12 Jul Dog Onesie vs. Dog Cone: What To Use For Post-Op Care
Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that they have a tendency to get into scrapes. From ear infections to paw injuries, from foreign body ingestion to parasite infestation, there’s a lot of things your dog can get into. And while treating these medical conditions is the vet’s job, helping them recover at home is yours.
To help your dog heal from any injury, hotspot or when recovering from spay / neuter surgery, you will need something to prevent them from licking, biting, scratching, or dirtying their wounds or sutures. This is where the Elizabethan collar comes in. This is considered a must-have in any responsible dog owner’s arsenal.
But this product is nicknamed the “cone of shame” for good reason. Dogs appear uncomfortable wearing it, and even if we know it’s for their own good, it’s still hard to watch. There have been very few studies on the effects of e-collars, but the ones that do exist support anecdotal evidence. A study by Shenoda et al. (2020) found that as much as 77.4% of dog owners believed that their dog’s quality of life diminished whenever they were wearing the cone.
So is there a viable alternative to the cone of shame?
There is indeed! The dog onesie, also known as the dog recovery suit, operates under the same principle as using a t-shirt on a dog to prevent licking or touching a specific area. But since this is designed with dogs and their activities in mind, a dog onesie holds distinct advantages over a plain t-shirt in preventing self-trauma.
Dog onesie vs. Dog Cone. Key Factors To Consider:
So the question now is: should you use a dog onesie instead of a cone? The short answer is: it depends. A dog recovery suit is great for some situations, while an e-collar is more appropriate for others–in some cases, it might be helpful to use both! So what are the important factors to consider when you’re choosing between a dog recovery suit vs a cone?
1) Location of injury
If the site you’re trying to protect is on your dog’s trunk or abdomen, you can use either a dog onesie or an e-collar. Both of these contraptions will be effective at preventing access to sutures from gastrointestinal, urogenital, chest, and spine surgeries, as well as any injury or skin condition in the back or belly. However, for medical conditions affecting the limbs, face, and tail, an e-collar is your best bet. The e-collar works by limiting the reach of the tongue, it also limits the animals ability to scratch at its head. So, it is more versatile than the dog recovery suit that covers only the dog’s chest and abdomen.
2) Your dog’s willpower
There are some dogs that are driven by an intense desire to get at the very area they’re not supposed to touch. And while you might think that a dog with strong willpower to lick or bite the site would benefit from using a sturdy and durable cone as opposed to a soft, cotton onesie, you’d be surprised to know that the opposite can be true.
The discomfort of using a cone may make our furry friends restless, making them much more likely to engage in self-traumatizing behavior. There have been cases wherein dogs that keep trying to get at their wounds when placed in a cone suddenly mellow down when wearing a onesie.
But for dogs who just won’t stop going for their wounds or sutures, combining a cone and a onesie may be an option. You can opt to remove the cone to give them a break from the discomfort, but be sure to supervise them even while they’re wearing their onesie.
3) Your dog’s comfort
Your dog’s comfort during the recovery stage is not just an animal welfare issue, but a medical one. During times of chronic stress, the hormone cortisol tends to depress the immune response. Studies have shown that this leads to slower wound healing, increased incidence of gastric ulcers and diarrhea, and inefficiencies in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. It is clear that recovery can be enhanced by preventing stress in dogs recovering from surgery or illness.
Unfortunately, canine comfort appears to be vastly impaired when they are wearing a cone. This can manifest in two ways. Some dogs seem depressed and sad, with their ears lying flat on their heads and their eyes wide with discomfort. Others are manic and restless, engaging in desperate attempts to take the contraption off. It is for this reason that fur parents begin to look for a dog cone alternative to help keep the animal calm and relaxed.
This intense discomfort is likely caused by the cone’s interference with sight and sound reception. A dog’s peripheral vision becomes much more limited with the e-collar’s wide brim. The cone also tends to amplify sound waves as they bounce around the animal’s head and into its ears. We know that the canine’s sense of hearing is much more sensitive than ours, so it’s easy to understand why it would cause them discomfort. With poor range of sight and painfully loud sounds, dogs can get disoriented and scared–which explains their pitiful expression when they are wearing the cone.
In the study by Shenoda et al. (2020), owners reported that their pets experienced difficulty with a number of daily activities, including drinking and eating. This negatively affects recovery, as dogs need nutritional input to bounce back from disease and surgery. In the same study, approximately 25% of those interviewed reported their dogs getting injured from bumping into objects, falling down stairs, stumbling, and skin irritation around the area of the cone. Again, this is not good news for pets recovering from medical conditions.
On the other hand, using a dog recovery suit or t-shirt instead of an e-collar is much less restrictive when it comes to hearing and sight. Many dogs, particularly those used to wearing clothes, have no problem going about their day in a onesie. They can eat, drink, and play just fine, which tells us that the stress they feel from wearing it is negligible, if non-existent.
4) Your convenience
Facilitating your dog’s recovery demands your time and attention. It calls for administering medicines and ointments, making sure they eat and drink, watching out for symptoms of infection or recurrence, and constantly making sure they’re healing well. Ideally, what you use to keep them from getting at their stitches should remain intact so you can go about your day without worrying too much.
If your dog is used to a cone, then this should be no problem. But if they’re not, you may need to remove it intermittently to allow them to do their other activities. For example, if the cone prevents them from drinking, eating, or doing potty time, then you’ll need to give them a break every few hours. Depending on the design of the e-collar, this can take time to remove and put back on. While you can train your dog to be comfortable in a cone, it will take time, effort, and patience to achieve.
Many pet owners find that using a recovery t-shirt instead of e-collar for dogs is more convenient. Onesies for dogs are designed to accommodate the needs of our four-legged friends, with a clip-up system that makes it very easy for them to do their business without getting their recovery suit dirty, or needing to take it on and off each time a dog goes outside. The only time you have to take it off is to wash it.
When comparing a dog recovery suit vs a cone in terms of convenience, it’s worth considering that the suit allows for stabilization of the bandage. It helps hug the bandage against the skin, preventing it from slipping or sliding–even with some scratching. Dog onesies even come with a small pocket to insert gauze sheets for absorbing wound exudates and excess topical ointment. This is conveniently situated in the belly portion, where many surgical incisions are made.
Tips to make onesie or e-collar use more effective
1) Conduct a test run.
Let’s remember: just because your dog is wearing an e-collar or dog onesie doesn’t mean that you can rest on your laurels and leave them be. When you first put it on, it is important to observe how they react to it. So set aside at least an hour to do a test run using the protective measure of your choice. Observe them carefully: Do they seem uncomfortable? Can they drink water and do their business while wearing it? Did it lessen the amount of licking or biting, or aggravate it?
Answering these questions will help you assess if the self-trauma measures you put in place are effective. If the test run is a success, there’s a high chance that it will continue to be effective throughout the recovery process. But if it’s not, at least you’ll be able to immediately before much damage is done. This gives you a chance to re-evaluate your approach and make the necessary adjustments to ensure your dog doesn’t get at their stitches or wounds.
2) Plan for when you leave the house.
In an ideal world, we would be able to supervise our dog’s recovery 24/7. This is the best way to make sure that their sutures remain intact and their wounds remain safe. But as much as we would like to stay at home with our dogs all day, this is simply not an option for many fur parents.
If you need to leave, make sure your dog is comfortable and unable to cause too much damage to themselves and your home. This means placing them in a controlled and safe area while you’re out. For those using cones, it is important to remove things that might topple over if they bump into it and things that could get stuck in the brim. There has been at least one instance of a dog suffering from fatal asphyxiation from having a plastic bag clinging to their cone.
To prevent self-trauma while their dogs are unsupervised, many owners choose to use both a onesie and a cone. The double protection is usually enough to keep dogs from licking or biting their wounds.
3) Regularly check the site.
For the first few days or weeks, your veterinarian will most likely prescribe you with topical ointments to keep the area clean and sanitized. This means that you’ll be checking the site regularly. This is a good habit to keep up until the wound has fully healed. Do not be complacent and think that you don’t need to check the site as long as your dog is wearing a recovery suit or a cone. Just because it’s protected from licking and biting doesn’t mean that the suture won’t unravel, or that infection won’t occur. Taking a quick peek once a day should be enough to alert you if something is holding up the healing process.
In the toss-up between the dog onesie vs. dog cone, the right choice will ultimately depend on the individual dog’s situation.
In general, a recovery onesie like BellyGuard is a great choice for dogs that are:
Recovering from abdominal, chest, or spinal surgeries, or hotspots, rashes or injuries to the belly or back
Experiencing discomfort and stress when wearing a cone
Not disposed to aggravated wound licking and biting
An e-collar may be a necessary purchase for dogs that are:
Recovering from head, tail, and limb surgeries, hotspots, or wounds
Prone to aggravated wound licking and biting
But there’s nothing wrong with having both on-hand–in fact, that might actually be the best idea. This way, you can choose to use just a dog onesie, just a cone, or both a onesie and a cone, depending on the situation. In the long road to recovery, your dog will need all the help they can get–including help to prevent self-sabotage of the healing process! Both dog onesies and e-collars are worthy investments for fur parents who want their dogs to get back to tiptop shape as soon as possible.
Shenoda, Yustina & Ward, Michael & McKeegan, Dorothy & Quain, Anne. (2020). “The Cone of Shame”: Welfare Implications of Elizabethan Collar Use on Dogs and Cats as Reported by their Owners. Animals. 10. 333. 10.3390/ani10020333.
Rehrig, Angelika & Napolitano, Deborah & Monsour, Christopher. (2018). Assessment and Treatment of Self-Injurious Behavior in a Dog. 8. 42.