Cherry eye in dogs isn’t a life threatening condition, but if left untreated can cause your dog eye problems later on. If you’ve ever seen a red bulge in the corner of your dog’s eye, you’ve seen firsthand what cherry eye looks like. What causes cherry eye in dogs, and how is it treated?
A dog’s eye has three eyelids: an upper and lower lid, as well as a third eyelid we seldom see. The importance of the third eyelid is to give added protection to the dog’s eyes. It acts like a wipe to help keep the eye clear of dust and debris and has a tear gland that produces around 35% of the moisture to the dog’s eye. Sometimes the gland in the third eyelid, located in the corner of the eye next to the dog’s nose, slips out of place and bulges. We see it as a red or pinkish blob, and this bulge is what’s called cherry eye.
Why it slips out of place is not clear, but if it happens in one eye, more than likely it will happen in the other, although it can be months later. What you want to pay attention to in your dog’s eye is any watery or thick discharge, a red or pink blob in the corner of their eye, any redness in the lining of their eyelid or if your dog is pawing at his eye.
For unknown reasons, the connective tissue around the tear gland becomes weak and starts to move around. Movement irritates the gland which leads to swelling that can produce a mucous or clear discharge. It’s possible cherry eye will correct itself within a couple of weeks, but it’s best not to wait. If it doesn’t correct itself, the longer the gland is out of place, the more swelling there is. This makes it harder to reposition it, and there’s a greater chance it will happen again. Left untreated, cherry eye can lead to more serious eye problems later on. You need to have your dog examined by your vet as soon as you notice the out-of-place gland.
It’s not understood why some dogs get cherry eye, but it’s thought the cause could be from a parasite, some kind of bacterial infection, dermatitis, possible sun damage, cancer, fungal infection or it could be a result of a problem with the dog’s immune system. Whatever the case, cherry eye is hereditary, so it’s best not to breed a dog that has developed this condition.
Cherry eye is usually seen in younger dogs between 6 weeks to 2 years and is more commonly found in Newfoundlands, Bloodhounds, Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels, Shar-Peis, Shih Tzu, Beagles, Pekingese, Lhasa apso, Miniature Poodles and Neapolitan Mastiffs. It’s also seen in some breeds of cats. The Persian and Burmese cats are more likely to develop cherry eye than other breeds.
Treatment for cherry eye is done under local anesthesia to push the gland back into place. Some vets will elect to remove the third eyelid, but it’s not recommended. There’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion if it’s needed. Removing the eyelid can adversely affect proper tear production which keeps the eye from becoming dry. Dogs who have had the eyelid removed are at risk of developing a condition called “dry eye” later on. The third eyelid should only be removed as a last resort. If it’s removed, you are compromising your dog’s eye health as they age.
During surgery, a small part of the gland is removed. What’s left is carefully tucked into the inside of the third eyelid and tacked into place. Dogs who have had their cherry eye corrected using this type of surgery have an excellent chance for recovery. However, there is a 5 to 20% chance the gland could slip out of place a second time. It all depends on how long it was out, the condition of the cartilage in the third eyelid, how swollen the gland was and the type of surgical procedure that was done. That’s why quick medical treatment is important.
If your dog develops cherry eye, the other eye should be watched closely and you may want to consider having both eyes corrected surgically at the same time. After surgery, you will need to watch your dog’s eyes to make sure they don’t develop dry eye. Signs to watch for that would indicate dry eye are: redness to the lining of the eyelid, a thick pus-like discharge from the eye, and a cloudy cornea.