Cherry Eye in Dogs — Prevention and Treatment

Cherry eye in dogs affects the tear gland in the third eyelid, and it should be treated early to prevent long-term eye problems.
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If you’re anything like me, your dog is the apple of your eye, and one of the dearest creatures in the world. Your dog’s ocular health may not be the first thing you think of in the morning, but your dog relies on her eyes just as much as you do. Cherry eye in dogs is a condition that doesn’t affect all pups, but can affect any dog’s tear production and eye health.

The signs of cherry eye in dogs are easy to spot; caught and treated quickly, it’s possible to reverse the deleterious effects. In severe cases, though, your veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist may have to perform surgery to prevent long-term eye problems. Let’s talk about cherry eye in dogs and how to treat it!

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What is cherry eye in dogs?

All dogs have a third eyelid,  also called a nictitating membrane, as well as two glands that produce tears to lubricate their eyes. The nictitating membrane, based in the lower eyelid, is a sort of secondary shield for the eyes. It protects dogs’ eyes from wind, dust, and other foreign objects as they play or work. The nictitating membrane has its own dedicated tear gland. This tear gland produces anywhere from 35 percent to 50 percent of the total moisture in a dog’s eye, and is thus an essential component to overall eye health in dogs.

Cherry eye in dogs occurs when the connective tissue that holds the gland in place is weak, faulty or otherwise damaged. The nictitating membrane’s tear gland comes loose and prolapses from its little pocket and out of the bottom or corner of the dog’s eye, usually closest to the nose. This bulbous, fleshy, red protrusion of the gland from the lower eye is the primary symptom, and gives the condition its colorful, fruited moniker. If your dog has, or has had, cherry eye, you should be especially watchful. Extended or recurring cases of cherry eye in dogs can lead to decreased tear production and other eye problems.

What causes it?

Cherry eye in dogs is a congenital disorder, passed on from generation to generation. Beyond genetic predisposition, it is still unknown what precisely causes it. We do know that the ligaments and connective tissues that hold the tear gland of the nictitating membrane fail to keep it in place, and that cherry eye in dogs is more common in certain breeds.

What breeds are more prone to cherry eye in dogs?

Owners and prospective owners of Basset Hounds, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Boxers, Bulldogs (English and French), Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Neapolitan Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, Pekingese, Poodles (especially Miniature), Pugs, Saint Bernards, Shar-Peis, Shih Tzus, and terriers (including the Boston Terrier, Bull Terrier and West Highland White Terrier) should be aware of the increased risk for cherry eye in these breeds.

Breeds with shorter muzzles, along with toy or teacup varieties in general, are at higher risk for cherry eye in dogs. However, it can happen to any dog, and at any age.

Home treatment for cherry eye in dogs

Caught early enough, I’ve come across many online accounts of successful massage treatment of cherry eye in dogs. Using a combination of a warm, moist cloth and dog-safe eye drops, the home method of treatment involves calming the afflicted dog and gently massaging the prolapsed tear gland of the nictitating membrane until it sucks back into place. Even when this technique is successful, though, there is no guarantee that the cherry eye is gone for good. It may recur, and a dog who has had cherry eye in one eye is at higher risk of having it happen in the other as well.

When to see a vet about cherry eye in dogs

The safest bet with cherry eye in dogs is a visit to the veterinarian, who can accurately determine the specific reason for your dog’s cherry eye. Since there is no fixed cause, an early consultation can help ensure your dog’s long-term eye health.

There are three common surgical options. In the first case, the vet may be able to stitch the prolapsed tear gland back into place. In other cases, a veterinary surgeon may find the connective tissue too weak to cradle the gland properly. For situations like these, the surgeon will attempt to create a new pocket or envelope to hold it in place permanently.

The third option was, in past years, the most common, and involved complete removal of the cherry-eyed tear gland. Removal of the prolapsed gland is an option of absolutely last resort. Removal of the affected tear gland will require lifelong after-treatment with artificial tears to prevent chronic dry eye and secondary problems that can occur when there’s insufficient production of lubrication for a dog’s eyes.

Long-term effects of cherry eye in dogs

Left untreated, a dog with cherry eye is at greater risk for long-term health problems. The longer the gland is prolapsed, the greater the risk of associated problems. Proper blood flow to the gland is restricted. The gland may swell the longer it is exposed. Pawing, scratching or rubbing the affected eye may irritate it further, and create opportunities for secondary bacterial or viral infections to take hold.

In most cases, caught early enough, cherry eye in dogs is successfully treated or managed with minimal veterinary assistance, hopefully before your dog needs surgery.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Flickr user Litherland via Creative Commons License. Some size modifications have been made to fit this site.

This piece was originally published in 2014.

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48 thoughts on “Cherry Eye in Dogs — Prevention and Treatment”

  1. Use regular saline for contacts… wont hurt them i swear.. vet told me too use them for lubrication, as needed of course

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  6. My 7Months rottie got cherry eyes. I am so sad that he got it. Will it go on its own without survery and just warm cloth compression?

  7. My shorkie got cherry eye about 2 weeks ago I cried cause I thought she was in pain which she wasn’t I googled and did warm compresses after I say it went away . It just came back today so I will warm compresses again and try eye drops

  8. My dog gets cherry eye periodically. Luckily his goes away if I take a warm towel and rub the corner + eyelid for 5 minutes or so. If it’s stubborn, I smear some peanut butter on his mouth as I am rubbing it for him to relax more. It works every time. I am afraid it’s gonna get worse, especially if I don’t get to it right away when I’m at work or something.

    I went to the vet and discussed my treatment and he didn’t really give me insightful information. He just said surgery is the only option. Which I disagree because surgeries are not good for dogs and if it can be prevented/treated without surgery, why take the risk of surgery? I’ve heard horrible stories of surgery aftermath from people, It seems like dog surgery complications are very common.

    1. Surgery is definitely not the only option and does not even guarantee that the problem will be resolved. It could just be something your dog will always have and as long as the eye does not get infected, you may be fine with your treatment. My dog gets periodic cherry eye and has for the last several years and he has never had to get surgery (and my vet discouraged surgery), just the warm towel and the eye drops and making sure the eye is cleaned regularly, I use a medicated eye drop every day (from my vet) and do the warm compress. I also I agree that it can be stressful because you don’t want to leave it to get infected. Maybe find a new vet who will be more supportive and make you less anxious! It really helped me.

  9. All this information is helpful, thanks for sharing! I just have a question; My dog Bailey has had a cherry eye in both eyes for over a year now. For the past 4-5 months she has gotten conjunctivitis on and off a million times. I’ve been through 3 bottles of eye drops and 2 decent sized tubes of ointment during that timeframe. I have expressed concern to my vet numerous times and asked about getting the surgery. She deterred me from getting it bc she said it’s not a guarantee and will most likely come back. I asked about the recurring conjunctivitis but she’s not concerned, she said it’s common and Bailey will be fine. I’m not comfortable with that answer AT ALL!! I don’t see how it’s normal for a dog to live with chronic conjunctivitis. I feel like all I do is clean her eyes and apply drops or ointment, it’s awful. I am going to see another vet about this because I will feel awful if I don’t follow my gut and something happens to her eyes as far as a bad infection or risks with her vision. Anyways, my question to you guys is; has this happened to any of your dogs or have you ever heard about this happening due to cherry eye?
    Thanks,
    Bailey’s mom

    1. Hi Bailey’s mom,
      So sorry you and Bailey are going through this! We definitely think you should see another vet for a second opinion. These articles might provide some insight, too. Hope you both feel better:
      https://www.dogster.com/dog-health-care/dog-eye-discharge-whats-normal-and-whats-not
      https://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/can-dogs-get-pink-eye-conjunctivitis-in-dog-health-tips
      https://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-eye-infection-dog-health-facts-tips-prevention-treatment

    2. My Bailey sounds like ur twin same thing happens, ointments, drops, warm compress, now her eyes r beginning to become dry, painful and her vision is decreasing. No surgery for her fit to the Vets recommendation for dry eyes and recurring so she just cry’s and is very uncomfortable with the drops and takes 2 to instill the drops since I can not hold her down. Very sad

    3. That’s awful my 7 month old EM has cherry eye in both eyes now popped out four weeks ago but the second one I managed to pop back but last night it popped out again I put it back three times but wasn’t having any of it. I’m in lock down with the corona virus at the moment but I am emailing my vet with photos and updates of the condition of the now eyes. I am keeping clean with drops called pro pooch they are anti fungal and antibacterial vet says doing a great job is a large bottle 250ml. Bought on line. My vet will operate on both eyes but says as long as they are staying nice and clean we can wait a few more weeks but if he gets conjunctivitis he’s to have antibiotic drops then will be surgery so my answer to you is change your vet your dog could have serious eye problems if left this way.

  10. Our little shih tzu 3 months old has had it a couple times now, but went away fairly quickly on its own. He has it again and this time it is more swollen and red. A trip to the vet seems to be in our near future 🙁

  11. Poor dogs. I hope my dog won’t encounter this. Anyway thanks for posting this article it’s a big help.

  12. This is really a big help to anyone who has a dog with cherry eyes. My dog had a cherry eyes before but luckily it was cured immediately.

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  14. Some things in my post are spelled wrong sorry I typing on phone…visen is what I used not Biden..also believe my begal “milly”had a dry eye..I live in Maine its so dry here my hands crack..

  15. My dog got it tonight….I freaked out I love my dog like one of my kids….I picked up my phone looked up swollen tear ducts in dogs.found all this berry helpfully info.I did the message on it I also used Biden and warm cloth.I put drops in her eye and used warm cloth .held cloth on for 5 min and repeated this 4 or 5 times.also was messaging it.it did not go back it at first.but I did not give up even this it was late and I had to work.I looked at it like my kid was sick.finally after a half hour or so of warm towels and masageing with eye drops it went in…..

  16. My dog, a chug, has cherry eye but its super small still, i dont have any eye drops for him, but could it possible work with just the damp cloth?

  17. This really helps … We are due fir iur surgery tomorrow … I was worried whether should i go ahead with it or not .. however ur comment does soth me alot. Thanks Jean. God bless.

  18. My dog which is a Shih Tzu/Bishon mix has cherry eyes shortly after we adopted him at age 4 months. The vet tried to ‘tuck in’ both cherry eyes but it didn’t work since he was a very active puppy. We had it removed but was warned that he might has dry eye problem as he age. He is now almost 13 years old and we don’t see any dry eyes problem yet. However, just to be safe, I start giving him eye lubricant (Optixcare Eye Lube) few months ago weekly. He doesn’t like it too much, since he has no problem, I don’t want to force it on him too often.

    1. My King Charles is 5 months and had cherry eye in one eye had surgery and he did surgery on both of his eyes. Now we are having complication with his eyes. No medicine seems to work. He squints and acts like he is in pain all the time now. But one thing that seems to relieve him for a little while is a warm shower. I just need to know if there is a long term cure for him

  19. Patricia Russell

    There are a few really good tube videos to handle this situation at home… it works I have to say I was in a complete panic until I watched and followed the instructions from some very calm owners… good luck!

  20. My golden just had one last night. I thought its just an allergy for the new feeds I introduced but I’ve researched and vmxhe ked with my vwt.. it is cherry eye.. and its hereditary according to my vet. Drops won’t work she said.. surgery is the solution. But I’ve read about reoccurring of same issue after operation. This is making us crazy

  21. I have had my puppy for 2 weeks now and developed the cherry eye 2 days after he arrived. The vet gave me an eye wash and ointment to put in his eyes. I see no sign of improvement-in fact it bleeds sometimes when I put the warm compress on him. We are getting a second opinion later today. I’m worried about my baby.

  22. My Maltipoo had cherry eye twice. The first time was worse. I was away from home with her when it happened. Her eye seemed to be draining so I started applying a moist warm cloth. I did it every half hour. It was much better the next morning. It just happened again but wasn’t as bad. (4 months later) I applied a warm cloth again and it went back in. I didn’t know what it was until I just read an article about it. If it happens again I will go to my vet immediately.

  23. Yes! My dog has had two occurrences of cherry eye, the first time we went to the vet, they gave us antibiotic medication for the eye. So I used that and massaged the eyelid and the overnight it slipped back in. The second time, I did the same method and it took about two nights before it slipped back. The cherry has come back again, we went to a different vet this time, they prescribed the same medication, so I proceeded with the same massaging method but it still has not been slipped back into place, it has nearly been two months. I will try the warm compress and eyedrops this time.

  24. Barbara Van Olphen

    My dog has Cherry Eye. He had two prescriptions for eye drops from the vet. They did not work so three weeks ago he had surgery. Two days later it popped back out. The next day it went back in on its own. It stayed in for two weeks and then popped back out bigger than ever. He is scheduled for surgery Friday. I see a small red corner in the other eye. I am going to try your massage method on it.

    1. Hi. Hope your pet is fit and fine. Did he have to undergo two surgeries? I hope he did not have a relapse. Do reply because my beagle is going through the same thing. Thank you so much.

  25. Hi,
    My dog has a cherry eyes too. Does it work with Benadryl and a baby aspirin? why next time you don’t use it? Because I see you said ” :Next time I am planning on using some eye drops and compresses and massage.” I did massage but cherry eyes haven’t gone so I think I may try your way.

  26. Yes. I have a dog w recurring “cherry eye.” She shows no signs of pain or irritation- although it alarms me. I have given her a small dose of Benadryl and a baby aspirin. It resolves within 48 hours. Next time I am planning on using some eye drops and compresses and massage.

    1. hi i have a five month old beagle with cherry eye on both eyes
      it occured when he was 3 months old
      i have put those lubricant drops but nothing has happened.
      there is no infection as such but the gland is protruding and is pale pink in colour.
      my vet has suggested surgery and there are two methods cutting of the gland and pocketing method
      i dont know what to do or should i just leave it. what is you’re opinion.

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