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Cherry Eye in Cats

A cat with cherry eye
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Severity: i Low - Medium
Life stage: All

Cats don’t have two eyelids, they have three. This third eyelid — known as a nictitating membrane — is a fold of tissue at the corner of each your cat’s eyes. But sometimes, a cat’s third eyelid becomes swollen and red, causing a condition called “cherry eye.” 

Cherry eye isn’t a particularly serious condition, but it can be uncomfortable for your cat. And left untreated, cherry eye can cause a number of unwanted complications. 

Here is what pet parents need to know about cherry eye in cats. 

What Is Cherry Eye?

Dr. Nicole Savageau, a veterinarian with mobile veterinary service The Vets, explains that cherry eye involves the “hypertrophy, inflammation, or prolapse” of the third eyelid’s gland that is “normally tucked away in the deeper part of the third eyelid.” 

It manifests as a “red, swollen mass at the inner corner of one or both eyes … often resembling a cherry,” Dr. Savageau says. 

Cat cherry eye is a relatively rare condition, primarily occurring in certain breeds such as Burmese and Persians. It can affect cats of any age, but generally affects younger cats, Dr. Savageau says. 

The condition is seen in both dogs and cats, but it is more common in dogs. 

What Causes Cherry Eye in Cats?

The exact cause of cherry eye in cats is unknown. However, there is likely to be a genetic component, Dr. Savageau says. That’s why certain breeds, such as Burmese and Persian cats, are more likely to get cherry eye.

However, blunt trauma to the eye and other eye diseases may also contribute to the development of this condition, Dr. Savageau adds.

Symptoms of Cherry Eye in Cats

There are many different symptoms of cherry eye in cats. Besides the redness and swelling that characterizes this condition, a cat with cherry eye may experience inflammation, discharge, and irritation. If your cat is very uncomfortable, they might try to paw at their eye or rub their eye against an object. 

Here is what you need to look out for:

  • Red swelling in the inner corner of the eye
  • Inflammation and/or infection that makes the redness and swelling more prominent
  • Green or yellow discharge from the eye
  • Eye irritation and discomfort
  • Rubbing at the eye with a paw or object

Stages of Feline Cherry Eye

Feline cherry eye can start off mild but can easily worsen if left untreated. 

“Cherry eye can progress from mild swelling to a prolapsed gland,” Dr. Savageau says. “Initially, the gland may swell intermittently, but as the condition worsens, it may remain prolapsed.”

Besides mild swelling, early stage cherry eye can be characterized by the occasional protrusion of the third eyelid and slight redness. Your cat may also blink or squint when the condition begins to take hold. 

If you suspect your cat is developing cherry eye, consult your veterinarian.

Diagnosing Cherry Eye in Cats

Veterinarian examining a cat's eyes

To get an official diagnosis of cat cherry eye, you need to take your pet to the veterinarian for a physical examination. Once at the veterinary clinic, your cat will likely get an eye exam.

“Vets will assess the appearance of the affected eye and may perform additional tests if secondary complications are suspected,” Dr. Savageau says.

How to Treat Cherry Eye in Cats

The most typical treatment for cherry eye in cats is “surgical correction to reposition the gland,” Dr. Savageau says. 

“Various techniques, such as gland replacement or anchoring, may be employed to restore normal eye function,” she adds.

However, there are also a number of medications that can help with cherry eye symptoms. For instance, your veterinarian may recommend eye drops to help manage the inflammation associated with this condition. But according to Dr. Savageau, this is “not typically curative for cherry eye in cats.”

Veterinarians may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce swelling and discomfort. “These can be administered orally or topically, depending on the severity of the condition,” Dr. Savageau says.

As for the cost of treating cherry eye, this will depend on numerous factors, such as the severity of the condition and the chosen treatment option, Dr. Savageau says. “Generally, surgical correction can range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars,” she says.

How to Prevent Cherry Eye in Cats

Can you prevent cat cherry eye? Since there’s a genetic component to the condition, it may not always be possible. However, Dr. Savageau says prevention could involve “selective breeding practices.”

Additionally, Dr. Savageau says pet parents should look out for early signs of cherry eye, such as eye discomfort. If you notice something wrong with your cat, call your veterinarian.

Related Conditions

If feline cherry eye is left untreated, Dr. Savageau says it can lead to complications for your cat, such as:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (a chronic dry eye condition)

Therefore, Dr. Savageau says “prompt intervention is essential” to prevent these secondary issues from developing.