When cherry eye occurs it’s sudden and often visually alarming as you notice a red mass protruding from the inner corner of your dog’s eye(s). While it isn’t an emergency, you should see your vet to discuss repairing this condition.
Nicknamed “cherry eye” because of the bright red, oval, bulging tissue that resembles the fruit, this problem is thought to be caused by weak muscle attachments that keep the third eyelid in place. Your dog’s third eyelid, an extra protection called the nictating membrane, contains glands that assist in tear production. When this gland is prolapsed or “popped out”, tear production, irritation, and sometimes infection can occur. Though you’ll notice your dog doesn’t appear bothered by this and it’s not seemingly painful, serious problems can occur if it is left untreated.
Cherry eye usually occurs in young dogs (and occasionally cats) under two years of age. Some breeds are more predisposed to this condition than others, including bulldogs, beagles, Boston terriers, and Cocker spaniels. It can occur in one or both eyes and depending on the severity is often treated by surgery.
In the past, vets simply removed the gland. However, this is no longer considered a viable option. Removing it would lead to uncomfortable dry eye, which must be treated with lubricating drops supplied by the owner multiple times a day. If the eye remains chronically dry, the body will produce a thick, mucous like film to protect the irritated eye which can lead to blindness.
Surgically putting the gland back into place is the recommended treatment, usually with minimal complications. The most common surgical method requires a single, permanent stitch to keep the gland in place.
Another approach, sometimes used in addition to the above, requires surgically removing a wedge shaped piece of tissue, and then stitching the tissue together to create the tension needed to keep the gland where it belongs.
Unfortunately, cherry eye can reoccur despite surgical intervention and must be performed again. While this is a relatively minor procedure, not all vets may be comfortable performing the surgery, so you may be referred to an animal eye specialist instead.
Overall, cherry eye is at most, an unsightly nuisance when taken care of sooner rather than later. So if it happens to your pup, don’t panic!