Cherry Eye in Dogs

Your dog might be the "apple of your eye," but that doesn't reduce his or her chances of developing cherry eye, a disorder of the third eyelid, which is located in the inside corner of each eye. The third eyelid is a membranous structure that contains glands; normally, you aren’t able to see it. With cherry eye, this third eyelid shifts out of its normal position and becomes swollen and inflamed, resembling a cherry—hence the name.

The reason for cherry eye is unknown. It can occur in one or both eyes, and is most common in younger dogs and puppies.

Certain breeds are predisposed to this condition; they include:

  • Beagle
  • Bloodhound
  • Boston terrier
  • Chinese shar-pei
  • Cocker spaniel
  • English bulldog
  • Lhasa apso
  • Miniature poodle
  • Newfoundland
  • Shih tzu
  • Saint Bernard

So what causes this (literal) eye sore? While it is considered a hereditary condition, the exact role that genetics play is unclear. In some cases, it may develop secondarily to inflammation, but in many cases, the cause is unknown.

In most cases, cherry eye is an easy condition to spot. A pinkish–red, round, cherry–like mass will protrude from the inside corner of your dog’s eye. His eye might also look red or inflamed, glassy, watery, or you may notice mucus or a pus-like discharge from the eye. Also, your dog might be pawing at the affected eye.

Diagnosis & Treatment
Your veterinarian will most likely perform a complete eye exam to determine if there are other existing conditions or to find an underlying cause. These may include measuring your dog’s tear production levels and a test to rule out corneal ulceration and other eye problems.

Unfortunately, medications rarely help the prolapsed third eyelid move back into its normal position, so surgery is often recommended. Surgery, which usually consists of suturing the prolapsed structure back into place, has a very high success rate. Because the third eyelid is responsible for producing one-third of your dog’s tears, removing it is usually a last option, as your dog would likely require eye drops to help keep the eye moist thereafter.

If your pet requires surgery, your veterinarian may also recommend preanesthetic blood tests to ensure that your dog is healthy and can tolerate the anesthetic procedure. These may include:

  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
  • A complete blood count to rule out blood-related conditions
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your cat isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance

Often, eye drops or ointments are prescribed either prior to and/or after surgery. If your canine friend pooh-poohs the idea of eye drops, watch an expert apply eye drops to a dogyou'll pick up some pointers that may help you. Your veterinarian may also provide an Elizabethan collar to prevent your dog from scratching at his eyes after surgery.

Since the cause of cherry eye is almost always unknown, it is difficult to identify ways to prevent this condition. To help your pet reduce the risk of eye problems, check his eyes daily for any obvious signs of irritation, such as redness or tearing. Most importantly, contact your veterinarian if you suspect your best friend’s eyes look irritated or inflamed!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed by:

Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM

Reviewed on:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Can Dogs Live with Cherry Eye?


Cherry eye occurs when there is a pink or red mass protruding from under a dog's third eyelid. More formally known as eyelid protrusion or a prolapse of the gland of the nictitating membrane, cherry eye usually isn't a cause for major concern. However, quick treatment is necessary to ensure that your furry friend doesn't suffer any long-term ill effects.

Signs and Symptoms of Cherry Eye

Of course, it's usually pretty easy to determine when your dog is suffering from Cherry Eye which, handily for panicked dog owners, looks very much like its name suggests.

The most obvious sign to look for is a protruding red or pink mass in the corner of your dog's eye. This oval-shaped mass can appear in one or both eyes, and if your dog gets it in one eye then they're more prone to suffer from it in the other eye at a later date.

Aside from the telltale fleshy protrusion, you may also notice accompanying swelling and irritation. Dogs may squint due to the resulting pain, and the affected eye may also be dry and red. Some dogs will paw at their face in an effort to relieve their discomfort or rub their face along the grass or floor to overcome the irritation.

Serious cases can also lead to eye infections and vision loss if left untreated, not to mention a number of other long-term side effects, so make sure you get cases of cherry eye seen to by your vet as soon as possible.

Body Language

Other Signs

  • Protruding, oval-shaped, fleshy red or pink mass
  • Swelling and irritation of the eye
  • Dryness and redness
  • Pawing at the affected eye
  • Rubbing face along the ground
  • Potential vision loss

The Science of Cherry Eye

Also known as nictating membranes, third eyelids are based underneath the lower eyelid and basically provide an extra layer of protection for the eyes. Think of the third eyelid as being like a windscreen wiper for doggy eyes — it sweeps dirt and other debris off the surface of the eyes.

It also has its own dedicated tear gland and has the crucial role of keeping the eyes moist. In fact, the third eyelid produces anywhere between 35 and 50 percent of the moisture in the eye, making it an essential contributor to general eye health.

Cherry eye occurs when the connective tissue holding the tear gland in position is too weak, faulty or sustains damage in some other way. If the attachment breaks down, the gland can slip free from its usual place and appear from behind the third eyelid. This is when you'll notice that distinctive fleshy mass making an appearance in your dog's previously pristine eye.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes can potentially develop cherry eye, but the condition is most common in breeds like Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Boxers, Basset Hounds, Bulldogs (English and French), Pekingese and Boston Terriers. It's thought that cherry eye is most likely caused due to a combination of facial anatomy that includes prominent eyes, and a genetic weakness of the connective tissue that normally holds everything in place.

While it looks quite alarming and can often be painful, cherry eye can usually be successfully treated if caught early.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Cherry Eye

While there's no known way to prevent or at least reduce the risk of cherry eye developing in dogs at risk of the condition, the good news is that it's usually fairly easy to treat. The main goal of treatment is to return the function and appearance of the third eyelid to as normal a state as possible, to preserve tear production from the third eyelid's tear gland, and to reduce the dog's discomfort.

If caught early enough, it's sometimes possible for cherry eye to be corrected by gently massaging the gland back into place. Speak to your vet to find out whether this could be an option.

Topical therapy using antibiotics and anti-inflammatories can also help reduce inflammation and prevent secondary infections, but surgery is the most commonly recommended course of action. This involves the surgical repositioning of the third eyelid's tear gland to ensure that it stays in place. There are several techniques available and your veterinarian will be able to determine the best option for your pet.

When all other options fail, removal of the affected tear gland may be recommended. However, the resulting reduction in tear production can lead to other problems, so this method is only used as a last resort.

Cherry Eye In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

(Picture Credit: James Kelley/Getty Images)

Cherry eye in dogs happens when the nictitans gland, which normally sits behind your dog’s third eyelid, prolapses, meaning it moves out of place. A dog’s third eyelid protects their eyes, but sometimes the gland behind the eyelid can become irritated and pop out.

Veterinarians aren’t sure of an exact cause of the condition, but we do know that some breeds, like Cocker Spaniels and Bulldogs, are more prone to a prolapsed gland of the nictitating membrane than others. A dog could also develop a cherry eye if physical trauma stretched or tore a ligament keeping the gland in place.

The severity of the condition varies some mild cases only require a warm compress, while others may require surgery to replace the third eyelid.

If you notice any unusual symptoms in your dog’s eyes, then you must contact your veterinarian for treatment and to make sure there aren’t any complications down the road. Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for cherry eye in dogs.

My Dog Has Cherry Eye. Now, What Should I Do?

By the Veterinarians at Story Road Animal Hospital in San Jose, CA

If you’re reading this, chances are your dog’s veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with a condition called Nictitans Gland Prolapse, which is commonly called Cherry Eye, and you are wondering what you should do.

First, don’t panic. This is not a life threatening emergency, but it is a serious condition which will likely get worse if not properly treated by a veterinarian.

Here at Story Road Animal Hospital in San Jose, we’ve successfully treated many pets who had Cherry Eye. The veterinarians and staff have put together this article with answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Cherry Eye.

Please keep in mind that only a licensed veterinarian can legally diagnose any animal medical or behavioral issue.

What is Cherry Eye in Dogs?

Basically, it is your dog’s third eyelid gland which has come loose from where it should be attached and sort of “pops out” (prolapses) at the inside corner of the lower eyelid area of your pet’s eye. This blob of third eyelid gland tissue is usually somewhat round in shape and red in color (like a cherry) giving it the name.

Is Cherry Eye Painful for My Dog?

While this does not appear to cause pain, if left untreated it can develop into more complicated (and oftentimes painful) conditions and serious infections.

What Causes Cherry Eye?

When the nictitating membrane responsible for holding your dog’s third eyelid gland in place gets damaged, torn, or otherwise loses its anchoring grip which allows the tear gland to pop-out. Once out into the open, the gland tissue can become irritated, dry, or swollen and turn red.

Will Cherry Eye Go Away on Its Own or Without Treatment?

No. Surgery is almost always necessary. However, in certain cases and when caught early, your veterinarian may prescribe a treatment plan first targeting the inflammation. Bringing your pet in for an evaluation as soon as possible may give you and your veterinarian more treatment options in addition to or instead of surgery.

Which Dog Breeds Are More Prone to Cherry Eye?

Cocker Spaniels, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, Bloodhounds, and Beagles tend to be predisposed to this condition. However, it can happen in all dog breeds and in some cats, too.

Symptoms of cherry eye

Cherry eye is common in cocker spaniels, beagles, and English bulldogs. The condition occurs when the third eyelid prolapses.

It’s easy to spot early cherry eye in dogs. The easiest way of knowing whether your pet or dog has prolapse or cherry eye is a plump pinkish-red bulge at the edge of their eye. The bulge is mostly present at the corner near the nose, and its shape is similar to that of a cherry pit.

The ailment can occur in most dogs, and you can notice it in one or both eyes. In its early stage, cherry eye isn’t painful for your dog. Most dogs won’t even know that there is a problem. However, after some prolonged time, your dog can experience infections and dry eyes.

The tear gland is responsible for at least 40% of your pup’s tear production. Therefore, you should not ignore cherry eye symptoms in your dog. Cherry eye will affect the productivity of the gland, thus causing dry eyes and discomfort.

Watch the video: Canine Cherry Eye Surgery (October 2021).