Cherry Eye: What It Is & When to Seek Help for Your Dog
Does your dog have a red bump in the corner of her eye? It could be cherry eye—a prolapse of the tear gland of your dog’s third eyelid. Here’s how to recognize the signs of cherry eye in dogs so you can treat it and reduce damage.
Your pup can melt your heart with a single look. But then you notice a red bump in the corner of your dog's eye that wasn't there before and your mind starts racing, worrying about what might be wrong. There are several conditions that can inflict a dog's eyes, but if the red bump is on the inside corner of the eye, it just might be cherry eye. Kristina Vygantas, DVM at NorthStar VETS and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, sheds some light on this canine ocular condition, including signs and symptoms of cherry eye in dogs, as well as treatment options and prognosis.
What is Cherry Eye?
Unlike their human counterparts, dogs have not two but three eyelids for each eye. This third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane, is found inside the lower eyelid and provides an added layer of protection for your pup's eyes. It also contains an important gland that supplies much of your dog's tears.
But sometimes the ligament that holds this gland in place stretches or detaches entirely from the orbital bone. When this happens, the gland can pop out of place (known as a prolapse) and become visible above the eyelid. This causes a condition called cherry eye.
This prolapse can happen to any dog, but there are a few factors that make some dogs prone to cherry eye. "Certain breeds such as English bulldogs, cocker spaniels, and cane corsos have a genetic predisposition to this condition, usually within the first year of life," explains Vygantas. Other dogs breeds that are prone to cherry eye include:
In general, breeds with shorter muzzles as well as toy and teacup breeds tend to be more likely to experience cherry eye than their longer-nosed, full-sized counterparts. And young dogs—puppies under a year old—are most susceptible as well.
What Are the Symptoms of Cherry Eye?
Early cherry eye in dogs is fairly easy to spot, Vygantas says. "The telltale sign of cherry eye or prolapse of the tear gland of the third eyelid is a fleshy pink swelling at the corner of the eye," she explains. This bulge is typically in the corner nearest the nose and similar in shape and color to a cherry pit, hence the nickname. The condition can occur in one or both eyes.
The good news is early-stage cherry eye in dogs isn't painful. In fact, your pup probably won't even know something is wrong. But over time, it can make your dog prone to dry eye and infections, so it shouldn't be ignored.
The tear gland in that third eyelid is responsible for nearly 40 percent of your dog's overall tear production. When prolapse occurs, the tear duct doesn't function normally. For healthy eyes and overall comfort, it's critical that this gland is preserved and reattached to its proper place.
Should You Take Your Dog to the Vet?
If you suspect your dog has cherry eye, it's important to see your vet as soon as possible. While not a medical emergency, the condition can cause health concerns over time.
Left untreated, cherry eye can result in damage to the tear duct and cause chronic dry eye. The gland may also become more swollen over time and restrict blood flow. As swelling makes your dog more uncomfortable, he'll be tempted to scratch or paw at the eye, increasing the likelihood of damage and infection.
At your initial vet visit, your veterinarian might prescribe dog-safe eye drops for cherry eye to reduce inflammation. These drops can also provide much-needed moisture for comfort and eye health. But eye drops are not a cure for cherry eye.
Usually, the vet-recommended treatment for cherry eye in dogs is surgery to preserve the eyelid. "Surgical repositioning of the gland, not excision, is the recommended treatment since it preserves the important function of tear production," Vygantas explains. Your vet should be able to preserve and correctly reposition the tear gland with a simple procedure.
While it might be tempting to try and avoid surgery, when it comes to cherry eye, ointment and topical treatments won't address the root problem and your pup will likely need surgery later anyway. According to Vygantas, once the gland is out of position, it's unlikely to resolve itself without surgery.
Still, even minor surgery can be stress-inducing as a pet owner. But rest assured: cherry eye surgery recovery is typically short and sweet. In fact, most pups are back to normal within a couple of weeks. In the meantime, your pup will have a follow-up appointment or two with her vet to check the surgical site. She'll also need to wear an e-collar (aka the cone of shame) during recovery to keep her eye safe from scratching, pawing, and infection.
What's the Prognosis for Dogs with Cherry Eye?
Cherry eye is not life-threatening, and the vast majority of dogs go on to live full lives with healthy eyes. If you're wondering if you should get a dog who has cherry eye—either from a rescue or a breeder—there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
First, it's important to remember cherry eye is not contagious, so it poses no risk to you or other pets. However, surgical treatment of cherry eye can be expensive. Costs range from several hundred to thousands of dollars depending on the breed, your location, and your veterinarian's rates for surgical procedures. And, since as many as 40 percent of dogs that experience cherry eye in one eye will eventually have it in the other, you could very well end up doubling your expenses.
The good news is, the simple cherry eye surgery should solve the problem for good. "Greater than 90 percent of the surgically repositioned tear glands stay in place. The most common complication of this surgery is the breakdown of the suture line and subsequent re-prolapse of the gland," Vygantas explains. If the suture does fail, another surgery is likely necessary.
Still, Vygantas stresses that the condition is not an indicator of poor health or of other underlying conditions. If your pup has cherry eye, there's no reason she can't enjoy a long, happy, healthy life post-treatment.
Is it Possible to Prevent Cherry Eye?
Unfortunately, there's no way to keep your dog from developing cherry eye. But there are ways to give your pup the best chance at good health. Feed her a good diet and provide lots of exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Schedule an appointment with your vet to make sure she stays up-to-date on all preventative care and vaccinations, and reach out to your vet if you have any concerns about your pup's eye health.