Ahhhh…the Elizabethan collar. Otherwise known as “the satellite dish,” “the big blue flower,” “the cone” and the “circular torture thingy” (among other not-so-euphemistic nome-de-guerres). It’s a menace to petdom and a source of stress for caring parents and veterinarians the world around.

And yet, vets keep prescribing it. In fact, we foist it upon unsuspecting pet owners by trotting out their post-surgical charges with glee—as if Fido really does look cute in a collar that makes him look like he could tune in to every channel in Australia if he tried hard enough. 

This popular device’s namesake didn’t look so comfortable in her rigid ruffled collar so why should vets expect pets to feel any different? The truth is…we don’t. But without it, a middle-of-the-night visit to the emergency hospital for self-evisceration is potentially in the cards.

After all, we don’t require E-collars so we can all sit around and giggle at our patients. We need E-collars so your pets won’t act like the animals they are and try to rid themselves of noxious stitches or lick their tasty wounds into infected submission.

We’re sensitive to your pets’ anxiety at the collar thing, so we let them go without (with strict supervision), or with alternatives whenever possible. But bandages get licked off too (and present their own hazards, depending on the wound), T-shirts and “onesies” don’t tend to do the trick quite as well for most pets, and cage muzzles are oh-so-Hannibal-Lecterish (and less than comfortable).

For the record, the vet community has tried just about every alternative to E-collars—and we’re still looking. It’s like the age-old mousetrap problem: There’s got to be a better one somewhere. If only someone would invent one!

We’ve tried “Bite-Not” collars (a stiff plastic neck brace no better than an E-collar in my book), soft E-collars (which I use when a pet seems to have a low drive for assailing her wounds), subcutaneous stitches (which help reduce the loose-end, prickly factor), and other methods. But pets are wily. Some even require sedation, ant-anxiety medication or prolonged hospital stays.

We’ve all been there. The collar thing sucks. My advice? Expect the added stress (and the bruises a firm collar can inflict when worn by an active dog). Consider anti-anxiety options (lavender, pheromones, drugs) if need be. And don’t give your vet a hard time about requiring it. It’s all in your pet’s best interest.