A Guide to Cherry Eye in Dogs: Is This A Dog Eye Infection?

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By: Rita Cunha Updated: April 17, 2020

sad beagle with eye problems in dogsMost dog owners have heard about a condition often called “cherry eye in dogs.” But many seem to think that it’s not a major condition and that it won’t affect their pups health. Because of this, the issue is left untreated. But there’s nothing pretty or desirable about cherry eye. In many cases, it can lead to a deterioration of your dog’s ocular health!

This is why it’s important to be aware of what cherry eye is and how to spot it. If you notice an abnormality which you think could be attributed to cherry eye, always talk to your veterinarian.

But First, The Anatomy of the Dog Eye

Dogs have eyes that resemble our a lot, anatomically speaking. And just like we might get eye problems, they are subject to that as well. From eye infections to cataracts to cherry eye or to blindness, dogs’ eyes are prone to getting sick just as much as ours are.

The eyeballs are inserted in a cavity called the orbit. It’s a bone socket located in the dog’s skull that is also made up of muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and other structures.

Moving along to what protects the eyeballs are the eyelids. While humans only have two eyelids, dogs have three. First, they have the upper and the lower lids. These protect the eye from any dust or other particles from getting into it. When you see your dog blink, you see these two lids in action.

But unlike humans, dogs have the third lid which is also called the nictitating membrane, which is where tear production is the highest. It’s especially good and useful at protecting a dog’s eyeball from fights with other animals and during hunts. It is a whiteish-pinkish color when it’s in good shape and health.

There are many other parts of the eye that we won’t cover, such as the cornea, for example. After all, dogs have great sight and their eyes are intricate structures!

What Is Cherry Eye in Dogs?

dog eye swollen, beagle with dog pink eye

What is most commonly referred to as cherry eye by owners is actually called prolapse of the third eyelid gland. This third lid has a gland in it that is responsible for producing most of the tear film. But sometimes, the third eyelid prolapses, meaning that it pops out.

The only symptom is that you will see a red mass in the corner of your dog’s eye. What you see is not a cherry as the name would suggest, but the gland that is exposed.

How severe your dog’s cherry eye is depended greatly from dog to dog. Some dogs develop cherry eye in just one eye while others will have it in both eyes. Also, how big the red mass is also depended. It can be anywhere from barely covering the cornea or be much bigger and completely block it.

While this condition shows itself in puppies younger than 2 years of age, it can happen at a later stage in their life. Some breeds are also more likely to develop cherry eye in the future. Breeds such as cocker spaniels and brachycephalic breeds (bulldogs, boston terriers, and others who have “squished” faces) are at an especially high risk.

Is It a Dog Eye Infection? How Is Cherry Eye Different From Infections?

An infection happens when a foreign agent, be it dust or a microorganism, makes its way into a living body. Think of the times that you’ve accidentally cut yourself. It’s important to keep the wound clean because cuts are the best entryways into our bodies. If you don’t keep it sanitized, microorganisms could enter your bloodstream and wreak havoc on your body.

So How Is It Different from Other Eye Problems in Dogs?

While infections generally need a cut or a scrape to develop, cherry eye disease does not. It doesn’t have to do with how clean you keep your pooch’s eyes or anything of the sorts.

In fact, this condition happens when the third eyelid is connected to the rest of the eye by weak ligaments. When they break, the lid prolapses. This makes it visible at the naked eye.

But that isn’t to say that cherry eye can’t lead to infections. Because it’s a sensitive membrane that is just out there for show, it can definitely be attacked by microorganisms or specs of dust that float in the air. In this case, you’ll end up with an infected third eyelid — yikes!

Cherry Eye in Dogs: What Causes These Dog Eye Problems?

Cherry eye is caused by the rupture of the ligaments that keep the third eyelid in place. This ligament made up mostly of fiber can be unusually weak in certain breeds and litters.

If a dog is born with weak third-eyelid ligaments, the chances that the lid will pop out, causing cherry eye, are much greater. The good news is that cherry eye in dogs is not a painful condition. Your pupper will barely know they have it. However, it can lead to infections and to a loss of quality of life for your dog.

While it’s not a life-threatening condition, it causes a lot of discomfort if it’s not treated fast. This is due to the fact that pink eye and dry eye syndrome are very common side effects of having cherry eye.

dalamatian with cherry eye dog eye problems

Can Dogs Get Pink Eye? Dog Eye Infection vs. Pink Eye

Just like humans, dogs and cats can develop eye infections. The causes can be numerous, but more often than not, the cause is either a bacteria, a virus, or some pre-existing medical condition.

What is a Dog Eye Infection?

There are many kinds of eye infections that afflict dogs. However, the general cause is that the body recognizes that there is something foreign within it. It could be a microorganism or simply dust. As soon as the body knows something is there that shouldn’t be, it will act against it, leading to an infection. This is why most infections come accompanied by a pus-like discharge.

Then What’s Pink Eye? Is It an Infection too?

Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is the inflammation and infection of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin and clear tissue that lies on top of the white part of our eyes and lines the eyelid.

There’s no significant difference between a human’s conjunctiva and a dog’s conjunctiva. This means that what causes pink eye in humans also causes it in dogs.

The causes for pink eye in dogs are many. It could be that some dust got into their eye, or a virus might have made your dog its host. Plus, pre-existing conditions such as allergic reactions to pollen and other things also raises the risk of pink eye being contracted.

Symptoms of Prolapsed Third Eyelid in Dogs!

The most obvious and easy-to-spot symptom of a prolapsed gland in the third eyelid is what looks like a small cherry in the lower corner of a dog’s eye. The gland that pops out becomes red, which is quite easy to spot, even to the untrained eye of a specialist.

Some other, less obvious signs of cherry eye in dogs is the fact that their eyes will become dry and red. Since the most important tear gland is located in the third eyelid, tear production is halted, which leads the eyes to become very dry.

Other symptoms include swelling around the eyes, rubbing and pawing at the eyes, squinting, and difficulty in seeing as well as before. Funnily enough, another symptom could be excessive tear production. It really depends from dog to dog.

grey pup with dog eye discharge and dog cherry eye

Diagnosis: How Do I Know My Dog Has Cherry Eye?

If you see your dog pawing at their eyes trying to scratch them, a big red mass at the corner of their eye that didn’t use to be there, or any of the other symptoms, you should get your dog to a vet.

Any veterinarian can diagnose cherry eye disease, as it’s one of the most frequently-occurring conditions in dogs, especially those that are young. However, a veterinary ophthalmologist will be able to best diagnose cherry eye and outline a course of treatment for it.

Treatment for Cherry Eye Infection in Dogs?

Treating cherry eye in dogs happens with a surgical procedure. What a veterinary ophthalmologist will do is surgically reposition the third eyelid so that it is no longer exposed. This isn’t a difficult procedure in the least, so you shouldn’t be worried!

It’s also important to note that you should run to the vet as soon as possible to schedule a surgery. Not doing so can lead to the third eyelid and its gland to become damaged, which can lead to dry eye syndrome.

While there are some non-surgical treatment options out there, they won’t cure cherry eye. What some owners opt to do is to apply topical anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics. However, it’s very important not to forget that this is only treating the problem for a small amount of time. It’s very likely that in some time your dog will suffer from cherry eye again.

The treatment for cherry eye that most veterinarians advise is the surgical route. It’s the one that takes care of the problem once and for all and ensures that the least amount of damage is done to your dog’s eye health.

What Is Dry Eye Syndrome in Dogs?

Something that comes up a lot when you research cherry eye is dry eye syndrome in dogs. Dry eye syndrome is something that dogs are likely to develop if the cherry eye condition isn’t treated as soon as possible. It’s also referred to as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) among the medical community.

Because the tear gland in the third eyelid is extremely important to a healthy production of tears, it plays a crucial role in keeping the eye moist and not dry. When dogs lose function of this duct, that’s when problems start to appear. Not being able to produce as many tears to keep the eyes lubricated means they’ll become red and very dry.

Dry eye syndrome is not something that makes dogs feel very comfortable in their own skin. Because the eyes are so dry, they start to hurt. This is why you’ll see puppies scratching at their eyes with their paws or rubbing their face in the grass and other surfaces.

vet checking for dog eye infection, cherry eye in dogs

It also leads to the inflammation of the cornea (the transparent structure that covers the eyeball of the dog) and the conjunctiva. Remember when we talked about pink eye? Well, it’s one of the side effects of getting cherry eye!

Prognosis: How Long Until My Pupper Is Healthy Again?

A lot of owners worry about how long it will take their puppies until they recover and get healthy again. Especially if their furry friend is undergoing surgery. Surgical procedures make a lot of people nervous, but, in this case, there’s nothing you should be worrying about.

In most cases, it only takes a few weeks after surgery for everything to come back to normal. The third eyelid stays in its correct place in the vast majority of cases and there are no complications. Only a small percentage of dogs will require further surgery to correct the position of the lid.

All in all, operating on the third eyelid is quite safe!

Noticing cherry eye early on is super important. Although it’s not painful in the earliest stages of the condition, it can lead to serious complications in the future. No one wants to deal with pink eye or with dry eye syndrome, so it’s best to address the issue as soon as possible.

Common Questions About Cherry Eye Dog Infection

What’s cherry eye dog problem?

Is pink eye in dogs a common condition?

Why does dog cherry eye happen?

How can dog red eyes be treated?

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