What is cherry eye in dogs?
Dogs have a third eyelid which is found in the inner corner of each eye. You may have seen a small, pink triangular piece of tissue flick briefly across your dog’s eye when they yawn? This is the third eyelid and it is an important and completely normal part of the eye. The third eyelid contains a gland that produces tears, which are essential for lubricating the surface of the eye (cornea). Cherry eye is a painful condition because the exposed gland quickly becomes inflamed and sore.
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Symptoms of cherry eye
When the third eyelid pops out of the inner corner of the eye it looks like a small cherry, hence the name ‘cherry eye’. It is easy to spot as a pink to red lump in the inner corner of your dog’s eye.
Causes of cherry eye
Cherry eye often occurs for no particular reason. It can occur in one or both eyes, and usually before one year of age. Certain breeds are more prone to developing cherry eye. These include British Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Beagles, Great Danes, Cocker Spaniels, Bull Mastiffs and Shar Peis.
What can you do to help your dog?
- If your dog develops cherry eye, an appointment at your registered clinic is needed. Eyes are very sensitive and delicate structures, and prompt treatment is essential
- Cherry eye often runs in the family, so it is not a good idea to breed from dogs who have had the condition
- If cherry eye occurs in a puppy, or young dog, it is important to report it to the breeder
Treatment of cherry eye
Treatment must not be delayed because it can make cherry eye harder to treat. The exposed gland tissue quickly becomes inflamed, and potentially infected.
Medical treatment is usually the first approach that your vet will recommend. It focuses on settling the inflammation and pain in the eye before and after surgery. Topical sterile lubricating drops (false tears) are used to keep the tissue moist and prevent it drying out. Anti-inflammatory eye drops reduce the swelling and inflammation, which may help the gland to shrink down in size. Antibiotic eye drops are not always necessary but may be indicated if an infection is present. The drops are typically applied to the affected eye several times per day for the duration of treatment.
Surgery is nearly always needed to secure the third eyelid back in the correct place. Unfortunately, despite the tissue being stitched carefully into position, it is common for cherry eye to recur. Several attempts may be needed to cure it completely. Referral to a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist is sometimes required. After surgery, your dog will need a Buster collar. This is vital to prevent them rubbing or scratching the eye until it is completely healed. To reduce the risk of cherry eye recurring, for a period after surgery, activities that increase the pressure in your dog’s eyes, such as running and playing, should be avoided. Collars should not be worn, and a harness used instead.
In the past, the third eyelid was sometimes removed. However, this is no longer recommended as the gland performs an important function producing tears. Removal can result in a condition called dry eye, where an insufficient amount of natural tears causes dry and painful eyes. Dogs that have had cherry eye may get dry eye as well. For this reason, your vet may want to check your dog’s tear production from time to time, using a quick and simple test in the consultation room.
When is it time to visit a vet?
- If you notice that your dog has cherry eye, it is important to book a prompt appointment with your registered vet.
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