if you can convince your cat to wear one, it can prove highly effective.

The big drawback with this type of collar is that it really does prevent your cat from turning her head fully to the side, which means that it might still lead to broken ornaments. Your cat will not find it a comfortable alternative, either.


6. Surgical Recovery Clothing

Surgical recovery clothing is a good alternative to a cone because it can be less constrictive and allows for freedom of movement while offering a barrier of protection for the affected area. Different versions exist, but the most common is a surgical recovery suit: a cat onesie, if you like, that fits over the cat’s body and usually fastens at the back or on the belly.

The suit is usually made from cotton or nylon, should be easy to wash, and uses a Velcro fastening so that it can accommodate cats of all sizes.

While some will refuse to wear them, other cats have no issues with a surgical recovery suit.

Your cat might still try and lick the area, and unless the suit adequately covers the operation site, you could end up with a soggy mess of cotton sitting on top of an irritated operation site. Also, while it might be possible to convince a dog to wear a sweater or suit, cats are far less accommodating, and you might need backup when trying to convince them to wear a tight-fitting onesie.


7. Small Dog Sweaters

small dog sweater
Photo credit: JACLOU-DL, Pixabay

Don’t tell your cat, but she shares a lot of physical similarities with the chihuahua and other small dog breeds. As such, you can buy sweaters that are designed for small dog breeds. They should be easy enough to get on your cat, as long as they are docile enough to let you.

These small dog sweaters have the added advantage that they usually run high up the neck, which can restrict your cat’s head movements and stop them from even attempting to lick or chew on the site. They are also readily available, often even in your local supermarket or pet store.

Again, they do come in a variety of designs and colors, although your cat might not be impressed with having to wear something designed for a small Mexican breed of dog.


8. Baby Clothes

Baby clothes have holes in all the right places, are designed to be a soft surface for babies, so why not fur babies? You may need to modify the design a little, but baby onesies are close to being the perfect fit for your cat. Most cats come in at a size that is equivalent to a 9-month baby.

Baby onesies are an excellent option if you need to prevent your cat from getting to their legs because there are alternatives with legs and feet, too. The poppers should be easy to undo, and baby clothes are easy to wash. They also look cute.

The biggest problem is one that is common with pretty much all collars and collar alternatives: convincing your cat to don a baby onesie may not be as adorable as it sounds.


9. DIY Surgery Shirt

If you’re skilled with knitting needles and have a t-shirt or other clean and flexible item of clothing lying around, and you don’t mind losing that t-shirt, you can adapt almost any piece of clothing. Boy’s underpants can be turned into a pair of surgical recovery shorts, t-shirts can be used to cover most of the body, and you can get as creative as you like if you’re able to operate a sewing machine.

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Facts About the Cone of Shame

The cone of shame is officially called the Elizabethan collar, often shortened to E-collar, named for its similarity to the high collars worn during the Elizabethan period. Made from a hard plastic, the cone affixes around the collar area of the cat. Some models have a cushioned collar area, which is supposed to make it more comfortable for the wearer. They are usually adjustable but come in a range of general sizes so that there is a cone available for cats of all sizes.

The cone of shame is given to cats after they have had an operation, suffered an injury, or if they have some kind of skin complaint. The cone prevents the cat from being able to turn and interfere with the injury site. It is meant to prevent the animal from being able to lick, chew, gnaw, or bite the area, therefore preventing further injury and stopping the constant licking from causing infection.

Reasons to Find Alternatives to the E-collar

The E-collar is an essential piece of kit that can reduce post-operative recovery time and minimize complications. However, it is not without problems.

  • Putting the collar on a cat can be dangerous for the owner and often results in cat scratches and a disappearing cat. The cone looks intimidating, and your cat will remember any past experiences wearing one.
  • Some cats steadfastly refuse to wear a cone.
  • If you are lucky enough to get the collar on, it can be a major hazard. Cats use their whiskers to judge space and determine the space they can squeeze through. Because the collar protrudes from the cat’s head, they have no idea what they can and cannot walk past. They will take down most ornaments, lights, and pretty much anything in their path, including you, or any small children that might be about.
  • The cone of shame is a major obstruction for the cat too. Your cat might struggle to drink from her bowl, eat her food, and she may be involved in cone-related injuries, such as tumbling downstairs, bumping into walls, or failing to make the jump onto the kitchen worktop.

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Final Thoughts on Alternatives to The Cone of Shame

Elizabethan collars are an essential part of post-operative care. In a lot of cases, vets prefer the hard e-collar, but that doesn’t mean that your cat will accept or fare well with one. They can be cumbersome and restrictive. They can lead to accidents involving your cat and ornaments, and they can prevent your cat from eating and drinking properly.

Fortunately, as you have seen, alternatives do exist.

More comfortable neck collars, as well as surgical recovery suits, are available commercially. If you can yield knitting needles or operate a sewing machine, you can create your own alternatives from pieces of clothing and other pieces of cloth and material around the house.


Featured image credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay