Cherry Eye in Dogs. Is it contagious? Home Treatment, Surgery

Eye discharge may be a sign of a secondary infection
Eye discharge may be a sign of a secondary infection

What is Cherry eye in dogs? Is it contagious? What causes canine cherry eye? Cherry eye is the prolapse of the third eyelid gland. It is characterized by the protrusion of a pink mass on the inside corner of the eye. It is very common in both dogs and cats. This condition is not life-threatening. However, if left untreated it could get complicated and cause eye problems later in life. While any dog can develop cherry eye, the incidence appears to be higher in some breeds. Learn more on this condition and effective home treatments for cherry eye in dogs.

Cherry Eye in Dogs

According to John Weiss Roessler in, while dogs are not as dependent on their eyes like us (they tend to use their nose and ears more) their vision is still very important and you as the handler needs to pay very close attention to their eye and make it a major routine.

Cherry eye in dogs
Cherry eye in dogs

Every dog has three eyelids- the upper, lower and third eyelid which is located in the inner corner of the eye. The third eyelid is normally not visible and provides added protection to the dog’s eyes. It has a tear gland that moisturizes and keeps dust and debris out of the eye. It also supplies oxygen and nutrients to the eye.

What Is Cherry Eye in Dogs?

So, what is a cherry eye in dogs? This is the disorder of the third eyelid also known as nictating membrane common in puppies below 2 years. Cherry eye results due to a defect of the fibrous membrane that holds the gland in place. The defect causes the gland to prolapse and protrudes exposing a fleshy pink mass.

This condition is not painful but may be accompanied by swelling and irritation and can occur in one or both eyes. Exposure of the sensitive tissues causes eye redness, dryness and subjects them to external trauma. This results in secondary inflammation, swelling, and infections which if not treated can lead to other complications such as keratoconjunctivitis sicca.

Is cherry eye in dogs contagious? Can it spread to humans? Luckily cherry eye is not contagious to man or humans. Some dogs may have simultaneous eye infections with discharge but the cherry eye in itself does not spread. Note that this should not be confused with pink eye in dogs which is very contagious. A canine cherry eye is corrected surgically though it may reoccur. Cherry eye in itself is not painful. However, when the gland is exposed for long it dries up and get irritated or damaged with marked swelling and inflammation.

Is cherry eye in dogs and inherited condition? Well, it is not very clear whether cherry eye is a genetic condition since no proof of inheritance has been determined. This can be quite tricky most especially because this problem cannot be detected while testing. It would be difficult to tell if both parents have recessive genes for such conditions. The best thing would have in mind that if both parents had cherry eye, then it is possible that your puppy may have a 50% chance of developing this problem. It is recommended to not breed a dog that has developed this condition.

What Causes Cherry Eye in Dogs

The exact reason why the glands in the third eyelid slip out of place is not known. It has however been attributed to the weakness of the connective tissue that holds the glands to the surrounding structures of the eye. It has been thought that the combination of structural abnormalities and inflammation largely contribute to the development of this defect. It is also common that once one eyelid prolapse the chances of the other one prolapsing is quite high months or years later. Unfortunately, there is no way of preventing this condition.

Cherry eye is common in certain breeds of dogs especially those with a flat face
Cherry eye is common in certain breeds of dogs especially those with a flat face

It is important to note that prolapse or bulging of the third eyelid does not necessarily point to any other medical condition. Canines are genetically predisposed to this disorder with some breeds being at a higher risk than others: including bulldogs, boxer dogs, cocker spaniels, basset hounds, Maltese and other dogs with flat faces.

How to Treat Cherry Eye in Dogs

Diagnosis of cherry eye is made by a thorough review of the eyelid protrusion and ruling out any underlying causes. While there are different approaches to dog cherry eye treatment, surgical intervention is the most effective. Other methods include the use of topical and injectable steroids and antibiotics which have been found to be rarely effective.

Occasionally the condition self-corrects. The prolapse will correct itself even without any interference or with slight manipulation and physical massage. This may be doubled with an application of antibiotics and steroids to increase the chances of success. While other people choose to let the prolapse resolve on its own, leaving it exposed for extended periods of time risks trauma, secondary infection and reduced tear production.

Cherry Eye Surgery in Dogs

Surgery is so far the most common and effective means of fixing cherry eye in dogs. Previously when treatment was optional, surgical removal or excision of the gland was the most common and acceptable method of treating cherry eye in dogs. Cosmetically, it made the eye appear very normal. Despite the appealing cosmetic results, removal of the gland was found to reduce tear production by 30% (Wikipedia) which becomes a huge problem as the dog ages. Tear production is very essential in maintaining the functions of the eye and protecting it from external factors. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is a common complication of this surgery later in life.

Before and After treatment of Cherry eye in dogs
Before and After treatment of Cherry eye in dogs

Currently, surgical intervention involves replacement of the gland rather than excision. The gland is the anchored to the rim of the orbit and held in normal position. This is mainly tacking the gland back into normal position and allow it to stay functional. This is the most recommended surgical method of fixing cherry eye in dogs. Unlike other surgical methods, this one is certainly more expensive and comes with a 5-10% chance of recurrence. There are two main types of surgical procedures with several techniques.

The anchoring method which involves suturing the gland to the rim of the orbit. This method was for some time considered risky and difficult with a high rate of recurrence. Anchoring may disrupt normal fluid excretion. Disadvantages also include reduced mobility of the third eyelid. Several studies have been done with new procedures being explored to allow tacking and anchoring without the restricting movement of the third eyelid.

The envelope method or pocket technique requires suturing the tissue around the prolapse and encasing in a layer of conjunctiva. This method is quite easy with a higher success rate, reduced recovery time and fewer complications. With the newer techniques, it is possible for the dog to live a very normal life.

Cherry eye may affect both eyes
Cherry eye may affect both eyes(courtesy

Note that, you should only have this procedure done by an experienced veterinary ophthalmologist to avoid complications such as eye cysts. You may consider having both eyes surgically corrected at the same time.

Post-operative treatment includes antibiotic eye ointment applications for up to two weeks. During the recovery time, you should consider using an Elizabethan collar to protect the site and bandage the dog’s paws and nails. Irritation due to manipulation of the eye during surgery, the dog is likely to scratch the eye. Watch for signs of dry eye such as redness, cloudy cornea, and a pus-like discharge.

Cherry Eye in Dogs Surgery Cost

The cost of surgery may vary depending on several factors such as your location, your vet’s pricing structure and the size of your dog. Other things such as lab test and post-op medication may also affect the total cost. You should expect the value to range from $350 – $450 for each eye.

Cherry Eye in Dogs Home Treatment

Cherry eye in dogs may be unappealing and disfiguring but it is surely not painful. But having your dog with an exposed eyelid may be a cause of other long-term complications which may be even harder to treat. Home remedies for cherry eye in dogs are less expensive and easy compared to surgical intervention.

How to Cure Canine Cherry Eye with Massage

This method best works if applied as soon as the prolapse occurs. The method involves gently closing the dog’s outer eyelid and carefully pushing it in (towards the dog’s nose) without applying too much pressure on the cornea. The idea is to attempt to pop back the gland in place. You may use warm compresses to make the procedure more comfortable for your dog. It may take up to four sessions for the gland to pop back in place. While most dog owners have reported that this worked for them, it is important to note that it is only temporary and the gland may pop back out.

Gentle eye massage may help pop the gland back in place
Gentle eye massage may help pop the gland back in place

Note: the cornea is very delicate- too much pressure and mishandling may damage the eyeball.

After massage to pop back the gland, some herbs with a variety of benefits for the eye can be used. These include bilberry, chrysanthemum, rehmannia and lyceum fruit. These contain anti-inflammatory properties that are very beneficial for the eyes.

While these methods are way cheaper compared to surgery, it is important to note that they may not always be reliable.

Pictures of Canine Cherry Eye

Here are some pictures of cherry eye in dogs including before and after images.

Canine cherry eye
Canine cherry eye
Eye discharge may be a sign of a secondary infection
Eye discharge may be a sign of a secondary infection