How Cherry Eye Affects Dogs
Cherry eye can occur in just one of a dog’s eyes (unilaterally) or in both eyes (bilaterally). Dogs that develop cherry eye usually have symptoms associated with ocular irritation, dryness, redness (conjunctivitis), swelling, inflammation and/or other causes of pain. Affected dogs tend to scratch or paw at their eyes as a result of the discomfort, and sometimes they are seen rubbing their faces along the grass or indoor carpeting in an apparent attempt to relieve the irritation caused by the condition. The vision of dogs with cherry eye can be adversely affected as well, especially if the surface of the affected eyes becomes scratched, infected or abraded.
Symptoms of Cherry Eye
Owners of dogs that develop cherry eye usually discover it very quickly indeed. The tear glands of the nictitating membranes normally do not slip out of place gradually. To the contrary, they tend to become everted or prolapsed at an alarmingly rapid rate, which causes the associated tear glands to “pop out.” Most owners are understandably surprised to see a doughy mass protruding from the lower inside corner of an eye that only moments before appeared entirely normal.
The most obvious sign of cherry eye is a well-defined solitary mass of red tissue bulging from the inner corner of one or both of a dog’s eyes. Often, this protrusion is the only observable sign that owners see.
If cherry eye is not treated and corrected within a reasonable period of time, the dog can develop additional and sometimes rather serious ocular complications. The gland of the third eyelid contributes a significant part of the fluid that makes up tear film. The primary function of the membrane itself is physical protection of the eye (particularly the cornea). When the nictitating membrane and tear gland are not in the proper place, the eye can become red, dry, irritated and inflamed. There may be abnormal discharge from affected eyes as well. Some dogs act annoyed by the misplaced gland and will rub or scratch at it, which may further damage the eyelid or even cause injury to the cornea.
Owners of dogs with cherry eye may notice one or more of the following:
- Eye redness (conjunctivitis)
- Swelling around the eyes
- Excessive tear production – signs of eye drainage
- Abnormally dry eyes – insufficient tear production
- Rubbing/pawing at the eyes
- Vision impairment
- Other signs of eye irritation.
Dogs At Increased Risk
Cherry eye is most commonly seen in young dogs - typically those less than 2 years of age. Some breeds are predisposed to developing this condition, including Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Lhasa Apsos, Shih-Tzus and other brachycephalic breeds. Brachycephalic dogs are those with very short flat faces and wide heads.
If you notice that your dog has what looks like a “cherry eye,” make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. This is not a life-threatening condition, but it should be treated promptly to prevent permanent ocular damage.