Cherry Eye in Dogs

Cherry eye in dogs, or nictitans gland prolapse, is a disorder of the third eyelid in dogs. Dogs have a third eyelid in the corner of each eye; this eyelid contains a tear duct. Normally, you can't see this tear producing gland. When canine cherry eye occurs, the third eyelid prolapses, or slips out of its normal position, and becomes swollen and inflamed.

Risk Factors for Canine Cherry Eye

Cherry eye occurs in dogs of all breeds, genders and ages. However, some breeds are more prone to this disease than others. Breeds more prone to cherry eye include the Bloodhound, Beagle, Boston Terrier, Bull Terrier, Lhasa Apso and Saint Bernard.

Causes of Canine Cherry Eye

Vets don't know exactly what causes cherry eye in dogs. Hereditary plays a part in this condition, but the role of genetics remains unclear. Vets believe that weakness in the connective tissues of the eye allows the gland to slip out of its proper position, or prolapse, exposing it to irritants and making it vulnerable to inflammation. Secondary infections may cause prolapse of the third eyelid tear duct, though many causes of this disorder are idiopathic, meaning that they occur without visible cause.

Symptoms of Canine Cherry Eye

If your dog's tear duct prolapses, you'll see a large, ovular, red or pink protrusion at the corner of your dog's eye nearest his muzzle. The lining of the eyelid may appear inflamed. Your dog may paw and scratch at his inflamed eye. Discharge from the eye may be thin and watery or thick and mucousy, depending on whether the prolapse was the result of weak connective tissue in the eye or an infection. Cherry eye may occur in one or both eyes.

Diagnosing Cherry Eye in Dogs

Your vet will make a diagnosis of nictitans gland prolapse based on a physical examination of your dog. Your vet will perform an eye examination. He'll measure your dog's tear production levels, he'll check for corneal infection and he'll check the other eye for problems. 

Treating Cherry Eye in Dogs

Your vet may prescribe antibiotics in the case of infection. He'll prescribe topical anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the swelling in the prolapsed gland. However, these methods rarely help to return the gland to its normal position. 

For that, your dog will need surgery. Your vet will first try to put the prolapsed gland back in place. This gland produces 35% of your dog's tears, do removing it entirely means your dog will suffer from dry eye for the rest of his life. 

Removal of the gland may be necessary in some cases. However, in most cases, your vet should be able to suture the prolapsed gland back into position. Your vet can perform this procedure quickly, and it carries a low risk of side effects and complications. The success rate for this surgery hovers between 80 and 95%, allowing most dogs to return to normal life once the surgical site has healed.