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Cherry Eye in Dogs

French Bulldog with cherry eye
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Severity: i Medium - High
Life stage: All
  • Cherry eye happens when a dog's third eyelid prolapses.
  • It is common in some dog breeds including Bulldogs, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, and Boston Terriers.
  • It looks like a red mass in the corner of a dog's eye.
  • Treatment may include eye drops and medications or surgery.
  • Cherry eye cannot be prevented.

Cherry eye in dogs is a condition that occurs due to a defect in the third eyelid, which is also called the nictitating membrane. 

Humans have an upper and lower eyelid, but dogs have an additional lid that comes up from the inner corner of their eye for extra protection when needed. This third eyelid also contains a gland that plays a large role in your dog’s tear production.

Under normal circumstances, only a small amount of the third eyelid can be seen. But if you notice a red bump or mass on the inner corner of your dog’s eye, it could mean that the gland has popped out of place, or prolapsed, resulting in cherry eye. 

What is Cherry Eye?

Cherry eye is a condition that occurs due to a prolapse of the third eyelid in dogs. The third eyelid is more exposed. This is usually seen as a red, mass-like bump in the corner of a dog’s eye.

In some dogs, this red bump will be small and only appear occasionally. But in other dogs, it could take over a large portion of the eye.

Certain dog breeds are predisposed to this condition including: 

What Causes Cherry Eye in Dogs?

Corgi with cherry eye

Cherry eye occurs in dogs because of a laxity in the tissues that hold the third eyelid in place. The muscle doesn’t keep the eyelid retracted and it pops out (becomes prolapsed). 

Under normal circumstances, the third eyelid will prolapse as a protective measure to the cornea or outermost layer of the eye. This happens when there is any sort of threat of trauma or another irritant. 

However, for a permanent cherry eye, there is no known cause. But in some dog breeds, it’s thought that their facial structures cause a weakness in how the third eyelid is attached, making it more possible to prolapse. 

Symptoms of Cherry Eye in Dogs

Beagle with cherry eye

Cherry eye in dogs is pretty obvious to most pet parents since it appears as a red mass in the corner of the eye. This mass is often swollen and has the appearance of a “cherry” which is where the name of the condition comes from. 

Other symptoms that may accompany cherry eye in dogs include:

  • An irritated or red area in the corner of the eye
  • Blinking or squinting
  • Diminished glossy appearance of the eye 

Diagnosing Cherry Eye in Dogs

Veterinarian doing dog eye exam

If you believe your dog has cherry eye, your pup should be seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible to rule out other serious eye issues or complications.  

The veterinarian may want to perform a full eye work up. This includes a thorough eye exam, staining the cornea with a fluorescent stain to check for scratches, checking the pressure of the eyes (which will rule out conditions including glaucoma or uveitis), and checking your dog’s tear production capabilities. 

These different tests will often rule out other causes of eye inflammation or irritation. Diagnosis of cherry eye is typically based on the appearance of the protruded eyelid or tissue.

How to Treat Cherry Eye in Dogs

Veterinarian giving dog eye drops

Treatment of your dog’s cherry eye will depend on the findings of your dog’s eye exam. 

If there is no ulcer present on the cornea, an eye drop with a steroid can be administered. This will bring down inflammation of the third eyelid. However, this is oftentimes only a bandaid for what is actually going on. 

If a reduction in tear production is noted on the eye exam, your veterinarian might prescribe artificial tears. Applying artificial tears can substitute or attempt to replace the shortage of tear production caused by cherry eye in dogs. 

Surgery for Cherry Eye

There are several different surgical options that can be completed to reattach the third eyelid to its proper location. Some veterinarians have experience and are comfortable doing these surgeries in their own clinics. Others may refer you to a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist. 

In one surgical procedure the third eyelid is completely removed. This procedure is no longer recommended because of the harmful effects that can occur after surgery. Removing the third eyelid removes one of the major sources of tear production and can increase the chances of other complications with your dog’s eyes—like dry eye. 

The other option is a surgery where the opthamologist will pull or tack the third eyelid back into place. This will be done without affecting the gland in the third eyelid and allow the gland to still properly produce tears. 

Replacement of the third eyelid should be done as close as possible to the time of the first diagnosis. This will help prevent other complications or related conditions from occurring. 

Cost to Treat Dog Cherry Eye

A full eye exam can run anywhere from $100-$200 depending on your geographic location and the diagnostic tests that are recommended. 

A cherry eye surgery can run anywhere from $2,500-$3,500. This price can also fluctuate depending on the need for surgery in one or both eyes.

How to Prevent Cherry Eye in Dogs

There is no effective prevention for cherry eye in dogs. Unfortunately, certain breeds are predisposed to this condition and there is not much you can do to influence whether your dog will develop cherry eye. 

Though you can’t prevent it, you can reduce the risk of damage to your dog’s eye by having the cherry eye treated by a veterinarian right away. Acting fast is the best way to try and prevent the need for surgical repair.

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