Effects of Cherry Eye – From the Cat’s Point of View
Cherry eye is a fairly uncommon condition in companion cats. It occurs when the gland underlying one or both of a cat’s third eyelids – medically referred to as the “nictitating membranes” – everts or flips over, exposing it to environmental conditions. Cherry eye occurs suddenly and rarely happens in both of a cat’s eyes at the same time. This condition can be extremely uncomfortable, irritating and painful. As the gland dries out from exposure to the elements, it makes less and less of the tear film that it normally produces to coat, sooth and protect the eye. This causes the cat’s affected eye or eyes to become dry and scratchy. The discomfort and pain worsen with time. If not treated, cherry eye can eventually cause the cat’s cornea to ulcerate.
Symptoms of Cherry Eye – What the Cat’s Owner Sees
In cats as in dogs, the gland of the third eyelid normally doesn’t slip out of place gradually. It pops out remarkably quickly. Owners are understandably shocked to see a bright red, doughy mass of tissue protruding from the inner corner of one of their cat’s eyes, which looked completely normal just a few moments earlier. Most of the time, this fleshy tissue mass is the only thing the owner notices. Other signs of cherry eye may include one or more of the following:
- Eye redness and inflammation (conjunctivitis; uveitis)
- Swelling around the eyes
- Excessive tear production (ocular discharge)
- Rubbing the eyes or face on the ground or furniture, or with the paws
- Excessive blinking
The cat can develop additional and sometimes serious complications if cherry eye is not corrected. The primary function of the third eyelid is to moisturize and physically protect the eye - particularly the cornea. The gland of the third eyelid produces much of the fluid that makes up tears. When the gland of the third eyelid prolapses and becomes exposed to the outer world, the affected eye rapidly gets red, dry, irritated and inflamed due to environmental exposure and insufficient tear production. There may be abnormal discharge coming from the affected eye as well. Some cats will rub or scratch at their eyes, which can damage the eyelids and possibly injure the corneas.
Cats at Increased Risk
Some cat breeds, including the Burmese and the Persian, are predisposed to developing cherry eye. This strongly suggests that there is a hereditary link to the condition. There is no known gender predisposition. Cherry eye can look horrible. Fortunately, it usually can be treated with medication and surgery. If you think that your cat may have cherry eye, make an appointment with a veterinarian as soon as possible. Cherry eye isn’t a life-threatening condition, but it still should be treated promptly to prevent permanent eye damage.