“Cherry Eye” is a layman’s term used to describe protrusion of the tear gland associated with the third eyelid membrane in the middle corner of the eye. This occurs due to a hereditary weakness in the gland’s normal attachments. Several breeds of dogs are more commonly affected, including the English Bulldog, Cocker Spaniel, Lhasa Apso, and Shar Pei. It is also seen in Burmese cats. “Cherry eye” often affects both eyes although the second gland may prolapse months after the first. It typically develops during the first year of life.
While unattractive, this condition is about much more than cosmetic appearance. The gland of the third eyelid is responsible for contributing more than a third of the tear volume coating the surface of the eye. Veterinary ophthalmologists feel strongly that removal of the prolapsed gland is not in your pet’s best interest, since this can heavily predispose to development of Dry Eye Syndrome. This is especially important since many of the same breeds that develop “cherry eye” are also genetically predisposed to developing dry eye (Bulldogs and Cockers Spaniels are good examples). The treatment of choice for Cherry Eye is prompt surgical repositioning of the gland into its normal position and attaching it with sutures.
Surgery for this condition is performed under general anesthesia, but your pet is able to go home the same afternoon. There may be some swelling and redness of the eye, which will resolve over a few days, but there should be no signs of pain. While surgery to replace the gland is typically successful, recurrence is possible. This is more likely to happen in certain breeds of dog (especially Bulldogs and Mastiffs) and when substantial delay occurs between the time the gland prolapses and surgery.