Cherry eye in dogs is caused by a breakdown of the tissue fibers in the dog’s eye. It is a prolapse (displacement outward) of the gland of the third eyelid, also known as the nictitating membrane, or nictitans. Breeds with brachycephalic skull conformation have almost seven times the risk of experiencing cherry eye, according to one study, compared to other dogs.
Early-Stage Cherry Eye
Cherry eye appears without warning as a smooth pink lump located near the inner corner of the eye. It usually occurs in dogs 1 to 2 years old. In the early stages, most dogs are not affected by it.
If you want to manage cherry eye at home, be sure you know what that you have diagnosed it correctly and it’s not a red eye. To treat cherry eye, you must keep the eye clean, including the corneal surface, by using a safe eye wash solution (human solutions are fine) daily. Artificial tears ointment applied a few times daily will help protect the exposed cornel surface from injury (again, human products are fine).
If there is swelling of the gland, your veterinarian may prescribe steroid drops as needed. If secondary bacterial infection develops, your vet may prescribe an ophthalmic antibiotic ointment. Your dog will have to be monitored for the development of dry-eye syndrome, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), which is done with periodic Schirmer Tear testing. KCS is extremely uncomfortable and can cause vision loss.
Surgical correction is recommended to prevent secondary issues. Untreated dogs with cherry eye cannot fully close the eyelids, so they are more prone to corneal injury and secondary bacterial infection.
Cherry eye is believed to have a hereditary component in dogs. Commonly affected breeds include:
- Boston Terriers
- Chinese Shar Pei
- English Bulldog
- English Cocker
- French Bulldog
- Great Dane
- Lhasa Apso
- Saint Bernard
- Shih Tzu
Note: If you have an English Bulldog with cherry eye, don’t mess around. See a board-certified ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Cherry eyes in this brachycephalic breed are particularly challenging, and recurrence rates after initial surgery are high.
The cost of cherry eye surgery varies depending on where you live, if one or both eyes are affected, whether your regular veterinarian can do the surgery or you are referred to a specialist, and the size of your dog (the larger the dog, the higher the costs of anesthesia). An estimated range is $500 to $1,500.
Surgery involves anchoring or tacking the gland back down, or creating a pocket with overlapping edges that holds the gland back down in place. The longer the gland is out of place, the more difficult the surgery, making surgical complications like recurrence more likely.