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What is Cherry Eye in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
Cherry eye in dogs is a specific condition when the tear gland of a dog’s nictitating membrane pops out or prolapses. The nictitating membrane in dogs is present as a third eyelid to protect eyes from wear and tear due to environmental factors.
This extra eyelid is present inner to a dog’s lower eyelid and contains a tear gland. At times this gland prolapses, causing cherry eyes. Let us know more about treatment for cherry eye in dogs, its symptoms, causes, and more.
What Causes Cherry Eye in Dogs?
The third eyelid in dogs (nictitating membrane) and certain other mammals is often present inner to its second eyelid. Its primary function is to protect eyes from wear and tear, dust particles, or from other external environmental causes. Issues in this eyelid can cause cherry eyes. However, the main reason for cherry eyes in dogs is:
Broken or Stretched Ligament: The nictitating membrane contains a gland. This gland performs the function of producing tear film in a dog’s eyes to give rise to a protective coat. This gland is held into place by the surrounding layer of connective tissue. In certain dog breeds, at times, the connective tissue starts to weaken, and this gland prolapses from its original position. This makes it visible as a red cherry-like structure at the edge of the third eyelid, leading to a condition that is commonly termed cherry eye in dogs. Apart from this, other causes of cherry eyes in dogs can be:
- Breed Predisposition: Some dog breeds highly prone to cherry eyes are – Lhasa Apso, Boston terrier, bulldog, cocker spaniel, Shih Tzu, beagle, bloodhound, etc.
- Hereditary Issues: Dogs with a history of cherry eye in their predecessors are likely to develop the disease at certain stages of their lives.
What Are the Symptoms of Cherry Eye in Dogs?
Now that we have discussed what cherry eye is in dogs, let us look at some symptoms to diagnose this condition at the earliest. Diagnosing “cherry eye” in dogs at the initial stages is crucial and your pet must be immediately taken to a veterinary clinic for treatment. Here are a few prominent symptoms of cherry eyes in dogs that can help you with a faster diagnosis!
- A swollen and protruding third eyelid (nictitating membrane)
- An oval bulbous mass appears at the inner corner of a dog’s eyes
- Red-coloured bulge
- When rubbed, the protrusion appears to redden and your dog may show signs of pain or irritation
- Your dog may start to squint often due to a protrusion appearing at its inner eye corners. This is due to pain from prolapse
- Dryness in the eyes is very common in severe stages as the condition progresses. This is because there is less lubrication in its eyes
- The entire eye and tissue near its eyes may start to swell
- During severe infection, there may be pus discharges from the swollen gland due to the presence of secondary infection in your pet’s eyes
What is the Diagnosis of Cherry Eye in Dogs?
The presence of cherry eyes caused by a prolapsed tear gland is a straightforward diagnosis. Often at times, this tear gland may appear to be more protruding outwards, while at other times, it may look less prolapsed and seem to improve. But a pet owner must realise that the condition is a persistent and permanent problem and that improvement is but temporary.
Thus, it is always advisable for a pet owner to take one’s dog to a veterinarian or to a pet clinic as early as possible to prevent further complications. As the gland prolapses and protrudes further with time, there remain chances of it getting infected or of being scratched and injured.
- Once taken to a veterinarian, a detailed ocular examination procedure will be conducted.
- The vet will inspect all aspects of infection (if any), eye tissues, and the damages caused.
- The veterinarian will also check for foreign particles present inside eyes and pus or prevailing infection.
- Eye cancer is common in senior dogs and a vet may conduct necessary cancer tests if mandatory.
What are the Common Treatments for Cherry Eye in Dogs?
Since medicines can only reduce infections caused in the prolapsed gland but not treat the primary condition, surgery for cherry eye in dogs is the only feasible solution. Via surgery, the gland is replaced, and then post-surgical care is continued.
So, doctors very carefully perform surgical techniques on dogs with cherry eyes.
Steps Involved in Surgery
A technique called the ‘Rhea-Morgan-Pocket-Technique’ is commonly used by vets as a treatment for cherry eye in dogs. The condition of the cherry eye, its severity, development of infection in the area, previous health metrics of the animal, etc., are all factors that your vet will consider before deciding the appropriate technique for surgery.
In the surgical technique, the steps that a vet follows are discussed in brief.
Step 1: First the vet makes an elliptic and superficial incision in the dog’s conjunctiva region to dissect the conjunctiva. This region overlaps the gland of the third eyelid.
[NOTE: Care should be taken to ensure that the incision is made 5 mm away from the margin and that the elliptical incision is not more than 8-12 mm.]
Step 2: Second, the glandular section is now excised and removed.
Step 3: The vet now closes the site of incision with continuous sutures. Care is taken to use absorbable 6/0 sutures and to ensure that the suture knots are buried.
[NOTE: A Connell or continued horizontal-mattress type suture pattern is the most commonly used to help in inverting the edge of the wound and prevent future infection.]
Vets will always opt for surgical replacement of the nictitating membrane gland to prevent risk of ‘dry eye’ in dogs upon complete removal. However, for chronic or severe cases of cherry eye in dogs, a vet may have to remove the third eyelid gland. This occurs when the gland’s function is diminished, leaving the veterinarian with no other option apart from surgical removal.
Post-Treatment Recovery after Cherry Eye in Dogs
In most cases, post-surgical recovery covers the fact that infection in the sutured wound should not develop and that the wound should be allowed to heal completely. After a few weeks of continued care, the gland of the third eyelid returns to normal functioning.
In all cases, care must be taken to complete the medicine dosages prescribed post-surgery. Other things to keep in mind are:
- The pet owner must keep the pet refrained from external activities that may injure the wound or suture.
- An empire-pet-cone is often advised to keep your pet from scratching the wound to prevent infection.
- Pet owners should also be aware of the fact that if their pet dog has experienced prolapse in the gland of the nictitating membrane in one of its eyes, then its opposite eye will also experience a prolapse eventually. So, watch out for it.
In all cases of a prolapsed gland, surgery for cherry eye in dogs is considered the first and most effective treatment choice, where the gland is surgically replaced and not removed entirely.
Cherry eye in dogs is a condition specific to certain dog breeds, where the gland of the third eyelid in dogs prolapses, running the risk of dry eyes and impaired vision. The treatment for cherry eye in dogs primarily involves prompt diagnosis followed by surgical replacement of the gland. Post-surgical care is also mandatory to prevent further infection.