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Cherry Eye in Dogs

6 min read

Updated - Jul 29th, 2022

As a loving pet parent, you tend to notice every little detail about your furry friend. From their happy butt wiggles when you return home to melting your heart with a single look, you look forward to seeing their familiar face and habits. 

So, if you notice an out-of-the-ordinary red bump in the corner of your dog’s eye, it may cause some concern. Commonly known as cherry eye, this bump is likely the result of a prolapsed gland. While it’s not a dangerous condition, it can damage your pup’s tear duct and cause chronic dry eye if left untreated, making your pup extremely uncomfortable. 

The good news is that cherry eye in dogs is treatable with early detection. Here, we’ve outlined the symptoms and causes of cherry eye in dogs, and shared tips for managing this common condition in your pup.  

What is cherry eye?

Unlike humans, dogs have three eyelids for each eye. Known as the nictitating membrane, the third eyelid is hidden in the corner of the eye inside the lower eyelid. The nictitating membrane provides an added layer of protection, also containing a tear gland kept in place by ligaments. When these ligaments stretch or detach entirely from the orbital bone, the gland can pop out of place (known as a prolapse) and become visible above the eyelid, creating the appearance of a red, cherry-like growth in the corner of your dog’s eye. Cherry eye is the most common term for this prolapse of the third eyelid gland. 

Veterinarians don’t fully understand the cause of cherry eye in dogs – but it typically results from stretched or torn ligaments in a dog’s nictitating membrane. This strain can be caused by physical trauma, or it may occur if the affected dog breed is prone to this condition. If their ligaments are weaker, it’s easier for the membrane to pop out from under the third eyelid. 

Is cherry eye common in dogs?

Although cherry eye is most commonly found in young dogs during their first year of life, prolapse can still happen to dogs of all ages. In some breeds, it’s thought that the fibrous attachment in their eyes is weaker than other breeds, which allows the gland to prolapse easily. Flat-faced breeds are up to 34 times more likely to develop cherry eye, along with other breeds with genetic predispositions. Breeds with shorter muzzles (as well as toy breeds and teacup dogs) are more likely to develop cherry eye than bigger dogs with longer noses. Prolapse of the tear gland is more common in brachycephalic dog breeds, because their squished facial anatomy and shallow eye sockets cause their eyes to protrude from the skull. 

Generally, dog breeds that are more susceptible to developing cherry eye include:

What are the signs and symptoms of cherry eye in dogs?

Since cherry eye appears directly on the corner of a dog’s eye, it’s easy for pet parents to detect this condition early on. The growth is commonly found in the corner closest to a dog’s nose, and is similar in size and shape to a cherry pit. It will appear as a red swollen mass on the lower eyelid, and may even be large enough to cover a significant portion of the cornea, potentially blocking a dog’s vision. However, it could also be small and appear periodically. 

Besides the obvious swelling and protrusion on your dog’s lower eyelid, another sign of cherry eye is thick discharge. To curb the discomfort in their eye, your dog may attempt to paw or scratch it, causing more irritation to the already sensitive lower eyelid. This may also inflict scratches on the cornea or other parts of the eye, causing further damage or infection. Dogs with cherry eye may also blink or squint excessively – and if there’s a reduction in tear production, they may experience keratoconjunctivitis sicca (chronic dry eye), which can cause even more discomfort. If you notice your dog pawing at their eyes or rubbing their face on the floor, you should take them to the veterinarian. 

Cherry eye can come or go, but often permanently prolapses on either lower eyelid. Over time, this condition can make your dog prone to dry eye and infections and cause severe dry eye irritation. Early-stage cherry eye in dogs isn’t painful, and your dog may not even know something is wrong with their lower eyelid. Nonetheless, any sign of cherry eye or unusual symptoms should be taken seriously and immediately brought to your veterinarian’s attention. 

How is cherry eye in dogs diagnosed and treated?

If you think your pup may have cherry eye, it’s important to seek medical treatment from the vet as soon as possible, since untreated cherry eye can lead to major health concerns over time. To properly diagnose cherry eye, your vet will perform an eye examination to see if your pup has a prolapsed gland. They may even run a series of diagnostic tests to better understand your pet’s eye health. 

The severity of cherry eye in dogs varies. If caught early, some mild cases only require a warm compress and topical anti-inflammatories, while others may require surgery to replace the third eyelid. At your first visit, your vet may prescribe dog-safe eye drops to reduce inflammation in their eye. Although they can provide much-needed moisture and comfort, eye drops are not a cure for cherry eye. Surgery is the only option to fully relieve your pup from cherry eye. Non-surgical treatment can temporarily ease your pup’s discomfort, but is not enough to prevent another prolapse from forming on their lower eyelid. 

A veterinary ophthalmologist will perform the surgery to replace your pup’s cherry eye, which usually involves stitching the prolapsed gland back down below the lower eyelid. On the off chance that your pup experiences a re-prolapse down the line, your vet may recommend removing the affected gland entirely. Surgery is only an option if the tear gland is actively prolapsed; if your pup’s cherry eye comes and goes rather than remaining a constant in their lower eyelid, your vet may wait until the condition becomes permanent before performing surgery. 

How can I help prevent my dog from getting cherry eye?

Cherry eye in dogs isn’t preventable, but the best way to protect your dog from possible discomfort associated with this condition is by regularly monitoring their eyes. This way, you can spot a developing mass early on. You should also make sure your pup has a good diet, gets lots of exercise, and stays up-to-date on all preventive care and vaccinations. 

How can pet insurance help?

While cherry eye in dogs is not life-threatening or contagious, surgical treatment to remove it can be expensive. Depending on the breed, the costs of cherry eye surgery can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars in medical bills. 

When unexpected accidents or illnesses strike, getting your pup the best care possible is a top priority – but vet bills can get out of hand. That’s why Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans pay 90% back on eligible vet bills when the unexpected happens.

Christina is a copywriter and a loving cat mom to an adorable Bombay named Zetta.