How to Treat Cherry Eye in Dogs

Cherry eye in dogs
Joel Mills / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

Cherry eye can affect any dog but some are more likely than others to develop it. This condition can appear in just one or both eyes of a dog and it's helpful for a dog owner to know what breeds may be predisposed to it as well as how it is recognized.

What is Cherry Eye?

"Cherry eye" is the nickname for a medical condition known as a prolapsed nictitating membrane, prolapsed third eyelid, or third eyelid gland prolapse. The third eyelid, or nictitating membrane, is this fleshy, pink part next to the eye in the eye socket. This membrane is actually a flap of tissue that contains a gland that secretes tears and is usually not easily seen. It should be flat and against the corner of the eye socket but in a dog with cherry eye, it gets enlarged, flips over, and protrudes or prolapses making it abnormally visible.

Signs of Cherry Eye in Dogs

Signs of Cherry Eye

  • Pink bulge in the corner of the eye
  • Pawing or rubbing at the eye
  • Unable to close eye

A dog with a cherry eye will have a pink or red bulge that appears to be coming out of the inner corner of the eye. This bulge won't be bleeding and is not painful but is usually pretty obvious to an owner. Sometimes the bulge will come and go but other times the cherry eye will be out permanently until veterinary care is received. Aside from this obvious pink bulge in the eye though, other problems and symptoms that your veterinarian may see in a dog with a cherry eye include dry eye, corneal ulcers, irritation, and inflammation of the cornea. These conditions then cause a dog to paw at or rub its eyes.

Dry eye develops due to a lack of tear production and since the third eyelid is responsible for making tears, if it is inflamed and not providing enough tears, the eye will not be properly lubricated. This can then also cause irritation, inflammation, and even ulcers on the eye, especially if a dog paws at it or rubs it on the ground. If a cherry eye is large enough, it may also make it difficult or impossible for a dog to completely close its eyes. This can also be a contributing factor for dry eye if the eye is kept partially open at all times.

Causes of Cherry Eye in Dogs

Cherry eye is something a dog can be born with but more often it develops over time. The condition is most commonly seen in dogs that are 2 years of age or younger but some breeds are more likely to develop cherry eye than others. These breeds include American Cocker Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Beagles, Lhasa Apsos, Pekingese, Maltese, Bassett Hounds, Rottweilers, Neapolitan Mastiffs, Shar-Peis, Boston Terriers, St. Bernards, and English Bulldogs.

Treatment of Cherry Eye in Dogs

Over the years, several surgical methods have been devised to treat cherry eye in dogs. Surgical replacement of the cherry eye is the ideal treatment choice in order to preserve the tear production in the gland but occasionally the gland needs to be removed. If surgical replacement is unsuccessful and the removal of the gland is necessary, there is a risk for a dog developing chronic dry eye so your dog will be monitored for this. Simply pushing or massaging the cherry eye back into place with a wet cloth at home may work if the gland just popped out but it will depend on the severity of the cherry eye and how long it has been out. Typically this is only a temporary fix, if it works at all.

Your veterinarian will choose the surgical plan to replace the cherry eye that they are most comfortable with but a modification of one of three methods is typically used. The three methods most often used are called orbital rim anchoring, scleral anchoring, or the most popular, the pocket method. Variations of the pocket method have shown in some studies to be the most successful surgical plan for cherry eye replacements so many vets opt to utilize that technique.

Various medications, both oral and ocular, may be prescribed to help manage pain and inflammation as well as prevent infection but an E-collar should also be worn until the eye has completely healed. This will help prevent damage to the surgical site. Tear production may also be monitored when your dog's eye is rechecked after surgery to ensure the replaced gland is still adequately producing enough tears and your dog doesn't have dry eye. If dry eye has occurred, lifelong management with eye medications will be required.

How to Prevent Cherry Eye in Dogs

No one really knows what exactly causes this issue but some dogs simply have a genetic predisposition to developing it. There is no way to prevent it from occurring in your dog but thankfully it is not a life threatening condition and can be managed with surgery and medications.

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.
Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1.  Diseases and surgery of the canine nictitating membrane. Ward DA. In Gelatt KN (ed): Veterinary Ophthalmology, 3rd ed.-Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999, pp 609-618.

  2.  Prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid in dogs: a retrospective study of 89 cases (1980-1990). Morgan RV, Duddy JM, McClurg K. JAAHA 29:56-60, 1993.

  3.  Prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid in dogs: a retrospective study of 89 cases (1980-1990). Morgan RV, Duddy JM, McClurg K. JAAHA 29:56-60, 1993.