Cory B. Mosunic, MS, DVM, DACVO
What is a cherry eye?
Dogs and cats have additional eyelids called the third eyelids. The third eyelid is a membrane which sits just inside of the lower eyelid. Another name for the third eyelid is the nictitating membrane (nictitans). There is a gland associated with the third eyelid which typically resides at the base of the third eyelid. This gland is responsible for making tears to keep the eye moist. When the gland of the third eyelid comes out of position, it protrudes from behind the eyelid and can have the appearance of a red/pink mass. This prolapsed lacrimal (tear) gland is commonly referred to as "cherry eye".
What causes a gland prolapse?
The problem is seen primarily in young dogs, including the Cocker Spaniel, Lhasa Apso, Shih-Tzu, Poodle, Beagle, and Bulldog. It's also seen sometimes in certain cat breeds including the Burmese. It has been suggested that the prolapse occurs due to weakness of the structures that hold the gland in place.
How is gland prolapse diagnosed?
Typically “cherry eye” occurs in younger patients. One or both eyes may be affected. The condition is fairly easy to recognize by noting a red mass protruding from inside the lower eyelid. Sometimes the prolapsed gland will regress and then reappear again.
How is a prolapsed gland treated?
To correct prolapse, surgical replacement of the gland is necessary. The gland of the third eyelid plays an important role in maintaining normal tear production; responsible for 33-66% of the tears. Dogs that have had the tear gland removed are predisposed to developing Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (dry eye) later in life. Dry eye is uncomfortable for the patient, and requires the owner to administer topical medications multiple times a day for the remainder of the patient's life. It is recommended that the gland be repositioned so it can continue to function normally.
The procedures used for this condition vary depending on your ophthalmologist’s preference and the individual patient.
When should gland replacement occure?
As soon as prolapse of the gland is noted, consultation with a veterinary ophthalmologist is indicated. The longer the tear gland is exposed, the more likely it will become irritated and inflamed. Chronic prolapse of the gland also can lead to more complications at the time of surgical replacement. Self trauma to the gland can cause the tissues to bleed and become irritated. Early replacement of the gland gives your pet the best chances for full return of tear gland function and normal anatomic appearance.