A cone is never an ideal solution to canine health problems or injuries, but in some situations, it’s the only way to prevent a wound or condition from worsening.
Cones are plastic cone-shaped structures that fit around the neck or a dog (or cat). The cone is designed to obstruct a dog’s oral access to other areas of their body, thus preventing them from licking themselves in certain areas.
The most common times when veterinarians will recommend cones for their canine patients are following surgery (e.g., neutering) or where some form of skin infection or irritation is present.
This could be the result of a diagnosable skin condition or an infected wound.
Cones are a pretty effective method of reducing infection and irritation rates, but for many owners, their first concern is how long their pet will need to wear the cone.
Even cones designed to maximize comfort can feel uncomfortable. They also often restrict a dog’s ability to eat and drink as normal.
All of this annoyance can contribute to changes in a dog’s character, including increased anxiety, irritability, and less interest in cuddles and playtime.
So, exactly how long should a dog wear a cone? Well, it depends on the reason why the cone has been prescribed.
If a cone has been prescribed for your dog following surgery, the recommended time period to keep the cone on is 2 weeks or 14 days.
This estimate is backed by most veterinarians because it’s the point at which any stitches or staples can usually be removed.
Some surgical incisions can heal faster than the 2-week mark. In some cases, dogs can fully heal from surgery and have their sutures removed in just 10 days.
If your pup is fully healed from their ordeal and the sutures have been professionally removed before this point, you can go ahead and remove the cone with your vet’s permission.
However, barring rare situations where medical advice has been sought on the matter, you should not remove the cone before stitches or staples have been removed.
Doing so could lead to all manner of complications, including wounds being reopened, infection setting in, or even staples being swallowed.
With that being said, if your dog is really struggling to eat and drink while wearing the cone, it’s okay to remove it during meals.
Make sure to supervise the meal, though, and put the cone straight back on once they have finished eating.
When a cone is prescribed to keep your dog from exacerbating a skin condition or other source of irritation, it’s more difficult to provide a time estimate for how long the cone has to stay on.
This is because, unlike surgical incisions and other wounds, skin problems have less of a concrete healing time.
Where a surgical wound, barring other complications, will typically heal within 2 weeks if it’s left alone, it can be hard to say how long a dermatological condition will take to clear up.
Working out when your fur baby is ready to live cone-free again will require a process of careful and regular monitoring, ideally with the guidance of your veterinarian.
In the case of a canine skin condition (some common ones are ringworm, impetigo, and atopic dermatitis), there will probably be some sores, scabbing, or inflammation at the site.
Part of figuring out when it’s safe to take the cone off is monitoring these symptoms.
As with any other incision or wound that could be worsened or left open to infection by licking or chewing, it’s important that any skin damage from the condition is fully healed.
Any scabs left behind, for example, could be disturbed by your dog’s grooming or scratching habits.
Hopefully, your vet should be able to prescribe a treatment for your dog (this could be a topical ointment, anti-fungal medicine, or antibiotics, depending on the diagnosis).
Based on the effects of the prescribed treatment, your vet should be able to give you a rough estimate of how long the healing process will take.
It’s crucial that you heed this advice and keep monitoring the condition for signs of improvement or deterioration.
It’s also necessary to bear in mind that for some dogs, skin conditions (including allergies and hormonal responses) can be chronic and long-term.
In these situations, putting your dog in a cone every time a flare-up occurs can seem impractical.
If your dog really isn’t coping well with having to wear a cone, or if licking and chewing need to be deterred in the long term, there are a few alternatives you could discuss with your vet.
Soft and inflatable cones are available on the market, for example, and while they’re still restrictive, they’re much less stiff and uncomfortable than the traditional Elizabethan cone.
You could even opt for a fabric bodysuit to protect the site of the wound or infection itself rather than restricting the neck.
Once again, always talk these options through with your vet before implementing any changes. Some of these alternatives won’t be suitable for certain injuries or conditions, and some may be ineffective in your specific situation.
The bottom line any time your dog needs to wear a cone is that the cone will need to stay on until the incision, wound, infection, or irritation concerned is healed.
Where the need for a cone is prompted by surgery, such as neutering surgery, the expected time frame for healing is between 10 and 14 days.
Healing times can vary because every dog is unique, so be sure to seek the advice of your vet before removing the cone, and always wait until stitches or staples have been removed.
If a skin condition is at play, you and your veterinary practitioner will need to closely monitor the improvement of the condition to decide when it’s safe to remove the cone.
Again, all open wounds, raw patches, and scabs should be healed before the cone is removed to minimize the risk of infection/reinfection.
Remember that if your pup is seriously distressed or impeded by wearing a cone, you can take it off for mealtimes, and there are alternatives you can discuss with your vet.