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Saturday 20 September 2014

Elizabethan collars may look silly but they do the trick!

Published 06/08/2013 | 05:42

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SPEEDY, the dog in the photo, is wearing a plastic collar that looks big enough to receive satellite messages from outer space. Why is she wearing such a massive collar? Read on....

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This type of plastic collars is commonly used in the veterinary world. It is known as an "Elizabethan Collar", because it resembles the white starched lace collars that Queen Elizabeth I and her subjects used to wear. An Elizabethan Collar (also known as a "Buster collar", after a well-known brand), is a large, lampshade-shaped cone, usually made of rigid opaque plastic. It fastens around a dog's neck, using the collar or a strip of bandag. The collar extends up around the dog's head, preventing them from licking or biting any part of their body.

There is a simple reason for the popularity of Elizabethan collars amongst vets:they stop animals from damaging themselves by licking and biting. There is nothing wrong with a gentle lick: in fact, this can be an effective way of cleaning a minor wound such as a graze.

The problem is that animals don't know when to stop. The tongue can be quite abrasive, and if a pet keeps licking an area, the excessive licking can cause redness, soreness and itchiness. When this happens, the animal is driven to lick the wound more and more. This can then become a vicious circle: the more the pet licks the wound, the more itchy it gets, and the more the pet wants to lick the wound. A minor wound can become a serious, infected sore if an animal is not prevented from licking and chewing the area.

There's an even more serious risk following operations, especially if the abdomen has been surgically opened. If a pet licks a surgical wound, the same pattern follows, with initial curiosity leading to the area around the wound becoming red and sore from licking. In the worst cases, a dog can even start to bite at the wound, chewing out the sutures and opening it up, with potentially lethal consequences.

The Elizabethan collar is the simple answer to these problems: pets may not like wearing them, but they successfully prevent animals from interfering with wounds. The short term discomfort and anxiety caused by wearing an ungainly plastic collar is overruled by the guarantee of a shorter, more successful recovery.

Elizabethan collars were originally improvised by vets using any materials that happened to be available. Pieces of cardboard were cut to shape, or the base was cut out of a plastic bucket. The result was effective but the appearance was less professional than the vets would have liked.

Around fifty years ago, custom designed, factory-produced, commercial Elizabethan collars began to be produced. Since the start, the standard version has been made from shiny lightweight plastic. The collars are delivered to vet clinics as packs of flat sheets of plastic. They have to be curled into shape and assembled using plastic tabs and slots. They are available in different sizes, to suit anything from a small kitten to a giant St Bernard.

While these standard collars work well, they are not perfect. The opaque plastic restricts an pet's vision, and they sometimes panic, dashing around the room, bumping into people and furniture. To prevent this, some collars are made using transparent plastic so that animals can see where they are going.

The edges of these plastic collars can be sharp, as owners sometimes discover when an excited dog barges past, scraping their legs with the collar. It can help to line the outer edge of the collar with Elastoplast or bubble wrap so that the sharp plastic edge is covered with a softer surface.

Elizabethan collars look like such awkward, ungainly contraptions that it's no surprise that people have tried to invent alternatives. You can by cushioned versions, as well as inflatable collars, and rigid neck braces that all aim to achieve the same anti-lick purpose as the standard model. Each type has its pros and cons, but the standard version is still the most popular: it's cost effective and it works.

If you need to use one of these for the first time, it's worth asking the staff at the vet clinic to help you. Your pet won't understand why you are trying to force them to poke their head into this peculiar object. You need to be gentle but firm.

You should not leave pets on their own until they're used to wearing the collar. A panicking animal could injure itself by getting a foot caught inside the rim of the collar while trying to remove it. Most pets become used to the collar within a few minutes. They may not like it, but they soon resume normal activities, resigned to the fact that they have no choice about their headgear.

Now back to Speedy. She had a sore patch of skin on her back leg, and she wouldn't stop licking it. We tried applying a bandage, but she chewed it off. The only way to stop her from making it worse was the Elizabethan collar. As it happened, even the standard sized collar wasn't enough: she learned that if she stretched her neck out, she could reach the sore area with the tip of her tongue, and she continued to make it raw red.

The answer: a giant Elizabethan collar, big enough for a dog twice Speedy's size. It may have looked silly, but It did the trick. Within a week, Speedy was completely better, and the collar was safely removed.

Wexford People

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