Cherry eye in medical terms is the prolapse of the third eyelid gland.
Unlike people, dogs have a membrane in the corner of each eye, located underneath the lower lid, which houses a tear gland. When this gland is healthy it's not visible when you look at your dog.
But occasionally this gland will pop or bulge out and you'll see red, thickened, irritated-looking tissue inside the corner of your pup's eye. And once this gland pops out, it can become increasingly inflamed and even develop an infection.
If your dog has cherry eye, he probably seems to be managing just fine. Fortunately, the condition isn't really painful for dogs. However, because the gland is no longer seated in its normal position, it can prevent adequate lubrication of the eye.
Cherry Eye is More Common in Certain Breeds
It's important to understand that any dog at any age can develop a prolapsed third eyelid gland.
But there are certain breeds more prone to the condition than others. These include a lot of the ‘B' breeds:
- Boston Terrier
- Bull Terrier
The condition is also relatively common in some other breeds, including:
- Lhasa Apso
- Cocker Spaniel
- Saint Bernard
Why the third eyelid gland pops out isn't well understood, but it's believed to be related to a connective tissue weakness in the ligaments that hold the gland in place.
Treating Cherry Eye
There are two ways to treat the prolapsed gland – either medically or surgically.
Medical management of the condition requires quick and aggressive action. Treatment should begin as soon as the prolapse occurs and definitely within the first couple of days, at the longest a few weeks. In cases where a gland has been popped out for several months, there's usually no hope for non-surgical intervention.
In my practice, when we get a visit from a dog that has just developed cherry eye, we start him right away on an aggressive protocol of herbal eye drops, specific homeopathics, and nutraceuticals to control the inflammation and try to reestablish the integrity of the ligaments that are designed to hold the gland in place.
If medical treatment fails, it's necessary to perform a surgical procedure to seat the gland back in its normal position under the lower eyelid.
I strongly recommend suturing the gland back in place. There's another technique I do not recommend, which is to simply remove the gland.
Like every gland in your pet's body, this tear gland serves an important purpose. It is necessary for adequate lubrication of the cornea of your dog's eye. Removing the gland very often results in a condition known as dry eye, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS).
Dry eye is a permanent condition in which the cornea dries out. In order to prevent bigger problems, including eventual blindness, dogs with KCS must depend on their owners to manually lubricate their eyes for the rest of their lives.
If your dog develops cherry eye, it's important to make an immediate appointment with your holistic vet to begin medical treatment, hopefully prevent the need for surgery, and restore your pet's eye health.