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Eyelid Protrusion (Cherry Eye) in Dogs

What is Eyelid Protrusion (Cherry Eye) in Dogs?

Cherry eye is the colloquial term for the prolapsed gland of the third eyelid, where the gland has shifted out of its correct position. Unlike humans, who have two eyelids, dogs possess three. The third eyelid sits in the lower inner corner of the eye, near the muzzle, comprising conjunctiva, a T-shaped cartilage, and a lacrimal gland responsible for tear production. Typically, the tear gland remains hidden beneath the cartilage.

In certain dogs, the T-shaped cartilage reverses, causing the prolapse of the third eyelid gland. This exposed gland often presents as a reddish or pinkish mass in the lower inner corner of the eye, hence the term “cherry eye.”

Several dog breeds demonstrate a higher predisposition to cherry eye, suggesting a probable genetic factor. Weakness in the connective tissues securing the gland may contribute to this condition in these specific breeds.

Notable breeds commonly affected by cherry eye include:

  • Cocker Spaniel (American Cocker Spaniel)
  • Beagle
  • Bulldog (English Bulldog, British Bulldog)
  • French Bulldog
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Newfoundland
  • Neapolitan Mastiff
  • Great Dane
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Cane Corso
  • Bloodhound
  • Shih Tzu
  • Boston Terrier
  • Pekingese

Symptoms

The primary indication of cherry eye is a circular, red or pink mass in the lower inner corner of the eye resembling a cherry pit. This condition can affect one or both eyes.

Observable symptoms of cherry eye at home include:

  • Presence of a red mass in the inner corner of the eye
  • Eye discharge
  • Redness of the eye
  • Inflammation and redness of the conjunctiva
  • Attempts to paw at the eye or rubbing the face against various surfaces (indicating discomfort and potential secondary issues related to cherry eye)

It’s essential to understand that the prolapse of the third eyelid gland itself isn’t painful. However, cherry eye can result in secondary problems such as corneal ulcers (sores on the eye’s clear, protective outer layer) and chronic dry eye (insufficient tear production), which can cause discomfort.

Causes

The exact cause of cherry eye in dogs remains uncertain. However, it is suspected that in specific breeds, weaker connective tissues holding the third eyelid gland in place may predispose them to this condition.

Additionally, it’s believed that in giant breed dogs, the larger orbit (eye socket) allows for more space and flexibility, potentially increasing the likelihood of eyelid prolapse. Conversely, in small breed dogs, the smaller orbit may not provide enough room for both the eye and the gland of the third eyelid, potentially predisposing them to cherry eye.

Nevertheless, these hypotheses serve as explanations for the higher occurrence of cherry eye in certain breeds, as the true underlying cause remains unknown.

Treatment

Surgery followed by post-surgical medication is the usual approach for treating cherry eye in dogs. Your veterinarian will assess your pet’s diagnosis to determine the most suitable course of action.

Surgical Treatment:

Untreated cherry eye can lead to secondary eye issues in dogs. Therefore, surgery is advised to reposition the gland correctly and typically prevents the condition from recurring.

Several surgical techniques are available, with the choice depending on the surgeon’s experience and preference.

Medication (post-surgery):

Following surgery, dogs are often prescribed medications. A topical eye antibiotic helps prevent infections at the surgical site, as an infection could compromise the success of the surgery.

Pain and inflammation are common after the procedure. Therefore, dogs may receive oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to alleviate discomfort.

It’s crucial to ensure that your pet wears an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) during the healing process to prevent scratching at the incisions, which could potentially jeopardize the surgical outcome.

Living and Management

Typically, most dogs undergo a reevaluation around 2-4 weeks post-surgery, unless complications arise. During this assessment, a Schirmer tear test is conducted to screen for dry eye, the most common secondary condition associated with cherry eye. This test measures tear production to determine the presence of dry eye in pets.

The third eyelid gland contributes to approximately 33% of a dog’s tears. When the gland prolapses, it can sustain damage, increasing the risk of chronic dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS), even after repositioning. Hence, continuous monitoring of tear production throughout the pet’s life is crucial. If tear production appears normal during the reevaluation, the Schirmer tear test may be recommended as an annual follow-up.

Eyelid Protrusion (Cherry Eye) in Dogs FAQs

Can cherry eye in dogs go away naturally?

Regrettably, cherry eye does not resolve without surgical correction.

What are the consequences of untreated cherry eye in dogs?

Without intervention, cherry eye persists, increasing the risk of chronic dry eye. The third eyelid gland contributes significantly to tear production, crucial for flushing out debris and protecting the eyes from infections and ulcers.

Can cherry eye in dogs lead to blindness?

Cherry eye itself doesn’t cause blindness in dogs. However, untreated cherry eye may result in secondary issues that could potentially lead to blindness.

Are there over-the-counter remedies for cherry eye in dogs?

While over-the-counter ointments and eye drops can help maintain eye lubrication, specific treatments for cherry eye are not available.

Does eyelid protrusion cause pain in dogs?

Eyelid protrusion isn’t inherently painful for dogs. However, discomfort may arise due to secondary issues associated with cherry eye.

Is cherry eye a recurring problem in dogs?

Surgical treatment for cherry eye typically prevents recurrence in the same eye. However, success rates vary based on the surgeon’s expertise and technique. Although surgery for one eye doesn’t guarantee protection for the other, dogs with bilateral cherry eye usually experience simultaneous onset or develop symptoms in the second eye within three months of the first occurrence.

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