A condition called “cherry eye” (eyelid protusion) may sound like nothing to worry about, but is actually rather serious. Cherry eye is a common term for prolapse of the third eyelid gland. Many mammals, including dogs, have a third eyelid located inside the lower eyelid that provides additional protection for their (very sensitive) eyes. Within that third eyelid is a gland that produces a significant portion of the tear film that keeps the eyes well moisturized. When the third eyelids’ gland prolapse or “pops out”—that’s cherry eye. So, what are some symptoms of cherry eye and what would you need to do about it? Read on to find out:
The main symptom of cherry eye is, unsurprisingly, that the third eyelid gland becomes red and swollen. The swollen gland may be large or small but it should immediately be brought to your veterinarian’s attention. This is because the third eyelid gland is so important in keeping the eyes protected and moisturized. In fact, the third eyelid gland produces up to fifty percent of the watery (aqueous) portion of the tear film.When the gland isn’t working properly, the eyes can become severely dry and this can impair your pet’s vision!
The gland of the third eyelid is normally anchored to the lower inner rim of the eye by a fibrous attachment, and cherry eye is thought to be caused by a weakness in that attachment. Dog breeds most commonly affected by cherry eye include Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Lhasa Apsos, Shih-tzus, and other brachycephalic breeds (dogs with “squished” faces). Some cat breeds are also disproportionately affected, including Burmese and Persian cats.
When you take your four-legged friend in for treatment, you’ll find that cherry eye must be treated surgically. Fear not, though, the veterinary surgeon will only do what your beloved pet needs and it will make your furbaby much more comfortable and happy. And, in most cases, your pet’s gland will return to normal function within only a few weeks of the surgery! With that said, in about 5-20% of cases, there will be a re-prolapse of the third eyelid gland and require additional surgery. Additionally, many pets who have a prolapse in one eye will eventually experience a prolapse in the opposite eye. In severe or chronic cases of cherry eye, there may be no option other than removal of the gland, especially if the function is thought to be severely diminished or absent. But luckily those scenarios are rather rare and treatment is still viable.