If your cat has an injury or surgery you will likely have to use a cone, anti-bite neck brace, or some kind of protective body wrap to prevent them from accessing their injuries while healing. The biggest challenges you’re likely to face if this happens are that your cat will hate it and they will be unable to groom themselves properly.
First, and most importantly, DO NOT remove the protective gear until your veterinarian tells you to. Cats can do incredible damage to themselves if they’re able to lick, bite at, or open up large wounds. The one caveat to this is that if your cat is thrashing around and hurting themselves in an effort to remove the protective gear then you will likely need to remove it temporarily to keep them safe. If this happens you should call your vet immediately and find out what your options are for different kinds of protective gear. Do not leave your cat unsupervised, even for a minute, if they are not wearing their protective gear.
Types of Gear
The dreaded “cone of shame” actually comes in a few different varieties. You may be familiar with the hard plastic cone. There is also a soft version of this type of cone. The soft cone can be worn forward facing, the same as the hard plastic version, or can be reversed and can extend across the body instead of the face. Your vet is likely to supply you with the hard cone, but you can always request the soft cone instead. If your vet does not carry the soft cone you may be able to find one at a local pet store.
Pros: very difficult for a cat to remove, large / strong enough to prevent a cat from accessing their injuries, plastic is easy to keep clean during extended wear
Cons: forward facing cones can be scary and limit a cat’s vision or ability to eat/drink properly, prevents all grooming, navigating stairs and jumping are difficult or impossible, entering/exiting a litter box with high sides or small openings may not be possible
Be careful when buying a soft cone on your own. The internet is full of adorable fabric “cones” that do not have strong closures and do not prevent a cat from reaching an injury. These cones look cute, but many of them are not safe to use for preventing further injury. If you decide to try one of these I’d suggest getting it from a local store and testing the strength of the closures and the stiffness of the fabric before purchasing it. And, monitor your cat closely to make sure they cannot remove it or work around it to get to their injury.
Decorative soft cones are also usually made of absorbent fabric materials. If they get wet they will not dry easily.
Neck Braces and Inflatable Collars
Neck braces or inflatable collars may be an option, depending on where your cat’s injury is located.
Pros: does not interfere with vision, may not interfere with cat’s ability to eat and drink
Cons: cat may be able to access injury, body strap to prevent removal may not be usable if it would go across the injured area, typically has a fabric outer layer that is hard to keep clean during extended use, prevents most or all grooming
The most common reason for needing a covering for a cat’s neck is probably a feeding tube. For feeding tubes the absolute best cover I’ve seen is the Kitty Kollar.
Kitty Kollar was originally designed for feeding tubes, but could be used to cover and protect any neck wound.
There are a lot of different body wrap options that may be usable, depending on the type and location of your cat’s injury.
- Surgical recovery suit (you can buy one, or make your own)
- Turtleneck sweaters for cats (great for covering the neck and shoulders)
- Shirts or sweaters made for small dogs or cats
- DIY body cover
Pros: typically very easy to use, generally accepted by all cats, does not inhibit motion, cat will be able to do some grooming
Cons: not suitable for face, leg, and tail injuries, injury area is covered so you can’t easily see if there are concerning changes to the wound
Limb Wraps, Casts, and Braces
Typically used on legs and not tails, there are different options for wraps, casts, and braces that may be appropriate for your cat’s injury.
Pros: typically allows for normal body movement aside from the affected limb, cat can groom normally, generally well tolerated
Cons: cat may chew and remove a splint, chewing at a cast can damage the teeth, braces can be hard to fit or expensive
If you’re lucky enough to know ahead of time that your cat will require protective gear you can typically train them to wear it comfortably. Preventive Vet has a program to follow for teaching your cat to be comfortable wearing a cone. You can follow this training program with any type of protective gear.
Feeding and Watering
Depending on what type of gear your cat is using they may have trouble eating and drinking normally. Hard plastic cones make it difficult for cats to eat out of bowls. You will probably need to switch your cat to eating off a plate if they normally eat from a bowl. Elevating the plate and putting it on some kind of tilted platform may also be needed. If your cat eats dry food you may even want to feed them on a towel instead of a plate. The texture of the towel can stop the food from sliding around and give your cat a better chance of picking it up.
If your cat appears to be having trouble eating you may need to start out with feeding by hand until they can manage eating on their own.
Cats who wear cones may have an easier time eating out of a saucer or very small plate rather than a larger plate or a dish with raised edges. If you can, try using a plate smaller than the cone itself. A heavier dish may also be better for your cat than a lighter one. If you normally feed your cat on paper plates, try using something heavier while they recover.
You may need to change the size or shape of the water bowl your cat uses to make sure they are able to drink. Some protective gear, cones in particular, may make your cat very clumsy. You might want to put towels or absorbent pads underneath their water dish, at least until they’ve adjusted and are no longer clumsy.
Be sure to groom your cat’s face and neck after every meal. Pay special attention to your cat’s chin. If they are wearing a cone or neck collar they may be getting their chin and throat very wet, and it may not dry properly on its own. Whenever possible, dry your cat’s chin with something very absorbent like a microfiber towel, or even paper towels or toilet paper. You will want to keep their chin as dry and clean as possible.
Cow was a real challenge when it came to keeping his chin dry while wearing a cone. After a few days of struggling to keep him clean I was given the idea to attach a menstrual pad to his cone. The pad was like a miracle! He was finally able to have a dry chin, and the pad is easily replaced as often as needed. I used an “overnight” pad for maximum absorption and cut it down to fit the cone. The pad stops about 1.5 inches above the bottom edge of the cone so that it won’t absorb the water from his bowl if the cone gets into the water when he’s drinking.
Litter Box Access
There are several considerations when it comes to litter boxes and cats who are recovering from injuries or surgery. The Litter Boxes page covers the details on box types and sizes, box locations, and the types of litter to use with your kitty when they’re dealing with an injury.
Be sure to groom your cat’s feet and the area around their genitals as often as possible following litter box use. Clean your litter box as often as you can as well. If you work outside the home try to make a habit to clean the box at least 3 times a day, once before leaving for work, once when you return from work, and once right before you go to bed. If you’re home for longer periods of time it is a good idea to check the box more frequently. The cleaner you can keep the box the cleaner your cat will be.
Grooming is perhaps the biggest challenge with protective gear, particularly with cones that prevent your cat from doing any of their own grooming. It is quite normal to want to remove the cone to allow your cat to groom themselves. This is generally not advised. Removing the cone, even for brief periods, can prevent your cat from getting used to wearing it, and can increase their stress during recovery. But, if your cat is perfectly comfortable with wearing their cone or other gear, then you could possibly remove it and allow supervised grooming. Be sure to discuss this with your vet before attempting and follow your vet’s advice.
When grooming your cat you must be careful to completely avoid grooming the injured area. With most injuries and surgeries your vet will have shaved an area around the wound. A good rule to follow when grooming your cat is to avoid grooming anywhere inside the shaved area.
For all grooming it is important to use either plain water, or to only use products safe for cats. Wherever possible, use tools and products that are completely unscented and fragrance free. This applies to your towels and wash cloths too. If you normally use scented products (detergent, softener, etc.) with your laundry you may want to use unscented grooming wipes or water based baby wipes instead of your scented towels.
Face and Neck
Grooming your cat’s face and neck can usually be done with either a damp, warm (not hot!) towel or clot. Simply wet your cloth in warm water, wring out as much water as possible, and gently stroke your cat in the direction of their fur. You can also use a brush or comb that has been dipped in warm water and brush your cat. You can also use a clean, soft toothbrush to gently brush their face and neck.
When cleaning around your cat’s eyes it is best to use damp gauze or cotton balls/pads to wipe away any debris. Use a separate piece of gauze or cotton for each eye to reduce the risk of spreading infection from one eye to the other.
Your cat’s neck area may get very dirty if they are wearing a cone. They may be dropping food or water down their neck and it will need to be cleaned well. Drooling occurs with some types of injuries or as a side effect of some medicines. Drool will need to be cleaned from their chin and neck as often as possible.
If your cat has long hair be sure to comb or brush their neck to prevent hair mats.
Grooming the body really isn’t any different than grooming the face. You will need to pay special attention to grooming around their tail, genitals, and back legs. Groom these areas gently, but frequently, because if your cat gets any urine in these areas, aside from smelling bad, it can cause acid burns and ulcers on their skin.
Be very careful when cleaning around the genitals and anus. Use only very soft cloths for wiping this area, do not rub too much when cleaning, and do not use too much pressure. The skin in this area is very sensitive and can easily be irritated or inflamed.
If you have a long haired cat they will probably benefit from having a “sanitary trim” where the hair around the anus and genitals is removed. Depending on how mobile and steady they are during recovery you may also need to have the hair on back legs and tail trimmed or shaved.
Brushing your cat daily is important to remove shed hair, and to prevent mats and tangles. If you have a long haired cat who does not allow brushing you may need to have their body shaved as well.
Legs and Feet
Grooming the legs is also just like grooming the face and body. If you have a long haired cat you will want to carefully brush their fur so it does not mat around their legs, particularly near their hips and armpits.
Pay special attention to grooming their feet. You will need to carefully wash in between their toes to make sure there is no litter stuck between them. If they happen to get urine soaked litter between their toes they can get acid burns or ulcers.
Keep their claws trimmed during their recovery so that they can’t claw at any of their injuries or cause injury to you while you care for them.
For a short haired cat all you need to do is run a damp cloth down their tail a few times and gently brush it dry.
For a long haired cat you will need to brush the tail regularly to prevent hair mats. You will also need to pay special attention when you are washing the tail to remove any/all urine or feces that may be on their fur.
Isolation and Limiting Movements
Your vet may recommend keeping your cat isolated from other animals (including human children). If your cat does not need restricted movements then you’ll want to keep them in a small room that allows them to walk around. You will want to inspect the room first to make sure there are no places for them to hide where you could not easily get to them. You may need to block off space under furniture or remove furniture temporarily to make the room safe.
If your cat doesn’t normally spend much time in that room you may also want to get a small nightlight to leave on for them. This can help them to navigate the unfamiliar space in the dark.
If you close off that room using pet or baby gates you may want to cover the gates with a blanket. This is particularly helpful if you have cats or dogs in the house who might be tempted to reach through the gate to touch the isolated kitty. If other animals can reach in they can unintentionally cause further injury to your cat.
If your cat needs to have restricted motion you may do better by keeping them in a dog crate/kennel instead. If your cat needs severely restricted movement then your best option is to use 2 small dog crates attached together with open doors. Why two? One crate should hold their bed, food, and water. The other crate should hold their litter box. When you need to clean the box you can slide a piece of cardboard into the opening that separates the crates to prevent kitty from escaping. Then, open the crate with the box from the other end, clean the box, close the crate, remove the cardboard.
If you can’t get 2 crates, or if your cat is allowed to have a bit more mobility you can get a larger dog crate. You can either use one large crate, big enough to hold a bed, litter box, food and water, or 2 larger crates attached together as described above.
The main benefit to using 2 crates is that it’s the easiest setup to prevent your kitty from trying to escape when you are cleaning the litter box.
If you have to crate your cat during recovery you will want to cover their crate on at least 3 sides with a blanket or sheets to provide the illusion of being in a cave. This will help your cat feel more comfortable in the confined space.