Cherry Eye

Life With Dogs is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.

Cherry eye is the common name for an eye condition that affects a tear gland of the third eyelid of some dogs.  It usually occurs in young puppies and may be unilateral (affecting one eye) or bilateral (affecting both eyes). It looks like a red sphere in the inner corner of one or both eyes, hence the name.  The “official” name of the condition is prolapsed nictitating membrane gland or prolapsed gland of the third eyelid.

Dogs (and cats) have a “third eyelid” that sometimes appears, even when healthy, in the inner corner of their eye as a thin red or white membrane.

prolapsed – out of place

nictitating – to blink

membrane – thin tissue

gland – organ that secretes

In the middle of the inner surface (nearest the eyeball) of the third eyelid is a gland that produces some of the eye’s tears.  In a healthy puppy or dog, the gland is tucked away where it cannot be seen.  In the case of a prolapsed third eyelid gland, the third eyelid turns outward and the gland becomes inflammed.  When this occurs, it is almost always in need of surgical correction.

Why Fix a Third Eyelid Gland Prolapse?

When the gland of the third eyelid is out of place, it is unable to produce the portion of the tears it is meant to, and the eye is more prone to keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye, a condition in which the tear production is abnormal and predisposes to discomfort and corneal damage.  The prolapsed gland itself may cause corneal irritation as well.

What is Involved in Surgery?

In one procedure to correct a prolapsed nictitating membrane gland, two small incisions are made on either side of the gland with the pet under general anesthesia.  The incisions are sewn together with very fine suture, creating a false pocket in which to contain the gland.  Sometimes, especially when the problem has been going on for a long time, a small cut is made in the cartilage – the firm connective tissue – of the third eyelid to assist the third eyelid in regaining its normal position.

What is the Prognosis?

The prognosis for a repaired prolapsed third eyelid gland and regaining full tear production is good.  The gland will sometimes prolapse again, especially if the situation is longstanding, and if it has not already, the same condition may occur with the other eye.  The condition is probably usually heritable, so affected dogs should not be bred.  It is more common in some breeds, including Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Mastiffs and most brachycephalic breeds (Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult, Fifth Edition, 2011).

brach/y – short

chephal/o – head

Cherry eye is a condition with a very striking presentation and a very good prognosis, two of my favorite things.


26 thoughts on “Cherry Eye”

  1. Its when the tear gland pops out of the third eyelid… A red mass in corner of eye… My cocker had one as a young adult and had an op and it remained in… As an older dog she had one in her other eye.. We left this one a while as my vet said it does not cause a problem and its more cosmetic that we repair them… We did finally get her the op, after a few months, but it popped out a week or so later.. It has remained out till this day and she is now 10. 🙂

  2. Saying that, she does suffer dry eye also which needs meds – when she is not on steroids for another problem….lol… We were told it doesnt cause dry eye and cockers are prone to this anyways.

  3. aha, thank you. My Italian Greyhound has had sore eyes for about a week now. Third eyelid is obvious and inflamed. Vet said allergic conjunctivitis and is being treated by antibiotic and cortisone cream. So far no improvement at all.

  4. My chiweenie has cherries in both her eyes…my vet said its more of a cosmetic procedure in her case and surgery wasn’t necessary. She’s now 4 and have them since she was 6 months. She haven’t had 1 issue with them, they cause her no discomfort.

    • Our chiweewee had cherries in both eyes. Our vet said the same thing surgery was more of a cosmetic procedure and did not always guarantee it would stay in. One of his cherries popped back in on it’s own and has stayed in. The other one does not seem to bother him.


Leave a Comment