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Cherry Eye in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Cherry eye is the term used for the prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid. It may occur in one or both eyes. The condition is most common in young dogs, six weeks to two years of age. Certain breeds of dogs are predisposed, including the America cocker spaniel, English bulldog, beagle, Chinese shar-pei, Newfoundland, bloodhound, Lhasa apso, miniature poodle, and shih tzu.

Causes

  • A weakness of the ligamentous attachment of the gland of the third eyelid is believed to be the most common cause in the dog.
  • Although this weakness may be a heritable condition, the inheritance pattern is unknown.
  • Prolapse of the gland may occur secondary to inflammation.
  • Idiopathic (unknown cause) forms also exist.

    What to Watch For

  • Oval pink or red mass protruding from the corner of the eye closest to the nose
  • Watery or thick discharge from the eye
  • Redness to the conjunctiva (lining of the eyelid)
  • Occasional pawing at the eye

    Diagnosis

    Generally, the diagnosis is made by visual inspection of the eye. A complete eye examination is warranted, including measurement of tear production, fluorescein staining of the cornea and examination of the opposite eye.

    Treatment

    Medical management involves the use of topical anti-inflammatory corticosteroid medications to decrease inflammation of the conjunctiva and the prolapsed gland. Medical management rarely results in return of the gland to a normal position.

    Surgical replacement of the gland is the recommended treatment. Complete removal of the gland may be performed, but it is discouraged because it predisposes the dog to a life of dry eye. The gland of the third eyelid is responsible for the production of around 35 percent of the watery tears, so removal of the gland may result in greatly diminished tear production (dry eye)

    Following surgery, an Elizabethan collar may be used to prevent self-induced trauma while the surgery site heals.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is a 5 to 20 percent recurrence rate depending on the surgical procedure used, the size of the gland at the time of surgery, the duration of the prolapse, and the condition of the cartilage of the third eyelid. In general, if the gland is replaced quickly, is not too swollen or inflamed, and if the cartilage of the third eyelid is not bent, then the success rate is higher for surgical replacement.

    If only one side had prolapsed and was surgically replaced, continue to monitor the other eye for development of a cherry eye. To prevent the other gland from prolapsing, the unaffected gland may be prophylactically sutured at the time the initial gland is operated.

    Administer all medication as directed by your veterinarian and return for follow-up as directed by your veterinarian. If the gland stays in place for one month following surgery, then the prognosis is good that it will not reprolapse. If the gland does prolapse again, a second surgical replacement may be attempted, or the gland may be removed.

    It is necessary to monitor tear production for sometime after the surgery to determine whether it will remain normal. The onset of dry eye may be delayed for months to years following prolapse of the gland. Signs of dry eye include thick, pussy discharge from the eye, redness to the conjunctiva and cloudiness of the cornea.

    It is advisable not to breed dogs that have developed Cherry eye in order to decrease the occurrence of the problem within the breed.

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