What is Cherry Eye in Dogs and Cats, and How Is It Treated?
Even if you've never heard of cherry eye, named after the bright red mass that develops around the edge of a dog's eye, its development is unmistakable. This condition can also develop in cats and appear as a pale pink or translucent mass.
Although cherry eye can appear painful, it often doesn't cause too much discomfort for your pet. Still, the condition represents an underlying issue that needs to be addressed to protect the long-term health of your pet's eye.
What is Cherry Eye in Dogs and Cats?
Cherry eye occurs when the third eyelid gland in dogs and cats pops out, known as a "prolapse." This third eyelid gland plays an important role in protecting the eye in many animals, especially from blunt trauma when hunting or fighting. When the eyelid prolapses, it remains visible as a red mass in the corner of the eye.
The size of this mass can vary depending on the severity of the prolapse. Some pet owners mistakenly believe that a small mass is a sign of early stage cherry eye in dogs and cats. In reality, the size only reflects the severity of the prolapse, and does not necessarily mean the mass size will increase over time. Whether large or small, the risks, treatment and prognosis of cherry eye are typically the same from one pet to the next.
How Do Dogs Get Cherry Eye?
In most cases, what causes cherry eye in dogs and cats tends to be the product of the pet's breed and the genetic history of poor eyelid attachment in those breeds. Dog breeds commonly associated with cherry eye include Basset hounds, beagles, St. Bernard's, pugs, boxers, rottweilers and terriers. In cats, Burmese and Persian breeds are most associated with cherry eye.
While genetic defects usually play some role, other external factors, such as blunt trauma or irritation to the gland can result in a prolapse. Fortunately, most instances of cherry eye only occur once if they're properly repaired through surgery, which turns this condition into a one-time event for most dogs and cats that suffer a prolapsed eyelid gland.
When to Consider Cherry Eye Surgery
To address cherry eye in dogs, treatment almost always requires a surgical procedure to fix the prolapse. Your veterinarian may provide medications or drops for your dog's eye that reduce inflammation and provide moisture to the eye while the gland is prolapsed and unable to produce tears, until a surgery is possible.
Surgery will likely be recommended to replace the eye gland and strengthen its placement to reduce the risk of a prolapse in the future. This is considered a minor procedure, and the process is quick and easy, reducing the risk of complications for your dog. Owners should keep in mind that the tear duct is only being repositioned in the eye, not removed, which reduces the severity of the procedure and provides your pet with a better potential outcome.
The severity of cherry eye, and the outcome of any procedure, is affected by how long it takes to perform the surgery after the condition developed. The longer you wait, the more your pet's eye and gland can suffer permanent damage from cherry eye.
Prognosis for Cherry Eye in Cats and Dogs
With timely treatment and surgery, cherry eye can typically heal within a few weeks of the surgical procedure. In many cases, tear gland function returns to normal without any damage to the gland or eye.
In some cases, a recurrence of cherry eye may take place, which will require an additional surgery. If cherry eye develops in one of your pet's eyes, it's likely that the other eye will experience this condition at some point in the future.
While it's possible to see cherry eye in a puppy or kitten, cases of cherry eye—and complications resulting from it—are more likely to develop in older pets. In cases where the gland is damaged and unable to be repaired, your vet may recommend replacing the gland. Removal of the gland is rare and comes with ongoing health complications due to insufficient tear production to lubricate your pets' eyes. If this is necessary, your veterinarian will likely recommend regular eye drops to supplement eye lubrication and preserve eye health to the greatest extent.
The development of cherry eye may cause alarm and worry, but its appearance often surpasses the actual risk it poses to your cat or dog. As an owner, the best thing you can do is maintain a watchful eye for this condition and seek out immediate medical care when cherry eye first appears.