Cherry eye in dogs

6 June 2024 - 4 min read
A brown french bulldog standing in the grass with cherry eye in both eyes.

What's cherry eye in dogs?

Cherry eye is caused by a tear-producing gland found in the dog's third eyelid becoming displace (prolapse). When this gland pops out of place, it often looks like a small, red cherry bulging in the corner of the eye (hence the name).

What causes cherry eye in dogs?

The exact cause of cherry eye is not fully understood, but it is generally believed to be associated with a weakness in the connective tissue that holds the gland in place. There are strong breed dispositions, and this is often passed down in dogs known for bulgy eyes (hello, Frenchies!).

Symptoms of cherry eye in dogs

The most obvious symptom of cherry eye is the appearance of a pink or red, fleshy mass in the corner of one or both of your dog's eyes. There may also be discharge if irritation or infection sets in. The longer that cherry eye goes untreated, the higher the chance of secondary issues (like eye ulcers).

Does cherry eye hurt dogs?

While cherry eye itself is not painful, it can lead to discomfort and secondary complications if left untreated. The prolapsed gland is not able to produce the normal amount of tears which can lead to a dry, irritated eye that is more prone to infections.

Breeds at risk of cherry eye

As we hinted at before, certain breeds are more susceptible to developing cherry eye. Flat-faced brachycephalic breeds like American Bulldogs, for instance, have an unfortunate predisposition to developing cherry eye.

And the risk is high—one study found that brachycephalic breeds are almost 7x more likely to develop cherry eye compared to medium-skull-length dogs.

Here are a few of the top breeds prone to cherry eye:

Again, if you're in the market for one of these adorable bulgy-eyed pedigrees, it's important to look for a responsible breeder who avoids breeding dogs prone to hereditary conditions.

Unfortunately, even the most well-bred pug can still develop cherry eye. It just comes with the territory!

How cherry eye is diagnosed

Diagnosing cherry eye is straightforward and based primarily on the visible symptoms. But it's still important to see your vet. They'll perform a thorough eye examination to confirm the presence of the prolapsed gland and rule out other potential eye issues.

Treatments for cherry eye in dogs

Puppy Eyes That Melt Your Heart

Surgical correction for cherry eye

The most effective treatment for cherry eye is surgical correction (you might hear it called "nictitans gland replacement").

In the past, the majority of vets simply removed the gland. But that proved problematic because that gland produces more than 1/3 of your dog's tears and the third eyelid protects their eye!

Now, most vets surgically reposition the prolapsed gland back underneath the eyeball. In some cases, vets may also tack the gland to the "orbital rim" with permanent stitches (anchoring).

Most (some sources say above 90%) of cherry eye surgeries are successful, but some dogs will need repeat surgery. In that case, your vet may proceed with "anchoring" or even removing the gland.

How much does cherry eye surgery cost?

The cost of cherry eye surgery depends on where you live, your chosen surgeon, and the extent of the surgery required. Of course, treating both eyes is more expensive.

How to treat cherry eye in dogs without surgery

For various reasons, surgery might not be an immediate option. In such cases, your vet might recommend temporary relief through the use of anti-inflammatory eye drops or ointments aimed at reducing swelling and irritation. Lubricating eye drops can also make your dog feel more comfortable. Remember, these aren't long-term solutions and won't fix the prolapse itself.

Cherry eye complications

If left untreated, cherry eye can lead to more serious problems, including chronic dry eye, tissue damage, and infection. With timely treatment and surgery, the prognosis for dogs with cherry eye is generally very good. Again, a 90% surgery success rate means your dog will likely never deal with the issue again (at least in the treated eye).

Can you prevent cherry eye in your dog?

There is not much you can do at home to prevent cherry eye from occurring, but you should definitely monitor your pet for anything out of the ordinary. While it is not usually an emergency, seeing your vet promptly will help improve the success of any recommended treatment.

Due to the hereditary nature of the condition, it is worth mentioning again how important it is to try to source your dog from a reputable breeder in the first place. You might also want to possibly reconsider whether a flat-faced breed is right for you.

When to see a veterinarian for cherry eye

As with most health issues, it's a good idea to call your vet with concerns. Early intervention is key to preventing complications and making sure your dog recovers quickly.

Whether it's surgical correction or another form of management, your vet (not Google, or even this article) is the best resource for you and your dog. They will be able to create a tailored strategy just for your pup.

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Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.