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Cherry Eye: Why is My Dog's Eye Bulging?

Posted December 14, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Bulldog with Cherry Eye

Like many animals, dogs have a third eyelid or nictitating membrane that helps protect the eye. Incorporated in that membrane just against the cornea is a tear gland. On occasion this gland becomes enlarged and actually flips over the edge of the membrane. Because it is unable to flip back into its normal location it becomes engorged, swollen and red – hence the term “cherry eye.” It is most commonly associated with a congenital weakness of the gland's attachment in the dog’s eye.

This condition is common and occurs particularly frequently in certain breeds including:

Treatment of cherry eye
Because of the anatomy of the third eyelid, the inverted membrane is difficult to keep positioned even if returned to its natural position. The gland stays engorged and simply flips back over the edge of the lid.

It has been determined that this gland produces roughly 25% of the tear flow to the eye. This is particularly of concern in deciding how best to treat the condition. Historically in cherry eye, the gland may need to be removed. Because the gland has significant tear production responsibilities, removal may increase the likelihood of “dry eye.” As inflamed and unnatural as cherry eye appears, the condition is benign and largely cosmetic. It rarely seems to trouble the dog and repair is somewhat optional and patients can live perfectly with the eyelid prolapsed.

Prognosis of cherry eye
The condition can occur in one or both eyes. Because the condition is so common, and reoccurrence is so likely a variety of treatments have been used ranging from non-invasive treatments such as topical steroids to drastic treatments such as surgical removal of the gland. Some of the surgical approaches are very simple and some are more involved and are best performed by an experienced surgeon.

Questions to ask your veterinarian

  • What is the bright, red, pea sized nodule in the corner of my dog’s eye?
  • My veterinarian told me we have to repair our dog’s “cherry eye” with surgery. Is that necessary?

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets. 

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.