Dog with cherry eye in both eyes

Key takeaway

Cherry eye in dogs can be scary for pet parents, but it's not life-threatening. However, you should take your pet to the vet as soon as possible to determine the best course of treatment if your dog is diagnosed with cherry eye. Most dogs will require surgery, but many dogs with cherry eyes are able to live happy, healthy lives.

What Is Cherry Eye In Dogs? 

Cherry eye occurs in dogs when the third eyelid gland becomes inflamed and prolapses, popping out. This condition is called "cherry eye" because it looks like your dog has a cherry in the corner of its eye due to the red bump the prolapsed gland causes. Cherry eye can impact breeds of all kinds, and it can appear in only one or both eyes. This article will discuss cherry eye in dogs, its causes, symptoms, treatments, and more. 

What Is the Structure of a Dog’s Eye?

Dog eye structure

Dogs have three eyelids, with the third being called the nictitating membrane.The upper and lower lids cover the eye and blink to protect it while spreading tears across the eye. Within the eye and under those lids is the third eyelid that is found within the lower lid and in the corner of the eye. The nictitating membrane further protects the dog's eye, especially from scratches and particles. Your dog's eyes also have a tear gland within the membrane, which can become inflamed. 

What Is Cherry Eye in Dogs?

Cherry eye occurs when the tear gland within the lower corner of your dog's eye becomes inflamed and prolapses. 

Cherry eye definition

Cherry eye is common in puppies and young dogs and certain breeds. However, it can happen to any dog.When cherry eye occurs suddenly, the gland can swell up virtually overnight and protrude. While cherry eye may not be painful for some dogs, it can become irritating for dogs. 

What Causes Cherry Eye in Dogs?

Cherry eye doesn't always have a distinct cause. However, many veterinarians believe it is a genetic problem since some breeds are more likely to suffer from it than others. The breeds most likely to get cherry eye are: American cocker spaniels, Shih Tzus, beagles, Lhasa apsos, Pekingese, Maltese, basset hounds, rottweilers, Neapolitan mastiffs, Shar-Peis, Boston terriers, saint bernards, and English bulldogs.2

Dog breeds at risk of developing cherry eye

Other possible causes of cherry eye include:

  • Age: Cherry eye typically occurs in young dogs, typically below the age of 2. 
  • Eye trauma: Eye trauma, such as being poked in the eye, can cause the ligaments surrounding your dog's third eyelid to become weak. 
  • Scratching of the eye: You can tell if something is bothering your pet from their body language. For example, if your dog is rubbing their eye on the ground or furniture or pawing at their face, they could have minor irritation or an eye infection. However, scratching the eye can cause trauma, which can weaken the ligaments around the third eyelid. 

Cherry eye is not the same as an eye infection. Infections typically need some type of irritant or foreign body. However, cherry eyes in dogs can happen out of nowhere. However, cherry eye can lead to infections. When your dog's third eyelid prolapses, it becomes more sensitive and is susceptible to foreign bodies that can cause infection, including dust in the air. Eye infections can also lead to cherry eye, as irritation from the infection can cause the third eyelid gland to become inflamed and prolapse.

Additionally, cherry eye is not the same as dog allergies. While allergies can cause irritation and dry eye, they do not cause this type of inflammation. 

In general, the red, inflamed bump you see in your dog's eye is caused when the ligaments surrounding the third eyelid rupture. Any dog can have weak ligaments, and any dog born with weak ligaments will likely suffer from cherry eye. 

What Are the Symptoms of Cherry Eye in Dogs?

The most common symptom of cherry eye in dogs is the prolapsed tear gland that becomes red to resemble a cherry. The prolapsed tear gland will not be bleeding, but it will be obvious. Other symptoms that may be present with cherry eyes in dogs include:

Symptoms of cherry eye in dogs

  • Inability to close the eye: The prolapsed gland may make it difficult for your dog to close their eyes, which can lead to dryness and itchiness. 
  • Pawing or scratching at the eye: Your dog will feel something in its eye if it has cherry eye. While they likely won't be in extreme pain, they'll still feel mild irritation, which can cause them to paw at or scratch the eye. It's best to help prevent scratching as best as possible to avoid infection. 
  • Dry eye: Dry eye can occur because the gland can no longer function properly and results in a reduction of tears since the third eyelid is responsible for creating tears. Additionally, if your dog's eyes are cloudy, it may be a result of dryness from cherry eyes. Your vet may prescribe a medicinal eye drop for your dog to help them stay comfortable throughout the day and reduce itchiness. 
  • Irritation: Dry eye can lead to irritation because the eye can't lubricate itself. This irritation can also lead to inflammation and ulcers, especially if your dog rubs their irritation to try to scratch it. While your dog might find their cherry eye annoying, it shouldn't hurt them as long as they don't try to rub or scratch it. Pet parents should prevent their pets from scratching their eyes to prevent further long-term damage to the gland. 
  • Body language: While you'll notice cherry eye immediately, you may also notice your dog's body language and behavior change. Dogs with cherry eye might whimper or start sleeping more to keep their eye closed to avoid irritation and uncomfortable dry eye. 

How Do You Treat Cherry Eye in Dogs?

Before you can learn how to treat cherry eye in dogs, you need to know whether or not your dog has it. While it's fairly obvious by looking at a dog with cherry eye, you should still visit a vet for more information about the condition and get their recommendations for treatment. 

Early-stage cherry eye in dogs typically consists of anti-inflammatory medication.However, your dog will require surgery to reposition the gland in most cases. There are a few different types of surgical options, and your vet will help you figure out the best one for your dog. 

Remember, your dog's third eyelid and the tear gland are responsible for keeping your dog's eye protected and moist. Because of this, your surgical vet will want to preserve as much of the gland as possible. With surgery, the gland can be stitched to the connective tissue. 4 In most cases, your vet will avoid removing any of the glands to ensure your dog can actively produce tears. Additionally, not removing the gland can help prevent dog blindness in the future. 

Treatment for cherry eye in dogs

Surgery can only help your dog if the tear gland has already prolapsed. If your dog's tear gland hasn't fully prolapsed, your vet will likely wait until it has to begin surgery. Additionally, your vet will prescribe medications and itch relief for dogs for the management of pain and inflammation while preventing infection.

If you notice cherry eye in your dog, schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. While it's not an emergency, it should be looked at early so your vet can come up with the best treatment plan. Your vet may be able to schedule surgery immediately to prevent further eyelid damage. 

There is no cure for cherry eye in dogs, but anti-inflammatory drugs can help. Most will require surgery on top of medications. Surgery can fix your dog's cherry eye to ensure less damage to their eyes. 

How to Prevent Cherry Eye in Dogs

Pet parents can do nothing to prevent cherry eye, so if your dog gets cherry eye, it's not your fault. Cherry eye isn't preventable because there is no known cause other than the belief that it is genetic. However, if you're going to adopt a new puppy or buy one from a breeder, you can try to find out as much about their genetics as possible. As we've stated, some breeds are more likely to develop cherry eye than others, so even if you adopt a pet without knowing their history, you should still know that it's a possibility they will get cherry eye. 

Vets don't understand what causes the gland to prolapse, which makes it difficult to prevent. It's also important to remember that any dog can get cherry eye, even if they don't have any history of it in their breeding lines. Luckily, cherry eye is not a life-threatening illness and can be managed with the proper medications and surgery. 

Cherry Eye in Dogs FAQs

Veterinarian inspecting cherry eye in a dog

What happens if cherry eye is left untreated?

If cherry eye goes left untreated, the gland can further swell, decreasing tear production and increasing irritation and inflammation, which can lead to dry eye. Eventually, your dog's eye might not be able to close. Not treating cherry eye in dogs can also lead to pink eye and produce a mucoid discharge. 

How much does cherry eye treatment cost?

The cost to treat cherry eye will depend on the severity of the condition and the health of your pet. Some pet insurance plans may cover the cost of surgery, but it varies between companies. If your pet insurance doesn't cover it, you'll have to pay the full cost yourself. 

When should I take my dog to the vet for cherry eye?

You should immediately take your dog to the vet for cherry eye to get early treatment and discuss surgical options with your vet. Even though cherry eye is not an emergency, it can eventually cause health concerns, including pink eye. When you take your dog to the vet, they might prescribe eye drops to reduce the inflammation and shrink the cherry. Eye drops can also moisturize your dog's eyes, especially if they can't close their eyes fully. However, eye drops are not a cure, and you'll likely need to schedule surgery for your pet.

While surgery is always something pet parents try to avoid, they cannot in this case. Surgery is the only way to fix your dog's eye problem because topical treatments can't fully address it. Since the gland is no longer in position, surgery is the only way to fix it; there's no way for your dog's eye to heal itself. 

Will cherry eye in dogs go away on its own?

As we have mentioned, cherry eye does not go away on its own because the gland has prolapsed. Therefore, most dogs will require surgery. Leaving it untreated means your dog could be at a greater risk of health problems associated with cherry eye, including more swelling and irritation. You can also expect eye infections because the eye can't protect itself from dust and other irritants. 

Is cherry eye life-threatening?

Cherry eye in dogs is not life-threatening, and it's not a medical emergency. However, you should take your pet to the vet as soon as possible to discuss your treatment options and schedule surgery. Most dogs with cherry eye go on to live full, healthy lives. 

Is cherry eye contagious?

Cherry eye is not contagious, so it's safe to have one dog with cherry eye around other dogs and humans. As we have mentioned, cherry eye is likely a genetic condition or the result of trauma, so there's no way for your pets to contract it from another animal. 

What happens after cherry eye surgery?

While surgery can be stressful for you as a pet parent, recovery is fairly easy for both you and your dog. Most dogs are back to their normal lives within just a couple of weeks. The only thing you'll have to worry about are follow-up appointments with the vet so they can check the surgical site and ensure everything is healing properly. During this time, your pet will also have to wear a cone to stop them from scratching and prevent infection. 

Dogs are typically checked between two to four weeks following surgery. Your vet will check for dry eye and monitor tear production while your pet is healing. 

To make your pet comfortable and ensure they're healing properly, always follow your vet's recommendations after surgery. They will likely hand you papers with more information about how to care for your pet while they are in recovery. 

Will cherry eye come back?

Cherry eye unfortunately does have the potential to recur in the same eye after surgery. However, if it's not treated surgically, you can expect cherry eye to get worse. While the size of the cherry may reduce on its own, it will never fully go away, and it's dangerous to wait to see a vet. While surgery is the only thing that can rid your dog of cherry eye, the success of the surgery will depend on the vet performing the surgery and the surgical technique they use. 

Additionally, if your dog is treated for cherry eye in one eye, they may eventually develop cherry eye in the other. Most dogs get cherry eye in both eyes, but they might not occur simultaneously. If your dog is going to get cherry eye in their second eye, you can expect it to happen within just a few months of the first eye. 

How is cherry eye diagnosed?

Vets pretty easily diagnose cherry eye because it's obvious. In addition, there is no other type of eye condition that looks the same as cherry eye, so your vet will be able to determine if your dog has cherry eye by looking at their eye. However, your vet may also run tests to see how healthy the dog's eye is. As long as the eye hasn't become infected, most dogs should not be experiencing pain or blindness unless the condition has gone untreated.  

Final Notes

Noticing your dog has cherry eye can be anxiety-inducing for pet owners. After all, you just want the best for your companion. Many pet parents haven't had to treat cherry eye before, but it's not a rare condition. Vets believe that it's mostly genetic, but it can happen in any dog, so it's always best for pet parents to be prepared. 

If you notice your dog has cherry eye, it's best to get to the vet as soon as possible. While cherry eye is not a medical emergency and your dog shouldn't be feeling ill, cherry eye can cause dry eye and irritation that upsets your pet and can cause pink eye or severe infection. 

Most dogs will require surgery to treat cherry eye, although you might not be able to schedule surgery during the early signs. Your vet will want to wait until the gland is fully prolapsed so they can reattach the gland to the ligament. While no surgery is 100% effective, surgery is typically your only option if you want to relieve your dog from the irritation caused by cherry eye, and it has been proven effective for most dogs. 

Recovering from cherry eye surgery is easy. Your vet will likely send you home with eye drops to ensure your dog's eye can stay moist while it heals. Luckily, your pet should feel back to normal within a few weeks and be as happy as ever once their lump is gone. Surgical procedures might make you nervous, but it's worth it for your dog to live a fuller, happier life. Operating on your dog's eye is considered safe as long as your surgeon is experienced. They can also ease your anxiety if you trust them. 

Cherry eye isn't painful at first, but it can lead to complications in the future, with the most serious being infection and dry eye syndrome. You can help your pet by taking them to the vet immediately, if only for eye drops that will relieve some discomfort. However, your pet will eventually need surgery, so there's no reason to put it off if the gland has fully prolapsed. 

Unfortunately, too many pet parents don't know when the right time is to take their pets to the vet. The first step to treating cherry eye, even if your pet may not require surgery right away, is to consult a vet. That's where Dutch comes in. Dutch offers telemedicine for pets and advice for pet parents to help them learn about health conditions and treat non-emergency illnesses. 

If you're worried about your dog's eye health, you can connect with a licensed veterinarian from the comfort of your own home to help them diagnose your pet and teach you about the treatment options. Dutch veterinarians can also let you know about the different surgical options available to your pet while providing you with the necessary prescriptions your dog needs to help relieve dry eye associated with cherry eye. 

While you can't have a remote surgery, Dutch can still offer you friendly advice to help you manage your pet's symptoms and make them more comfortable while you wait for surgery. Of course, you should always visit your local vet as soon as you notice cherry eye so that you can schedule surgery as soon as possible and start planning. While recovery is fairly short, your pet will still need time to heal, which means ensuring they have someone with them throughout their recovery process to ensure they're eating, drinking, getting enough rest, and not scratching or pawing at their eye.

References

  1. Gelatt, Kirk N. “Eye Structure and Function in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 28 Feb. 2022, www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/eye-disorders-of-dogs/eye-structure-and-function-in-dogs.

  2. Gelatt, Kirk N. “Nasolacrimal and Lacrimal Apparatus - Eye Diseases and Disorders.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 28 Feb. 2022, www.merckvetmanual.com/eye-diseases-and-disorders/ophthalmology/nasolacrimal-and-lacrimal-apparatus.

  3. “Seeing the Signs: What to Know about Cherry Eye in Dogs.” CVMBS News, 11 Mar. 2022, vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/seeing-the-signs-what-to-know-about-cherry-eye-in-dogs/.

  4. Gelatt, Kirk N. “Disorders of the Nasal Cavity and Tear Ducts in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 28 Feb. 2022, www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/eye-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-nasal-cavity-and-tear-ducts-in-dogs.