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.