If your dog is sporting a red bump in the corner of their eye, it’s likely cherry eye, a concerning but not uncommon experience for many dog owners.
Unlike humans who only have two eyelids, dogs have three. The third eyelid, called the nictating membrane, arises from the inner corner of the eye and covers the eye diagonally lubricating it, so it is important to maintain the function of this gland.
Cherry eye in dogs occurs when this third eyelid gland prolapses. Luckily, the symptoms of cherry eye are easy to notice and if treated quickly, there are usually no long-lasting effects. If ignored, surgery may be required to treat cherry eye in dogs in order to prevent permanent long-term eye problems like decreased tear production.
Dr. Sean Collins, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that ophthalmologists don’t entirely understand why the gland of the nictating membrane sometimes protrudes from its original position, but it is believed to be a result of a weakness in the connective tissue responsible for holding the gland in the correct position.
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“This condition can happen to any breed of dog but is seen most commonly in certain breeds, including the American cocker spaniel, English bulldog, Lhasa apso, and the Pekinese,” Collins said.
Pet owners who spot a red swollen mass in the inner corner of their dog’s eye, large or small, should bring it to their veterinarian’s attention promptly. In addition to causing irritation to the dog, cherry eye in dogs can have lasting consequences when left untreated.
“Without correction, chronic prolapse can lead to conjunctivitis (pink eye) and ocular discharge (liquid coming from the eye),” Collins said. “It has also been shown that with correction, dogs are less likely to develop low tear production later in life.”
Low tear production can result in multiple problems if left untreated. In addition to pain and decreased vision, corneal ulceration may also develop, which can become infected and result in a ruptured eye. This condition responds well to tear stimulant therapy in most cases, but lifelong medication is usually required.
Your veterinarian will be able to confirm whether your pet has cherry eye and can develop a treatment plan that works best to resolve the issue and reduce the potential for ocular issues as your dog ages.
Cherry Eye Treatment
“Initial therapy of cherry eye in dog may consist of topical anti-inflammatory therapy if local inflammation may be contributing to prolapse of the gland,” he said. “If a short course of medical therapy does not work or re-prolapse develops, surgical repositioning is indicated. There are numerous surgical techniques to reposition the gland with overall high success rates.”
If surgical treatment is required, Collins stresses that this treatment will benefit your pet in both the short- and long-term.
By far the best treatment for cherry eye is replacing the gland back into its proper location. There are two techniques for doing this. The traditional tucking method (also called tacking) is probably most commonly performed. In a newer surgical technique called imbrication, or pocketing, a wedge of tissue is removed from directly over the actual gland. This technique is more challenging as it is not easy to determine how much tissue to remove. –Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP
“Surgical repositioning is very important if initial medical therapy fails, as the gland is responsible for about 30-50% of the aqueous tear production in the dog,” he said. “We commonly see low tear production in the same breeds that develop a prolapsed gland of the nictitans. It has been shown that dogs with surgical repositioning of the gland have a lower chance of developing low tear production later on in life compared to those where the gland has been excised or remains chronically prolapsed.”
Cherry Eye in Dog Prevention
Unfortunately, there are no known preventative measures to protect against cherry eye, Collins said. This condition can develop in both eyes, usually before the age of two. The best way owners can protect their furry friend is to remain vigilant in monitoring their pet’s health and to bring concerns to their veterinarian promptly in case an issue does arise.
The best way to protect your dog’s vision is to catch cherry eye early, when they are most easily treated. Remember the dog’s eye may produce discharge, be red, look cloudy or be swollen. The nictitating membrane may partially cover the eye.
If your dog seems to have cherry eye, take her to the veterinarian right away. Your vet may have the knowledge and equipment to diagnose and treat the problem immediately; if not, she may refer your dog to a veterinary ophthalmologist, a specialist in animal eyes and their disorders.