Cherry Eye in Dogs

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness.

Dogs have three eyelids; an upper and lower eyelid, as we have, and they also have a third eyelid or nictitating membrane. This membrane is a mobile protective structure positioned in the inner corner of the eye.

The condition Cherry Eye is caused when the nictitans gland attached to the third eyelid becomes inflamed and swollen, protruding and covering part of the eye. It is not a life-threatening condition and it may not always appear to be uncomfortable. However, if left untreated it can potentially cause on- going eye problems or eye problems later on in life. The nictitans glands are crucial to maintaining optimum eye health as they produce up to 50% of the tear film within the eye. Although the exact cause of Cherry Eye is still not known, it is thought that dogs under the age of two are more likely to develop the condition, with certain breeds being more at risk. The Dog breeds with a higher risk of Cherry Eye are: Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Cocker Spaniels, Mastiffs, Boston Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Saint Bernards, Sharpeis, any Brachycephalic Breeds (short nosed, flat faced breeds).

Owners may discover the condition quite quickly, as it is relatively easy and obvious to spot. The gland in the third eyelid swells to create a small, swollen, inflamed, red bulge which covers the inner corner of the eye nearest to the nose. When dogs develop Cherry Eye, they will have symptoms such as; third eyelid swelling, eye irritation and dryness, inflammation, redness and discharge. The dog may get irritated by the Cherry Eye which will cause them to rub or scratch it - which in turn may cause further damage to the affected eye. If left untreated it can lead to secondary infections and inflammation which can seriously affect your dog’s vision and his overall eye health long-term.

In mild cases the condition can sometimes be resolved with tropical antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and very occasionally the prolapsed gland may reposition itself. However, in most Cherry Eye cases surgery is required. The Cherry Eye is repaired by surgically replacing the affected swollen gland back into its correct position within the third eyelid. Your vet will discuss all treatment options with you and will help you to determine what treatment option is best for your pet. Recurrence of the condition is common, and if it does happen again in the same eye then it is more than likely to develop in the other eye as well at some stage of your dog’s life. Some procedures and treatments can be repeated again to amend the problem.

Dogs with this condition should not be bred from, as it is likely that the pups from a litter will go on to inherit this uncomfortable condition.

It is important not to leave Cherry Eye untreated. So always contact us for an appointment if you think your dog is suffering from the symptoms of Cherry Eye, for good professional care and advice.