Eye Disease in Dogs: Cherry Eye

Prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid in dogs is often called “Cherry Eye”.

Dog Cherry Eye

Cherry Eye in a Dog

The third eyelid, or nictitating membrane, is a flap of tissue which is located behind the lower eyelid in the inner corner of the eye socket. The nictitating membrane slides up and over the surface of the eye providing moisture and protection when needed. The gland, which provides about one-third of the tears needed by the eye, is located in the center of the nictitating membrane and under normal conditions cannot be seen. When the gland becomes inflamed, it protrudes and flips over the edge of the membrane where it looks like a pink or red fleshy mass sitting in the inner corner of the dog’s eye.  This is usually accompanied by tearing and redness of the eye. This condition occurs most commonly in dogs under a year of age, can affect one or both eyes, and the cause is unknown.  Breeds most commonly affected include the Cocker Spaniel, English Bulldog, Beagle, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu, Basset Hound, Boston Terrier, and Pekingese.

Eye Disease in Dogs: Cherry Eye Treatment Options 

It used to be thought that while Cherry Eye disease in dogs was unsightly, it was not medically necessary to repair them. However, studies have shown that glands that are prolapsed and allowed to stay that way will have decreased tear production. If the eye does not have enough tears, the surface of the cornea becomes dry and can eventually become so diseased that blindness can occur. In mild cases, topical steroid ointments can be used to decrease the inflammation and sometimes the prolapsed gland will go back into its normal position. This is rarely successful however and surgery is often required.

Some veterinarians remove the gland entirely but due the likelihood that the eye may become dry, this surgical procedure is not recommended. The current surgical repairs include using suture to anchor the gland to the boney eye orbit or to a small piece of cartilage inside of the nictitating membrane. Another surgery used for small prolapsed glands involves using suture to make a small “envelope” which holds the gland in place but allows it to continue to produce tears. All of these surgical techniques have some risk of failure and it’s not uncommon to have more than one repair on a Cherry Eye. Your vet may refer you to a Veterinary Ophthalmologist if he or she doesn’t feel comfortable performing the surgery, or if a surgical repair fails.

Click here to learn about diseases of the eyelids.

Click here to learn about cataracts in dogs.

Click here to learn about keratoconjunctivitis sicca in dogs.

Click here to learn about glaucoma in dogs.

Click here to learn about uveitis in dogs. Click here to learn about pigmentary uveitis in Golden Retrievers.

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Dr Jill Christofferson

Jill Christofferson, DVM is an experienced veterinary general practitioner. Her professional interests include ophthalmology, dentistry, and reproduction.

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