Everything You Should Know About Cherry Eye in Dogs

everything you need to know about cherry eye in dogs

Cherry eye sounds sweet enough – but it can be an uncomfortable condition for dogs that may lead to complications like conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers.

Cherry eye often runs in the family, with certain breeds of dog more prone to it than others. A red, swollen mass develops on the lower eyelid hence the name: cherry eye. 

Find out more about this relatively common condition as we look at its symptoms and how to treat it.

What Is Cherry Eye?

Cherry Eye is a condition that is characterized by the prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid. This gland, also known as the nictitating membrane, is a translucent structure that is present inside the lower eyelid of dogs and many other mammals.

The third eyelid acts as an extra protective layer for the eye, particularly useful in fights or when hunting. It has a specific gland that produces a significant amount of the eye’s protective tear film.

Should the gland prolapse or pop out, we call the condition “cherry eye”. Cherry eye may cause some discomfort and if the condition goes untreated, it can lead to a range of eye infections in dogs.

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The Symptoms of Cherry Eye

Cherry eye is usually easy to spot as it causes a red swelling in the corner of the eye. It can develop in one or both eyes and often happens before a dog reaches one year of age.

The Causes of Cherry Eye in Your Dog

Dogs that get cherry eye usually have a genetic predisposition to it. Breeds more susceptible to getting cherry eye include:

  • British and French Bulldogs
  • West Highland White Terriers and Lhasa Apsos
  • Pugs, Beagles, Boston Terriers, and Great Danes
  • Shih Tzus, Bullmastiffs, and Bloodhounds

Other brachycephalic breeds with “squished” faces and shorter limbs may also be more prone. Some owners report cherry eye developing all of a sudden when their pet gets over excited, startled, or frightened.

Cherry eye in dogs happens if the nictitans gland (the tear-producing gland at the base of the third eyelid) gets displaced from its usual position where you’d not normally be able to see it.

Tears supply nutrition to the cornea to combat infection and help in the healing of any surface damage to the eye.

A ligament normally holds the gland in position and attaches it to the eye socket. In certain breeds, like those listed above, this attachment can be quite weak, causing the gland to pop up. When the gland is not in the right position it can become irritated and fail to produce tears. This can contribute to irritation of the entire eye.

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Treatment for Cherry Eye in Dogs

Sometimes, the gland will correct itself without treatment or after a course of medication and steroids. However, the most usual way to treat cherry eye in dogs is with surgery using a procedure known as the ‘mucosal pocket technique’. 

Vets perform this routine procedure with your dog under general anesthetic. The process involves making a small pocket in the soft tissue at the back of the 3rd eyelid, placing the gland into this pocket, and then stitching the pocket shut with dissolvable stitches to keep it firmly in place.

The Risk of Dry Eye

It is important to get the condition treated as soon as possible to lower the chances of lasting damage to the eye or third eyelid gland.

The third eyelid gland produces up to 50 percent of the watery part of the tear film. Without sufficient tear production, dogs are far more likely to develop a condition known as “dry eye.” This could ultimately lead to serious impairment of vision and even blindness.

Your vet will discuss the best surgical techniques most appropriate to your pet’s condition. The advice is not to breed dogs that have had cherry eye, as the condition can be genetically inherited.

Keeping the Eyes Moist

Your vet may offer you a prescription for eye drops to keep the eyes moist and reduce discomfort before, during, and after surgery. It’s probable that your vet will prescribe some pain relief for your pet before and after their surgery as well.

Anti-inflammatory drops will help reduce any swelling. Your dog may need antibiotic eye drops too should they develop an infection.

If your vet asks you to administer a course of antibiotic eye drops, it’s crucial to stick to the instructions and finish the course. This helps ensure the infection doesn’t return.

What Is the Outlook After Cherry Eye Surgery?

Surgery is generally considered to be an effective treatment option for cherry eye – with a high rate of success. However, it is important to note that in some instances the gland may re-prolapse – and multiple surgical interventions may be necessary to fully resolve the condition. In cases where the condition is particularly challenging, referral to a specialist ophthalmic hospital may be advisable to ensure optimal surgical outcome.

Potential complications of cherry eye surgery include the risk of infection. This can happen with any type of procedure, however. The material used in the stitches can very occasionally cause irritation or ulceration of the eye.

Cysts can also form and there’s the chance of a possible re-prolapse of the gland but in most cases, the surgery is successful the first time around and is a long-term solution for cherry eye.

In most cases, the gland will function normally again a few weeks after surgery. Between 5 and 20 percent of dogs may experience a re-prolapse and require further surgery.

Many pets that develop cherry eye in one eye will eventually develop it in the other eye. In chronic or very serious cases, there may be no choice other than to remove the gland, particularly if it no longer functions properly at all.

Concerned About Cherry Eye of your Dog?

If you have further questions about cherry eye or have worries that your dog is developing the condition, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We have a team of highly experienced vets available to help. Get in touch and book your slot today!

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