Cherry eye in dogs

April 26, 2024 - 4 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
A brown french bulldog standing in the grass with cherry eye in both eyes.

What is cherry eye in dogs?

Cherry eye in dogs is the prolapse of the nictitans gland. This is a tear producing gland found in the dog's third eyelid (nictitating membrane). When this gland pops out of place, it often looks like a small, red cherry bulging in the corner of their 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

A black and white french bulldog pants with its tongue out. Only its head and shoulders are visible. The background is light beige.

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 than their medium-skull-length brethren.

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 purebreds, 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!

CTA _17

Top-ranked* dog insurance

We've got your dog's back (even if it's in a brace).

ManyPets offers nose-to-tail dog insurance for accidents and illnesses at competitive prices with no hidden fees. *According to Forbes Advisor’s “Best Pet Insurance of 2023”

CTA _17

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

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lying down, with soulful eyes and a tricolor coat, resting on a textured carpet.

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. At ManyPets, we've seen claims ranging from $450 (for one eye) to over $5,600 (for both eyes).

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.

Can pet insurance help pay for cherry eye treatment?

At ManyPets, we can provide coverage for eligible accidents and illnesses, including hereditary and congenital conditions, as long as they are not otherwise excluded or pre-existing.* Get your risk-free quote today!

*ManyPets Pet insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions unless the pet has been free of symptoms and treatment for 18 months. Annual deductibles, co-pays, benefit limits, and exclusions may apply. See your policy for details.

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.