Pet Tips

Cherry eye in dogs – Pet tip 122

Cherry eye in dogs – Pet tip 122

Any owner of a dog who has had “cherry eye” will tell you that it is not a pretty sight. Perhaps you have witnessed it yourself and have seen the large red mass bulging out of the inner corner of a dog’s eye, from which the name ‘cherry eye’ originated. While not the most visually appealing condition (for the owners or the afflicted dog), cherry eye is actually a fairly common and benign occurrence in many breeds of dogs.

Though it may appear somewhat like a tumour or even an awfully big bug bite, the ‘cherry’ on your dog’s eye is actually a prolapsed (or popped out) gland. Known by veterinarians as the nictitans gland, this gland is present in the third eyelid of dogs and aids in the production of tears. Unlike humans, many animals possess this third eyelid which closes horizontally across the eye to provide extra protection and moisture. In dogs, this eyelid exists as a thin membrane (nictitating membrane) which is not visible under normal circumstances. In cases of cherry eye, this nictitans gland appears to pop out of its normal position and swell up on the outside of the eye.

It is unclear what causes cherry eye, but research shows that it may be related to the connective tissue that regularly holds the gland in place and connects it to surrounding structures. When this tissue is particularly weak, prolapse is more likely. Certain breeds are at an increased risk of developing cherry eye, including Boston Terriers, Beagles, Bulldogs, Saint Bernards, Shar-Peis, and Cocker Spaniels. While the condition may occur in any dog, these breeds have a much high incidence and frequently develop it in both eyes.

It is important to correct cherry eye in dogs, as the exposed gland is at a high risk of injury and infection. Also, the mucous discharge that sometimes accompanies the swollen gland can be very irritating; if the dog decides to rub or scratch at it, the entire eye is at risk of injury. Treatment for cherry eye does require surgery, however, the procedure is relatively straightforward and routine. Under general anaesthetic, the nictitans gland is replaced to its normal position and re-attached to the deeper structures of the eye.

Previously, it was routine to simply remove the gland, but this method has been shown to cause many problems for the dog later in life. Without the tear-producing function of this gland, dogs are prone to developing a disease called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (or more simply put, dry eye). This dryness can still to occur in those dogs who have their gland surgically repositioned, however, the incidence is much lower (it occurs in approximately 20% of cases).

With today’s veterinary expertise, there are few complications related to replacing the gland. Dogs should be able to go home on the same or next day, often on a course of antibiotics to prevent infection. In some cases, however, the results of this surgery are not as permanent as owners would like. Dogs with cherry eye (especially the breeds mentioned above) can develop the problem again, and may require the repositioning surgery two or three times in their lives. Success rates are greatest, and recurrence is the least likely when the surgery is performed shortly after the prolapse.

Ultimately, cherry eye is more shocking than it is serious. Surgery, of course, should never be taken lightly, but fortunately, most veterinarians are extremely familiar with this condition. The important thing to keep in mind should your dog wake up one morning with a big red cherry eye, is that your dog will be okay, and the sooner you get to the vet, the better you both will feel.

By Alison Norwich – Pets.ca writer

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