What is Cherry Eye?

The nictitating membrane is a transparent or translucent conjunctival tissue present in some animals that can be drawn across the eye for protection and to moisten it while maintaining visibility.  It has one of the most important tear glands attached to its base. 

Cherry eye is a term used to describe the prolapse or herniated condition of this gland from it's normal position behind the third eyelid, which causes it to appear as a pink or reddish, smooth mass above the edge of the third eyelid.  The gland does not function normally when in this position.  This occurs in eyes that have a poorly developed ligament holding the gland in position.  It may be a direct result of allergy, infection or injury but the ability for it to swell out of position is a heritable defect.  While it appears painful it does not often present pain or discomfort to the animal. 

There are several glands in the eye responsible for keeping the eye moist however this gland is determined to be the most important.  If it is removed the eye has an increased risk of developing 'dry eye' due to low tear production, which requires treatment for the rest of the animal's life.  Most often in the form of daily eye drops.

    It's best to have your veterinarian evaluate the severity and recommend a course of action.  You may be able to manipulate the gland back into its normal position by hand as well, which may be all that is needed.  Some animals will have theirs manipulated into position once or twice in their entire lifetime with no further concern.  It is best to have your Veterinarian help you in deciding what should be done.  

      Manual Reduction - Manipulation

      It may be possible to return the gland to its original placement.  Depending upon the cause of the inflammation you may be able to return the gland to it's original position by gently massaging the eye.  To do so you will want to gently pull the eye taut and make a circular soft massage of the inner eye area.  Release your fingers and check to see if the gland has withdrawn from visibility.  If not, repeat once or twice more in an attempt to gently coax it back into it's normal location.

      The below image will help to show how this is performed.


      Another treatment option may be surgery and is most often simply tacking back down or suturing in place the gland to where it belongs or the muscle which holds it in place.  It is important to treat the condition as soon as possible in order to minimize permanent damage to the eye or third eyelid gland.  There are other surgery options but this is the most common.

      Recovery is often about 14 days and will require follow-up visits to the veterinarian to check on the incision and sutures.  In the mean time your dog will likely need to wear an Elizabethan collar. 

      Some dogs will be required to have eye drops for the remainder of their life if the gland behind the lid has been damaged permanently and the eye is determined to be too dry for proper vision or if further invasive surgery other than simply tacking back in place is required.

      What Causes It?

      Ask your breeder if they have a history of Cherry Eye  

      Sadly, in most cases this is a heritable condition, which means it can be prevented and it is likely genetic.  While there are instances as a result of environmental injury, it most often occurs in eyes that have a poorly developed ligament holding the gland in position.  As a disease caused by a recessive gene, it is still possible to carefully breed these dogs without producing the condition. 

      To learn more about the genetic predisposition of this disease view the article at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine found here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4361898/  

      Hopefully this helps you to understand how important ruling out health concerns is, and to understand why selecting the right breeder can make a difference in the health and happiness of your new loved one.