What Is The Best Treatment Option for Cherry Eye?

Veterinarian checking young French Bulldogs eye health.

DjelicS / Getty Images

Cherry eye is a common term for a prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid (nictitating membrane) of dogs. This eyelid contains a tear gland that is responsible for a portion of the tear production of the eye. When working properly, the third eyelid is tucked away and only comes out when it's needed to protect the eye. However, when the anchoring tissue is not working correctly, this third eyelid can protrude, producing a very red lump in the inside corner of the eye. While it's not usually painful for dogs, it is unsightly for humans to look at.

What Causes Cherry Eye?

It is not fully understood what causes cherry eye, however it is proposed that it is caused by a laxity in the connective tissue that connects the gland to the orbit. There may be a genetic component. Cherry eye can affect one or both of a dog's eyes. Cherry eye can occur very suddenly. Your dog may look perfectly normal and a few minutes later, there will be a large red tissue that is protruding from their eye. This condition can affect any breed but it is more common among the following:

Cherry Eye / JoelMills - Wikimedia.jpg
The typical appearance of cherry eye (prolapsed gland of the third eyelid). Wikimedia Commons / Joel Mills

How a Dog May React to Their Cherry Eye

A dog with a cherry eye will often have no signs of discomfort or accompanying problems. However, some dogs may become uncomfortable due eye dryness, swelling, irritation, and inflammation. Dogs with a cherry eye may paw at the eye and rub their face on the floor, furniture, or other things if they are uncomfortable.  It's best to seek medical attention right away if you see these symptoms.

Diagnosing Cherry Eye

The owner is usually the first to notice the cherry eye in their dog and a visual diagnosis by a veterinarian will confirm this. Advanced testing may be administered if a veterinarian thinks cancer or other conditions may also be present, but otherwise, no invasive tests are needed to diagnose cherry eye.

Treatment for Cherry Eye

Treatment can involve one of two options. In mild, intermittent cases, medical management may be tried. The second option is a surgical procedure to reposition the gland.

The non-surgical option usually includes trying a steroid ointment to coax the gland back to its normal position and antibiotics to prevent infection within the eye. If that doesn't work, surgery is the only option. The current treatment of choice is a surgical repositioning rather than removal of that gland. Surgical removal of the gland is not recommended as it can result in dry eye later in the dog's life. Many different surgical repositioning techniques have been reported and the technique will vary based on the veterinarian, dog breed, and each specific case. For example, one successful surgical approach is the technique which involves tucking the gland down into the conjunctiva. The only risk is the possibility that a small piece of suture will rub the cornea, and that's easily remedied by removing the suture. Tacking the gland to the edge of the eye socket has a high failure rate due to recurrence.

Life After Cherry Eye Surgery

Most of the time, the surgery is very successful in correcting cherry eye. After the operation, the affected eye will return to normal function, as long as the gland was repositioned. Even if your dog undergoes surgery in one eye for a cherry eye, there is no guarantee they will not develop it in the other eye. There are no current medications or surgical procedures to prevent cherry eye in dogs. 

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.