Sunday, June 5, 2011

Analysis of the Dreaded "Anti-Licking" Devices: Elizabethan-Collar (E-Collar) vs. Comfy Cone vs. Muzzle

Aside from the exercise restrictions that come with most orthopedic surgeries,the worst part of having an external fixator is the no licking rule!  This, of course, is nearly impossible to follow 100% of the time - especially when your dog has nothing better to do than to sit in confinement and scheme how to conquer any and all "anti-licking devices" that you dare to subject him to - as if the look of total dejection and why are you doing this to ME? glares are not enough!

Below I'll illustrate my experimentation with all the icky - "no licky" devices that we've tried and summarize the pros and cons of each method. If you have a hound with a looong snout - you are definitely in for a challenge!
The E-Collar: Doom & Gloom Prevails!
Attempt 1: The E-Collar

To many dogs the E-Collar (Elizabethan Collar) is the absolute harbinger of death, doom, gloom, and destruction. Our Vet Clinic, VOSM, gave Taj a clear plastic e-collar as part of the surgery package to take home. To function properly, the E-Collar must extend beyond the dog's furthermost nose tip. This particular version had many nice features including: it velcros together, has softer black padding around the neck, and is made of clear (not translucent) plastic. Taj, of course, despises it's existence.While he won't try to actively take it off, he let's me know through myriad visual expressions how much he loathes it.

Comfort: C-
     Of all the devices, we've tried, this one is definitely the least comfortable. There's little give in the design. It works relatively well for warmer weather, the plastic stays relatively cool.
Cleanliness: B-   
     The plastic gets dirty with nose smears and has to be cleaned frequently. It is not kind to Taj's ear feathering which gets snagged in velcro & dirty from the nose smears.
Effectiveness: B
     After about 1-week Taj figured out how to use the fixator ring to push the E-collar back far enough to let him lick the four pins on the lowest ring. Also while not a problem with Taj, it looks fairly easy to slide off unless you attach it to a regular collar.
Safety: A
     There is no way that this lampshade is getting snagged on anything in the XPen or on the fixator. It seems very safe to leave on the dog totally unattended.
The "Clunky" Factor: D
     This is by far the most cumbersome of all anti-licking devices out there! Navigation is definitely an issue. .Taj clunks his head on all the XPen walls trying to turn around.
Food Factor: A
      Your dog can eat / drink with this collar - depending how you position the bowls.
Cost: A
     It seems to retail around $16.
     Definitely would recommend a clear version compared to an opaque version.

The Comfy Cone: A Milder Version of Necessary Evil

Attempt 2: The Comfy Cone

Taj's best buddy, Richie, came to the rescue and sent Taj a "Comfy Cone" in a gift pack. The Comfy Cone is a fairly sturdy, stiff-cloth version of an E-Collar made of nylon fabric which is laminated onto a 1/2 inch of foam. There are elastic hoops that use to attach it to your dog's collar (allows for about a 1" collar). Taj definitely despised this less than the plastic E-Collar and seems to tolerate it fairly well.

Comfort: A-
     This is a more posh and cushy version of the E-Collar. It acts as a giant foam pillow and seems to be more comfortable for him to sleep on. It is not the best option for hot weather! We had a few warm nights, and the foam definitely retains body heat.
Cleanliness: A-   
     The cloth version does not get nearly as dirty as the plastic version. It can be easily wiped down to clean. This version also closes with multiple strips of velcro (have to watch the ear feathering).       
Effectiveness: C-
     After about 1-week Taj figured out how to overcome the Comfy Cone. The Cone is much more malleable than the plastic E-Collar. Taj has mastered being able to push it back to assess most of his pins. To overcome this, I place two 2" collars on Taj to prevent the cone from slipping down his neck. This only somewhat works - he can usually still lick the pins on the lowest ring. 
Safety: A+
     There is no worries here with snagging - the Cone is very soft and I feel fully confident leaving it on him completely unattended.
The "Clunky" Factor: B+
     This is much less clunky than the plastic collar. Taj has no problems navigating in it (even with the black color). He will occasionally hit a pen with with it. Overall the Cone actually seems to soothe him.
Food Factor: A+
     Your dog can eat / drink with this collar - no problems! The cone actually folds back easily to allow the dog to eat/drink and then you can fold it to the original position.
Cost: C
     It retails for around $40.
     It comes in solid black and solid tan.Another nice feature is that is has a reflective strip around the outside of it for night trips outside. 

The Muzzle: The Lesser of All Evils?
Attempt 3: The Muzzle

While the Comfy Cone was the clear winner over the E-Collar (except when heat-issues are a concern), I still was not thrilled with the Comfy Cone. It was still a tad clunky, and with the summer approaching, heat would be a factor in the upcoming months. I researched several websites and found one last feasible alternative - the greyhound kennel muzzle. Please be aware that there are a ton of muzzles out there, so do your research! The greyhound muzzle would obviously not work for a pug! In my opinion, basket muzzles are the best. Make sure there are adequate vent areas for air-flow to allow the dog to breathe properly; plastic frames seem to be softer and more comfortable than wire frames. A dog can likely lick through the basket, so you need a plastic guard (often called a "stool guard") to prevent this. The muzzle actually seems to be the most humane option - Taj doesn't mind it at all (despite the photo above - which was taken when I first put it on). I bought Taj's muzzle from Greyhounds Only and ordered the Stool Guard option; they donate profits to their greyhound rescues too!  

Comfort: A
     Of all the devices, we've tried, this one is definitely the most comfortable. The halter strap easily rests behind the ears, there is a broad, soft plastic pad that rests on the snout. I have not had any problems with the muzzle rubbing yet (Taj wore it 2-weeks so far). In regards to heat, the dog can fully open it's mouth and pant with the muzzle on. The stool guard does block some air flow a bit, so I elected to drill extra holes through the stool guard (see below for images).
Cleanliness: A  
     The muzzle only needs to be cleaned infrequently. The halter strap does not upset the ear feathering.
Effectiveness: A
     This is by far the most effective device to stop licking. After a multitude of creative attempts, there was no way Taj could find (initially) to get around it. After 2-weeks with the muzzle; however, Taj - in a moment of absolute frustration - did manage to conquer the muzzle. He was able to snag the big side hole on the bottom of his fixator - which allowed him to lick through the lower side of the muzzle and just barely get to the pins on the bottom ring. The problem is that he couldn't get the muzzle un-snagged which could be a bit dangerous as his head was then attached to his fixator leg!
Safety: B
     Therefore - I would only recommend that you use the muzzle if you are home - in a semi-supervised situation! I would not leave the muzzle on if you are not in the house. If your dog is as determined as Taj and manages to snag the muzzle on the fixator - bad news if you are not home to free him!
The "Clunky" Factor: A
     The muzzle is awesome - absolutely no navigation issues!
Food Factor: B-
      Your dog can only drink with the muzzle on.
Cost: A-
     Muzzle: $14, Stool Guard $7.
     There are lots of lovely colors to pick from!

Other Alternatives to Stop Licking
I have not tried these alternatives as I know they will not work for Taj's situation; however, for other breeds and for dogs with other surgicial issues they might work well. 

- Dog Leggs Therapeutic & Rehabilitative Products
- Procollar Inflatable Collar or Cloud Kong Collar (dog collars that look like air-filled donuts)
- Bite Free Collar (looks like a neck brace)
- Anti Lick Strips or Taste Deterrent Products

The Winner!

After over 4-weeks using all these products, I would have to declare that the "winner" is using a combination as appropriate. I prefer to use the muzzle during the day and when people are at the house. At nights, I actually prefer switching to the Comfy Cone. Taj has humored me and now passively acquiesces to using all these devices. Unfortunately until we get the fixator off (at least 2 more months to go), we will have to continue using these devices. I do give Taj periods without any restrictive device; however, when he's left unattended, he will default immediately to lick mode.

Putting on the Muzzle for the First Time
(I used treats to coax it on him).
Bucking the Halter Strap - Very Horse-Like!
One minute post-muzzling: "Excuse me... What? I can't Lick?!"
Three minutes post-muzzling: Saluki Resignation

Five minutes post muzzling: Totally Asleep

These are the extra holes I drilled to allow more air flow;
the guard comes with 6 holes, we upped it to 24 holes!
(Thanks Mike & Brenda!)


  1. I just wanna say thx. I ordered the muzzle + guard for my golden retriever with an insane licking fixation.

  2. Bruno,
    Your welcome! Hope your golden is okay.

  3. Hey, ive just read your blog. Its great! we've had a fair few issues with our spaniels in the past (ours always needed a trip or two to the vets every 6 months!)and the e-collar was just a nightmare for ours. We have since tried the inflatable collar and its ok but they still seem to get out of it/find it uncomfortable!

    Im a design student and as a major project im looking to redesign the e-collar. As ive seen you've had some experience id love to talk to you about some of the products you've used and your experience. my email is hope to hear from you soon!

  4. Check out this harness will help stop licking and chewing.

    1. Do not click on this it tries to download a virus on your computer & do not call the number that pops up saying it is from Microsoft, it is not.

  5. Thank so much for this post! I went to our local pet store and found something similar! First 24 hours without anxiety for me in months! I told your dog, "Check Mate!"

  6. Welcome! Beware if the dog has an upset stomach though. And the holes can be bigger also.