Our first experience with a cat forced to use a protective cone, post surgery, was memorable. After a couple of days shrouded in stiff fabric, Billy, our sweet, but hardheaded black cat, looked up at us with what seemed exasperation… and peed deliberately on the floor. It was a message: Get it off me!
No cat on record so far has tapped out a text or any kind of memo. But some, like Billy, find ways to get their messages across.
Usually, Billy — the most talkative cat we’ve ever had — relied on a reasonably sized vocabulary to alert me to morning wake up time, a gnawing hunger in his tummy or to simply announce his arrival in the room after a nap with, “Grack!”
(I should mention here, legends aside, that we’ve never had a cat that meowed. Have you? The closest ever was “Ouw?”, Billy’s expression of puzzlement.)
Anyway, with that statement proclaimed on our bedroom floor, Billy continued his streak of being the only cat in our house to urinate outside the litter box, and the single other incident was when he issued a protest of extreme disgust with a vet making a home visit.
That vet was not up to par, we all agreed, but expressed it in different ways.
So, when years later, Sam needed surgery to remove a growth in his ear, we thought a great deal about how to best prevent his inevitable attempts to scratch his healing sutures. They were extra sensitive because of their location — deep inside his outer ear — and the method used to close up after surgery, a combination of sutures and cautery.
We were lucky to have a great physician at University Animal Hospital, here in New York, one whose sincerity, experience and technical skill made a frightening situation easier to handle.
But protecting Sam’s healing when he was released, a day after surgery, was our job.
One thing for certain, we would not be using a cone like the one an earlier hospital stuck on Billy.
Cones available then seemed to have been designed for dogs with no exceptions made for cats who are nearly always much smaller and geared to sense the world differently.
With Billy, we tried ordering a smaller, softer cone, then cutting it down to half its original size. He still had trouble with ordinary activities, even with getting into and out of his litter box.
Finally, we took his well-splashed advice and just took the damn thing off, even though the incision in his tummy was not fully healed and grooming could cause a need to redo or worse.
Maybe we were crazy, but we decided to trust our smart cat. We discouraged grooming in that area whenever we noticed it — it was only once — and he got the idea.
Two weeks later, we stifled chuckles when, removing the stitches, his vet congratulated us on how well we did keeping Billy in that giant canine cone all that time.
We do not recommend this for all cats. Billy, we trusted, understood and could handle it.
For Sam, I made a trip to Petco in Union Square and searched through the options on sale.
We already had a cone and an inflatable collar before his surgery because his efforts to get at the growth in his ear had mainly produced blood — which led us to discovering the problem in the first place.
But the cone made him miserable, unable to rest comfortably or to eat from his dish. The inflated collar was better until Sam figured out how to get around it and get his paw into his ear.
At Petco, I found a pair of solutions. The first was a ZenPet ZenCone, a softer recovery item with transparent plastic sections that opened up more of the world to his range of vision, helping him feel more confident.
An absolute must with this or any other cone as well as with inflatable collars is using a standard pet collar to secure it. Both items come with loops for securely attaching a small collar, and while both also come with closures of their own, a crafty cat — aren’t they all? — will slip those in minutes, if not seconds.
Sam’s a larger cat, a little over 12 pounds, but it was still necessary to buy the XX Small size. Anything else was too big to allow him to go about his normal feline routines.
You don’t want a contraption that makes it hard or impossible for your cat to get in and out of a litter box, do you?
Even so, there were times when he emerged from his litter box with — how should I put this? … evidence of recent activities.
Once, being a cat, he threw up, and some of that stayed too.
But overall, it was tolerable, especially after we folded the cone back during mealtimes, something we felt safe doing as long as we stood by in case scratching erupted. Occasionally, it did, and we were able to prevent any damage.
The only serious shortcoming was in trying to keep the ZenCone clean. It picked up food, litter and even dust, tough for a cat whose sense of the world is oriented around smells.
Another issue was in the way any cone cramps a cat’s whiskers. Evolution didn’t outfit cats with ultra sensitive feelers without their playing an active role in letting them know a lot of subtleties about their environments.
In the middle of one night, Sam put his face directly against my wife’s, she believes to give her a sample of what it was like to live inside a cone.
This lead us to try another inflatable collar, a larger one that Sam could not get around, although, being a cat, he tried.
From the same Petco trip, I brought home a Well & Good Inflatable Collar. (You need to try collars until you find the right fit, protective but not overwhelming.)
Although theses inflatable collars are advertised for cats and dogs, they were clearly created with dogs in mind. Every illustration shows a dog, never a cat. But not to worry. We found one that worked great.
Until Sam got a clean bill of health from his vet, he was able to eat normally, feel around with his whiskers and even wrestle with his buddy, Max. Sleeping still looked a little strange, but he seemed to manage it well.
With Sam back to normal, we feel that being more sensitive to quality of life issues than the vets we’ve known paid off.
The vets, of course, are mainly interested in recovery, that is, keeping the healing wound untouched by feline claws, and their advice was perfect for that. But as we learned from Billy, there’s more to life than a choice between scratching and not scratching.
Sam thanks him for making his pioneering efforts.
We hope it may also help you when the inevitable time comes when your favorite furry companion needs protection, protection that also respects his or her quality of life.