All dogs have a third eyelid, found in the inner corner of the eye. Behind it lies a pinkish tissue called the Hardarian gland. In some dogs this gland is not held tightly in place and will prolapse (pop out), causing it to bulge out from behind the third eyelid. According to dogcare.bulldoginformation.com, when it prolapses, it looks like a cherry in the corner of your dog’s eye, hence the term “cherry eye.”
The third eyelid helps with the production of tears and to clear away any debris your dog might have in his eye. For the most part, you will not see your dog’s third eyelid. However, petsmd.com states, “Once a cherry eye is present, you need to get your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible. The longer the tissue is exposed, the more likely it is to cause an infection in the eye, because your pet will want to scratch the eye, running the risk of creating an ulcer on the eyeball.”
What Causes Cherry Eye?
The main cause of cherry eye is a weakening of the connective tissue that holds the Hardarian gland in place. However, an exact cause is still not known. Some breeds are more predisposed to this condition, including Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, Bull Terriers, St. Bernards and Shar-Peis.
Petplace.com offers the following suggestions as to what can cause cherry eye:
Decreased or loss of function of the nerve supply to the muscles of the third eyelid and those surrounding the eyeball, from certain neurologic diseases.
Relaxation of the muscles around the eyeball (that work to keep the third eyelid in a retracted position) from the use of tranquilizers, poor physical health, etc.
Any source of ocular (eye) pain that stimulates retraction of the eye deeper into the orbit (bony cavity in the skull or eye socket).
Any cause of settling of the eye deeper into the bony socket, such as from dehydration, weight loss, or changes in the structures behind the eye.
Abnormally small-sized eyes. Small eyes may occur as congenital birth defects or may arise from shrinkage of the eye following severe trauma or inflammation.
Presence of a mass, such as a tumor, cyst, infection or inflammation within the orbit, which pushes the eye and third eyelid forward.
What are the Symptoms of Cherry Eye?
According to petplace.com, if your dog has cherry eye, the following symptoms will present themselves:
Increased prominence and elevation of the smooth inner membrane located at the inside corner of the eyelids.
Squinting, tearing, changes in pupil size, alterations in the size or position of the eyeball, discoloration and deformities of the third eyelid.
The condition may affect one or both third eyelids. Luckily, if your dog is developing cherry eye, you’ll notice right away and be able to take the proper steps to getting the immediate medical attention your dog will require.
How is Cherry Eye Diagnosed?
Petsmd.com says that your vet will want to do a complete history and physical exam. The vet will look for any secondary problems by flushing your dog’s eye with a saline solution and then putting a green stain on it. He’ll then look at the cornea with an ultraviolet light.
Petplace.com notes that your vet may also perform these additional tests:
The third eyelid itself may be examined with a forceps after application of a local anesthetic.
Neurologic examination to assess the presence of neurologic disease.
Complete blood count (CBC) and serum biochemistry tests to evaluate the underlying cause and identify any related problems.
Skull X-rays to determine the presence of a bony orbital or sinus problem.
Ultrasound examination of the eye and soft tissues within the orbit behind the eye.
Specialized imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the eye, orbit and brain.
How is Cherry Eye Treated?
According to dogcare.bulldoginformation.com, “The only acceptable treatment of cherry eye is replacing the gland to its proper location.” This can be done in one of two ways: A traditional tucking method in which a single stitch is permanently placed that holds the gland back in place, or with a surgical technique that removes a wedge of tissue from the gland, which is then sown back up with tiny, dissolving stitches that work to push the gland back into place. This surgery is tricky in that it can be hard to determine how much tissue should be removed. In some cases, both techniques may be used to achieve good quality replacement and prevent further occurrences of cherry eye.
Petsmd.com states, “It is important to have the surgical correction done as quickly as possible to minimize any further damage to your pet’s eye. If treatment is neglected or prolonged, the risk of causing further damage is high. Remember that the third eyelid is responsible for at least 50 percent of the tear production, so if neglected your pet will develop dry eye, which can lead to vision loss.”
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.