Cherry Eye is Easily Diagnosed by Our McKinney Veterinarian

The medical term is Prolapsed Gland of the Third Eyelid, but the colloquial term of “Cherry Eye” better describes this red, fruit-like swelling that occurs in the eyes of some dogs and cats. The third eyelid, or nictitating membrane, is actually an appendage just inside the lower lid that animals can flick upward to cover and protect the eye. Besides protecting the eyeball in this manner, the nictitating membrane performs other important functions:

specialized cells within this membrane produce from 15-30 percent of the tear film that lubricates the eye
tissue in the membrane serves as a protective mechanism against inflammation and infection

This tissue at the back side of the nictitating membrane is actually similar to tonsils in the throat, and can swell in response to irritants, but in some cases it can swell to large proportions and form the “cherry” of the cherry eye. After the gland swells, it can evert and protrude from behind the third eyelid, becoming visible as it lies against the eyeball. The protruded mass causes discomfort, irritates the cornea, and can even attract flies if it becomes bloody and ulcerated. It is also unsightly to look at (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. the protruded gland lies against the eyeball where it causes discomfort, a runny eye, and is not pretty to look at.
Photo courtesy of Joel Mills.

Swelling of the gland can begin due to a variety of causes including allergy, infection, metabolic disease, trauma, overexposure to sun, or neoplasia. Other conditions constitute local sources of irritation: distichiasis (eyelashes turned inward) and entropion (facial folds that force eyelids to turn inward) both result in chronic irritation.

Hereditary weakness of connective tissue within the third eyelid – which normally prevents eversion and displacement of the gland – is also a key factor in cherry eye development.

While this can occur in any breed, the majority of cases are seen in Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels and Bassett Hounds, as well as Beagles, Boxers, Neapolitan Mastiffs, Chinese Shar-Peis, Boston Terriers, and Pekingese. Burmese and Persians are more prone than other cats.

Eye drops or ointments that contain a corticosteroid can sometimes shrink the swollen tissue temporarily, but the condition usually recurs at some point. Cherry eye usually occurs in both eyes, though not necessarily at the same time. The only way to truly resolve the condition is with surgery from a McKinney veterinarian.

In years past the procedure was to simply remove the gland, but some dogs developed decreased tear film later in life that leaves the eyeball excessively dry (a condition known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca). To better preserve the tear-producing tissue, I as a McKinney veterinarian usually do a more recent procedure that in effect tucks the swollen tissue inside of the third eyelid, thereby removing it from exposure to harsh elements while retaining its tear-forming capabilities. Two incisions are made into the third eyelid on either side of the protruded gland, which is then tucked into the opening created. Very small suture material is then used to stitch the incision closed. Space is left at one end of the suture line for tears to drain out.

Some controversy exists regarding which procedure to use. Some patients, especially Neapolitan Mastiffs, are said to have a tendency to re-prolapse after the surgery, probably due to extremely lax cartilage within the membrane. Therefore, in some dogs, and that breed in particular, removing the gland (with the understanding that decreased tear production may occur later) is sometimes worth considering.

Post-op care from your McKinney veterinarian must include managing any predisposing conditions, since the gland can still swell even though it shouldn’t prolapse. Allergic dermatitis should be controlled, entropion or distichiasis should be corrected, etc.

One thing is unquestionably true: these patients certainly look better after surgery, because their face no longer resembles a piece of fruit!

Contact us for more information about our McKinney Animal Clinic at 214-856-7006. Like us on Facebook, or sign up for our monthly newsletter, to keep up with news and events at Stonebridge Animal Hospital.

mckinney veterinarian McKinney TX
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
5913 Virginia Parkway, Ste 100
McKinney, TX 75071
(469) 507-2433


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