What Is Cherry Eye in Animals?

by Betty Lewis
    Bulldogs, beagles, Llasa aspsos, shih tzus, poodles and cocker spaniels are among the breeds prone to cherry eye.

    Bulldogs, beagles, Llasa aspsos, shih tzus, poodles and cocker spaniels are among the breeds prone to cherry eye.

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    No, your dog's eyes aren't red from crying. He has a prolapsed gland of the third eyelid -- or in much simpler terms, cherry eye. Though it looks worse than it feels, it's a condition you can't ignore, and not just because of how it looks. Untreated cherry eye can lead to other eye problems.

    Three Eyelids

    Your pup has three eyelids, but the third is not a spare he can afford to lose. Many animals have third eyelids that serve as an extra layer of protection, particularly when they're hunting or fighting. The gland in the third eyelid produces tears, keeping the eye lubricated. If the gland of this third eyelid pops out of its normal position, you'll see a pink mass sticking out of his eyelid, giving him the appearance of a "cherry eye."

    Pop Eye

    The third eyelid gland is attached to the lower inner rim of the eye; if the attachment is weak, the gland can pop out. If this happens to Beau, you'll see a colorful mass on the lower eyelid, close to the base of the muzzle. The mass be small and may disappear and reappear periodically, or it may be large, covering part of his cornea. Fortunately, it's not painful for your pup.

    From Cherry Eye to Dry Eye

    Just because Beau's not in pain doesn't mean you can let the matter go; untreated cherry eye can lead to dry eye, which is uncomfortable for a dog and can lead to scratched corneas. It also means you have to administer ointments every day for the rest of Beau's life. As well, untreated cherry eye makes the exposed tear gland prone to inflammation and irritation, making it vulnerable to bleeding or infection from being rubbed.

    Simple Surgery

    The vet will examine your dog's eye to learn if there's a reason for his cherry eye, such as abnormal cells in the third eyelid or a prolapse of fat in his eye. Surgery, the treatment of choice, involves creating a new pocket to tuck the tear gland into or tacking the gland into the orbital rim. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia, and Beau will probably be home the same day. He'll experience swelling and redness of his eye for about five days; but within a few weeks, his tear gland will be back to normal. The sooner surgery is performed after the gland prolapses the greater the chance of a successful first-time recovery. The longer the gland is left in its prolapsed state, the harder it is to reposition, making it more likely the condition recurs. Often, when one eye has a prolapse, the other eye does as well.

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    About the Author

    Betty Lewis is a writer and editor specializing in pet care, animals, careers and emergency management. She previously ran an animal shelter, where she also served as a kennel attendant and dog trainer. Lewis holds a bachelor's degree in journalism, an M.B.A. and a master's degree in professional studies.

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