After the operation: choosing the right tools to balance patient comfort and safety

Classic cones, otherwise known as E-Collars, are the ideal device for most animals post-surgery – but not all. Here’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the wide range of alternatives available.

The image is iconic. A post-operation companion animal wearing a large E-collar, running into things, looking stressed and uncomfortable. These pets are often disoriented by the sound amplification and feeling of being surrounded by something unknown, but as experts you know that the cone was invented for a reason. It is an essential part of many post-op care solutions.

Also known as Elizabethan collars, pet cones, or referred to as BUSTER collars from the original brand, E-Collars are a protective medical device worn by a cat or dog to prevent biting or licking of the body, or scratching of the head or neck. These devices are usually effective at keeping patients physically safe but, unfortunately, they can also have a psychologically-disruptive effect on certain animals. Due to their wide applicability and effectiveness, many vets don’t know that there are more specialized post-op options available to enhance the comfort of the animal. In order to give the best care to your patients, it is important to be aware of and choose the best solutions for the job.

Finding the perfect fit

The first BUSTER collar, created in 1974 by Danish veterinary equipment company KRUUSE, made its debut as a simple non-transparent plastic cone. Since 1974, there have been several advancements in the design and manufacture of post-op care devices.

BUSTER Premium Collar

BUSTER Premium Collar

This device, also designed and manufactured by KRUUSE, is an upgrade to the classic E-Collar with an emphasis on comfort. Boasting a comfortable Neoprene neck fastening system, a transparent cone for full-range sight, and a sound-absorbing soft outer banding, the BUSTER Premium Collar is one of the most comfortable and versatile options on the market. It is particularly suited to patients with long recovery periods, where preventing the animal from reaching the injury site is critical.

Soft collar

Soft collars

These water-repellent alternatives to the classic polypropylene BUSTER collars are especially suitable for cats and small dogs due to their flexibility. Because smaller animals move closer to the ground and furniture, it can be very jarring when a hard collar gets caught on something, making soft collars a much less disruptive choice. Due to their softness and flexibility, however, they do not offer the same level of protection as a plastic cone, making them unsuitable for some animals. Large dogs, for instance, can often just push the device out of the way. Consider the behavior, stress levels and physical state of the patient before suggesting this option.

Inflatable collar

Inflatable collars

Inflatable collars are comfortable, durable and, most importantly, they do not restrict the animal’s vision or amplify sounds. They are perfect for keeping the animal from reaching wounds, rashes, or stitches on most areas of the body, without inhibiting movement or making the animal feel “closed in”. That being said, they do not protect all areas of the body as well as a traditional BUSTER collar.

Body sleeve

Body sleeves

Available in both front-leg and hind-leg versions, these textile solutions are perfect for preventing licking and irritation of the skin on the legs. They are often made of a breathable material that slips onto the animal’s legs and torso like a pair of pants, offering an unrestricted range of movement for the animal.  If your patient has hotspots, a skin disorder, or any light skin abrasions that need to be kept clean and dry, a body sleeve could be a good option to prevent irritation without being too cumbersome.

BUSTER BodySuit

BUSTER body suits

Similar to body sleeves, a BUSTER body suit is another specialized textile option for post-op care. This device is focused on protecting the abdomen and groin areas without restricting movement of the neck or legs. Usually built with removable pads in case of fluid loss, as well as an easy-to-access flap for when nature calls, body suits are often one of the least disruptive options for protecting wounds in the abdominal region. It can sometimes be beneficial to use an E-Collar alongside a textile solution for abdominal wounds.

Boots

BUSTER Bootie

Sometimes injuries and operations are confined to the paw and lower leg areas. In these cases, a full BUSTER collar can be excessive, and even ineffectual, given that the paw can still become moist or further injured from the animal’s environment. There are certain types of boots designed with a waterproof, breathable nylon to keep wounds clean and dry while they heal.

How to decide on a post-op care device

The best way to choose the correct post-op care solution is by getting to know your patient. Several details need to be taken into consideration when deciding which device to send your patient home with, and there is rarely an optimal one-size-fits-all answer.

If you are unfamiliar with the animal you’re treating, it is very important that you interview the pet parent in order to determine the general behavior and stress level of the animal. If you know an animal’s triggers and disposition, you can better assess which device or combination of devices will maximize safety and minimize disruption.

By considering the patient’s behavioral history, the surgical site, and even the environment (e.g. humid weather does not always work well with textile solutions), you can be sure that the device you recommend will have the highest chance of keeping your patient happy and comfortable in their healing. Owner compliance is very important, so make sure your clients understand the importance of keeping the wound protected during healing. Regardless of the chosen post-op solution, supervision and monitoring of the animal during recovery is key.

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