Cherry Eye - What Is The Best Treatment Option?

sankai/Getty Images

A reader asks: "I have a 4-month-old bulldog that has developed cherry eye. I understand that this is a routine procedure and the symptom does not cause the dog any pain as it is more unpleasant to us then them. What is the best way to approach this? That ophthalmologist suggests tacking the gland back into place. A vet who has experience with bulldogs suggests removing the exposed portion and leaving the tear gland in place.

I'm afraid of the word removal... and any damage to the tear gland. Any thoughts on how to proceed?

What Is Cherry Eye?

Cherry eye is a common term for a prolapse of the third eyelid (nictitating membrane) of dogs. This eyelid contains a tear gland that promoted oxygen supply and is responsible for a portion of the tear production of the eye. When working properly, the third eyelid is tucked away and can't be seen. 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.

The prolapsed gland can be caused by scrolled or cartilage turned outward in the third eyelid, abnormal cells, or a prolapse of fat in the eye.

This condition can affect any breed but it is more common among:

Treatment for Cherry Eye

Treatment can involve one of two options: return the eyelid to its proper location and try to save the gland (approximately an 80 percent success rate), or remove the eyelid and the gland. A risk of removal includes dry eye later in life, which can potentially lead to damaged vision.

This can be controlled with medication, but it's better to prevent the situation in the first place. Usually the third eyelid is only removed if the gland has been damaged by prolonged exposure. Therefore, it's important to have your pet assessed sooner rather than later. Discuss the options with a trusted veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

Veterinarian Dr. Sherry Weaver on suggests steroid ointment to coax the gland back to its normal position. If that doesn't work, surgery is the only option. She indicates that the most successful surgical approach in her practice is the technique which involving 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, she's found, due to the potential for long-term problems.

Dr. Weaver only recommends removing the gland if the tack hasn't taken, and even then only if it is really bothering the eye, because removal can cause long-term problems. In fact, she's only removed the gland once in her 16 years of practice.

Share your cherry eye photos and experiences:
Please tell us your story of dealing with your dog's with cherry eye and share photos if you have them.