As my dog Magic aged, he became less like the carefree spirit we had adopted and instead grew quite irritable. In his younger years he was cheerful rather than crotchety, but as his fur began to gray and his fuse shortened, he seemed more like an old man character one would see in a movie shouting, “You kids get off my property!” His short fuse also applied to his occasional minor health problems as he easily became consumed by small discomforts.
One morning after a walk I found Magic laying in his bed and licking his paw so intensely he hardly paused to take a breath. When I took a closer look, I noticed that he was trying to remove a torn nail and had caused it to bleed. I searched through his first aid stash and dug up the e-collar he was prescribed for a previous problem years before (also known as the Elizabethan collar or “cone of shame”) to prevent him from tearing his nail further. Once he saw me approaching with that enormous hunk of plastic in hand, he momentarily forgot to lick his paw and disappeared. After I caught him and managed to fit the e-collar over his head, he stared at me with disappointment and hopelessness—the most heartbreaking Tony Award-eligible performance of sad puppy dog eyes anyone has ever seen.
I wasn’t sure whether the e-collar or the hang nail would drive Magic crazy first. But once he became bored with his temper tantrum, he continued his day as usual and slept soundly throughout the night. The downside: my cat Midnight and I really wished Magic would have been more careful to watch where he was going. Every time he became excited, he slammed his e-collar into my shins, covering them with bruises. He repeatedly scared Midnight to death by loudly smashing the plastic against the door frame while entering and exiting a room, and waved it in her face whenever he felt like sniffing her or sharing her water bowl. But even though the e-collar got on our last nerve, Magic was free to think about something else other than his hang nail and could not cause further irritation no matter how hard he tried.
Licking a skin irritation or wound exacerbates the problem, causes further discomfort, and prolongs healing. While e-collars are often prescribed for postoperative use, they can also prevent patients from further irritating minor problems such as a torn nail.