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Cherry eye in dogs

English bulldog with cherry eye advice
© Pixabay

Cherry eye in dogs is also known as prolapse of the third eyelid gland. If you notice that your dog has a red, bulbous lump appearing in the corner of her eye, she may well have cherry eye. It is nothing to worry about, but you should take steps to deal with it.

By G. John Cole

Did you know that dogs have three eyelids in each eye? The extra lid is there to clean up her eyeball and also for the manufacturing of tears. Unfortunately, that bonus lid can cause problems, especially for particular breeds of dog.

What is cherry eye in dogs?

Your dog’s tears are created by two glands, one of which is the third eyelid gland (nictitans gland). This gland does important work keeping your dog’s eyes wet and clean. Such cleaning work is vital for the prevention of conjunctivitis and eye ulcers.

But when that sad old gland ‘prolapses’ – or pops out – it can look distressing to a dog’s human companions. It means that the ligament that holds the gland to the eyelid has broken. Cherry eye is irritating rather than painful to your dog.

Is cherry eye in dogs hereditary? Well, nobody knows exactly why cherry eye happens to dogs, but it’s certainly more common among certain breeds, including bulldogs, bloodhounds, beagles, lhasa apsos, shih tzus, and the cocker spaniel.

What are the dangers of cherry eye in dogs?

In the first place, she ain’t going to win any beauty contests until you deal with her cherry eye.

But more seriously, that prolapsed gland won’t be doing the job it’s supposed to, i.e. keeping your dog’s eye clean and hygienic. This puts her at risk of conjunctivitis, and you are likely to see further discharge.

And because she’s irritated by the odd feeling of her tear gland popping out, your dog may scratch at her eye more, or rub it on the carpet or the ground outside. Clearly, this increases the risk of infection, which can be pretty bad news.

How to treat cherry eye in dogs

There are different steps you can take to help a dog with cherry eye.

In any case, you should take her to a vet for a proper diagnosis. Eye problems can often be a symptom of an underlying illness. If your vet thinks there is more to meets the ‘eye’ than just cherry eye, he may order extra tests.

There are two surgical options your vet may choose from to deal with cherry eye. The first is to return the prolapsed gland and eyelid to its rightful place using, perhaps, the ‘pocket’ technique. This is successful around four out of five times.

The second surgical option is less of a good idea. It involves removal of the eyelid and gland. This is more likely to be necessary if you don’t act fast when you notice the initial problem. And it means your dog will have trouble producing the tears she needs to keep her eyes clean and healthy.

Your vet may suggest a non-surgical solution. It can be possible to nudge the eye back into place using steroid ointment. But this can be painful for your dog, and might not work as a permanent solution.

A natural home remedy for cherry eye in dogs is to lay a clean, warm, damp cloth of your dog’s eye and allow it lubricate the area. You then remove the cloth and gently move your thumb over your dog’s eyelid towards where the eye meets the nose. This may take several, very gentle attempts.

What happens after cherry eye in dogs

Your dog’s surgery will probably involve a general anaesthetic, so she’ll be in all day. After that, your vet may prescribe antibiotics, painkillers, and eye drops to use for a couple of weeks. Your dog will need to take it easy for a few days. If she keeps poking her eye, you may need to invoke the collar of shame.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on your cherry eye’d dog, in case complications should arise from her surgery. And since cherry eye usually happens in one eye at a time, it’s always possible that the other eye may suddenly produce a ripe cherry for your delight.