Anybody with children knows red or pink eyes could mean conjunctivitis. This is a common bacterial infection treated with antibiotics or OTC remedies and isolation. But swelling and redness in the eyes of your dog – or, much less frequently, your cat – may mean something quite different. This condition known as “cherry eye,” needs to be treated swiftly to avoid long-term complications.

Dogs and cats have a third eyelid, known as the nictitating membrane, which sits hidden behind the visible lower eyelid. Many species have one, and even humans have a vestigial version known as the plica semilunaris. In dogs and cats, it protects and moistens the eye without impeding vision. A gland we don’t see attaches to that membrane at its base and produces 30-40% of tear production in pets.

What Causes “Cherry Eye”?

In some dogs, the connective tissue holding the gland in place will weaken. When that happens, the unstable gland pops up to the surface of the eye. It becomes red and inflamed when exposed to the environment.

The breeds “cherry eye” most commonly affects include cocker spaniels, bulldogs, Boston terriers, beagles, bloodhounds, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and other brachycephalic breeds (dogs with “squished” faces and short limbs). Reportedly, the condition affects Burmese and Persian cats as well.

Due to a suspected genetic predisposition, this disorder commonly affects brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short notes/limbs). Examples include cocker spaniels, English Bulldogs, Boston terriers and Shih Tzus. Often, the condition appears in dogs under one year of age. The condition also reportedly affects Burmese and Persian cats more than other feline breeds.

Why You Need to Act Promptly

When the gland is left untreated, it continues to rub on the surface of the eye. That causes irritation, inflammation, and in some cases pain from a corneal ulcer. In turn, the gland becomes more swollen and inflamed over time.

The longer the gland remains exposed, the less efficiently it functions. Excessive inflammation can attack or destroy the third eyelid gland. Eventually, your dog could develop dry eye due to the dysfunction of this gland.

The Remedy for “Cherry Eye”

Unfortunately, ointments and topical treatments don’t fix the root cause. Vets rely on surgical repair, repositioning the gland by creating a pocket to hold it there. Other techniques may be used for repair, but surgeons don’t like to remove the gland entirely: The cosmetic appearance would be normal, yet the risk of dry eye would increase significantly.

Surgery is successful in about 90 to 95 percent of cases. However, the corrected gland can recur after surgical repositioning in about 5-10% of cases. This recurrence tends to be more common with large breeds who have a great deal of inflammation — English bulldogs, Great Danes, Cane Corsos, etc. – or in dogs who had a chronic prolapsed gland for months or years.

That’s why doctors recommend surgical repair soon after diagnosis. If the gland does prolapse again, a more invasive surgery involving several techniques may give the best chance of keeping it in place. Finally, a “cherry eye” will develop in the other eye as well in some dogs.

Think of CARE as the animal equivalent of a medical center for humans, providing all forms of treatment for pets. It offers emergency care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and board-certified specialty care, after a referral from your primary veterinarian. Take a visual tour of the practice at

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