What is cherry eye in dogs?
Cherry eye, or third eyelid gland prolapse, is a relatively common eye condition in young dogs – particularly puppies of less than a year old. Although other breeds might be affected, it is most commonly seen in breeds such as:
- Great Dane
- Shih Tzu
- Lhasa Apso
- Cocker Spaniel
In addition to the normal upper and lower eyelids which we humans possess, dogs (and many other species) have an additional ‘third eyelid’, also known as the nictitating membrane. This provides a protective function for the eye, as well as assisting with the spread of tears across the surface to help moisturise. Cherry eye is caused by the prolapse, or displacement, of the nictitans third eyelid tear gland.
What are the symptoms of cherry eye?
Symptoms of cherry eye result in the characteristic appearance of ‘cherry eye’ – a pink blob in the corner of the dog’s eye which protrudes near the nose. Your dog’s eye may become dry and irritated, and red and inflamed as a result. Cherry eye can be aggravated by the pet’s paw if they rub their face. Other symptoms include abnormal discharge leaking from the eyes.
What causes cherry eye in dogs?
Cherry eye in dogs is caused when the Nictitans gland, a tear-producing gland which sits at the base of the third eyelid, becomes displaced from its normal position (where it cannot normally be seen).
The nictitans gland plays an important role in good ocular health, producing a significant proportion (40% – 50%) of the tears that keep the eye moist and prevent it becoming irritated. Tears also supply nutrition to the cornea to help tackle infection and assist in the healing of surface damage.
Normally the gland is held in position by a ligament which attaches it to the eye socket. However, in some breeds this attachment is relatively weak, which may occasionally allow the gland to pop up out of position. When the gland is in this abnormal position it is prone to irritation and struggles to produce tears normally, which may also contribute to some irritation of the eye itself.
It should be noted that it is not at all uncommon for both of a dog’s eyes to become affected (as the issue is usually due to an intrinsic weakness of the ligaments which hold the glands in place). Both eyes might not suffer from a prolapsed gland at the same time, but it might be something to bear in mind for the future if one eye is affected.
Because tear production is so important for the health of the eye, we always advise that this condition is corrected to prevent long term irritation and potential damage to the dog’s eye. We may temporarily prescribe some eye drops to make your dog more comfortable, though to completely resolve the problem a surgical replacement of the gland is required, to make sure it sits in its correct position.
In the past it was common for veterinary surgeons to simply remove the gland; however, this is now recognised to be poor practice as it results in the loss of 40 – 50% of tear volume which the nictitans gland produces, which can have long term negative consequences for the dog’s eye.
How to treat cherry eye in dogs
The most common method of surgical treatment for cherry eye in dogs is the ‘mucosal pocket technique’. This procedure is carried out under general anaesthetic and involves creating a small pocket in the soft tissue at the back of the third eyelid, placing the gland into this pocket, and then stitching the pocket closed with dissolvable sutures to hold it securely in place.
The vets at Animal Trust perform hundreds of successful cherry eye procedures every year. In most cases this will permanently resolve the problem, however in a small proportion of cases (around 10%) the same issue may occur a second time and require further surgery to reposition the gland.
Possible complications of cherry eye surgery include the risk of infection (as with any procedure), irritation/ulceration of the eye caused by the suture material (which may require suture removal), cyst formation and possible re-prolapse of the gland as noted above. Fortunately, in the majority of cases, the surgery is successful first time and should provide a long term solution for cherry eye.
How much does it cost to treat cherry eye in dogs?
The cost of surgical treatment is £389 when paid for at admission. This includes anaesthetic costs and routine medication to go home with to care for your dog.
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