No more plastic cones - Belfast designer invents pet suit for injured dogs
They're hated by pets, vets and owners: the cumbersome plastic "buster collar" cones dogs have to wear after operations or injuries. Now a Belfast-based designer and entrepreneur has come up with an innovative answer.
DogEase is a medical pet suit made from soft, stretchy bamboo fabric that fits snugly on to the dog and covers the wound, preventing the animal from disturbing the stitches or licking the affected area.
Its inventor Lisa McCausland - whose father founded the McCausland car hire and parking business in the 1960s - came up with the idea when her own dog Heidi had surgery.
"All good ideas come from a lightbulb moment," said Lisa. "I didn't want to put the plastic cone on her and asked the vet for an alternative. When he said there wasn't one, I decided to find a solution."
Lisa, an artist, was studying for a degree in interior design at Ulster University. She switched to product design and got to work on her pet suit idea.
"I wanted to bring as much innovation as possible to the product and bamboo proved to be the perfect fabric - it's green, ethical and naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Vets can cut holes in the suit for candulas to be inserted, for example, and the fabric doesn't fray.
"Plus, it has the benefit of swaddling the animal like a baby, so it's very comforting for a dog who's been through surgery."
Lisa graduated, at the age of 49, with first-class honours and began a Masters in multi-discliplinary design. She developed her prototype on placement at Cedar Grove Veterinary Clinic in Belfast.
The vets and nurses tested out her various designs and customers took the suits on trial, reporting back on how their pets fared.
John Heatherington, senior vet and partner at Cedar Grove, said: "We have been using DogEase suits in our small animal veterinary practice for the last six months and have found them a very useful tool in the management of wounds post-surgically.
"The suits are easy to fit, the material is very lightweight and breathable - pets tolerate the suits extremely well and we have had lots of positive feedback from our vets, nurses and clients."
Lisa pitched for funding from Invest NI and received an initial £10,000 grant from one programme, then a game-changing £40,000 after a Dragons' Den-type session. The funding has enabled Lisa to obtain UK and European patents and bring the product to market.
Moira Loughran, Invest NI's regional manager, said: "With help to develop a business plan through the Regional Start Initiative and support to commercialise its DogEase medical suit, the company has been able to turn ideas into reality."
Lisa added: "The first run of my product arrived a few weeks ago and sales are going really well with local vets and in England. I've even shipped a few to Australia. I've also sent the suits over to the Royal Veterinary College in London, which is a very exciting development."
The DogEase suits are manufactured in China. It comes in a range of sizes, with prices ranging from £15.99 up to £25.99.
Lisa's now working on her next product - a long-leg version of the suit which should be on the market by next summer.
Lisa's family owns the hugely successful Value Cabs taxi firm and she says entrepreneurship is in her blood.
"I'm keen to expand," she said. "I'd like to employ up to four people over the next two years."