Cherry eye in dogs is a disorder of the third eyelid. Unlike humans, canines have a third eyelid which is technically referred to as the nictitating membrane or haws. It is not always visible in most breeds though there are some that are naturally born with visible haws. Though not necessarily painful for dogs, it is recommended to seek a quick medical treatment to avoid long-term eye problems.
The third eyelid
Apart from the upper lid and the lower lid, canines have a ‘third lid’ located in the inner corner of the eyes. According to Deborah S. Friedman D.V.M. and a diplomate with the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, the third eyelid serves four functions:
- It functions as a ‘windshield-washer’ for the cornea. It cleans and takes out any debris and mucus from the cornea.
- It helps the production of the dog’s tears.
- It has lymphoid tissue that functions as a lymph node as well as creates antibodies that fight infection.
- Similar to the function of the two eyelids, it protects and nourishes the cornea from injury.
Birds, cats, and fishes have three eyelids as well. It is the reason why they do not have to blink to keep their eyes moist even when facing the wind, sand or dirt. The third eyelid is especially useful when hunting as a few seconds of blinking could cause them to lose their prey.
What is cherry eye in dogs?
When the nictitating membrane appears visible, it can be a symptom of ‘cherry eye.’ The name ‘cherry’ refers to the protruded eyelid that resembles a small red cherry on the corner of the eye. This protrusion exposes your dog to infection.
Technically, the third eyelid gland should have been attached with a fibrous material to the lower inner edge of the eye. However, there are some dog breeds that have a weaker attachment that causes the gland to easily prolapse.
Is cherry eye contagious? Fortunately, it is not contagious to other dogs or even to people. As a genetic defect, though, dogs suffering from it should not be bred. It can manifest in any dog breeds but there are some that are more susceptible such as the:
Clinical signs and symptoms of cherry eye
Cherry eye is usually a condition that can be easily identified and diagnosed through a simple physical examination. It appears as:
- A red swollen form on the lower eyelid
- Large that covers a noticeable portion of the cornea
It can progress very quickly in just one night and when discovered can be very alarming to the owner. It is oftentimes mistaken as a tumour but it is far different. In fact, it is not malignant or cancerous. However, when left untreated it can lead to other complications. With a protruding glandular tissue, it is susceptible to irritation, damage, and infection. As such, upon seeing the early signs of cherry eye, it should be addressed as soon as possible.
How do you treat cherry eye in dogs?
Treatment of the prolapsed gland may be done either medically or surgically. It is best to provide medical attention as early as possible because medications rarely aid conditions at an advanced stage.
Medical management is ideal to be initiated once the prolapse occurs in about the first couple of days. It may involve prescriptions from vets of appropriate antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and steroid ophthalmic ointment. However, once it has been left prolapsed for a couple of months, the only hope is usually through surgical intervention.
If medical intervention fails, it is best to consider forms of surgical procedures. This is usually an approach of stitching the third eyelid gland back to its proper position.
When opting to have the gland entirely removed, this may result in a regular application of eye drops for the rest of his life. The conventional treatment option more often used nowadays is to set it back to its proper placement. The most important thing is to retain the dog’s tear gland so as to lessen the chances of developing a painful condition known as dry eye.
Any forms of treatment should be thoroughly discussed with your vet.
How long does it take for cherry eye to heal?
The recovery prognosis of cherry eye in dogs depends on the treatment and severity of the case. It may take one to two weeks of inflammation to turn back to its normal appearance. Ointment application should be done for at least 7 to 10 days, and oral antibiotics should be taken with an estimation of 5 to 10 days. Again, a thorough consultation with your vet should be done.
As for surgical operation, give your pooch a rest in a peaceful area for several days. Avoid extreme activities that may be stressful to his eyes such as swimming and bathing for about two weeks.