What's Cherry Eye in Dogs?

Cherry eye is a common health condition that affects some dog breeds. This is when the dog’s third eyelid prolapses, causing inflammation.

Jan 13, 2024By Jessica Montes
what is cherry eye in dogs

In a perfect world, dogs wouldn’t get sick or develop any health issues. Sadly, they can experience a range of diseases and illnesses, including cherry eye. Keep reading to learn more about this strange formation on a dog’s eye, its causes, and treatment options. It’s an unfortunate condition, but it doesn’t have to take over your pup’s life!

Cherry Eye Affects the Third Eyelid

Dog eye anatomy
Photo courtesy of Veterinarian Key

Before discussing what causes the cherry eye, let’s talk about dog eye anatomy. Like humans, dogs have eyelashes, retinas, corneas, and upper and lower eyelids. One major difference is that they also have a third eyelid called the nictitating membrane. The upper and lower lids are meant to keep the eye moist and wipe away any dust. A dog’s third eyelid adds an extra layer of protection. It keeps more debris out while a pup roams the outdoors. It also acts as an additional shield if they are ever attacked by another animal.

The nictitating membrane is usually a light pink color and sits under the lower eyelids in the tear duct area. Because it’s beneath the bottom lid, you usually can’t see it.

Cherry Eye Is When the Third Eyelid Prolapses

Cherry eye
Photo courtesy of Erica Tolar/ West Vet

Cherry eye is a condition where the third eyelid pops out from under the bottom lid. There is a genetic predisposition, and it occurs in dogs where the nictitating membrane has a weak attachment to the inner eye. It is much easier for the third eyelid to slip out, causing a cherry-colored lump to bulge at the eye’s base. Lumps can range from smaller sizes to larger masses that cover more of the eye area.

Even though it’s not one of the 10 most common health issues in dogs, cherry eye needs immediate medical attention. Quick veterinarian intervention will reduce the chances of permanent damage to the dog’s vision.

Which Dog Breeds Have Cherry Eye?

Unfortunately, a handful of breeds are more likely to develop cherry eyes. These include:

  • Beagles
  • French Bulldogs
  • English Bulldogs
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Bloodhounds
  • Boston Terriers
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Pugs
  • Shih Tzus

Younger dogs and those in the brachycephalic family have a higher chance of getting cherry eye. The latter are canines with round skulls and squished faces, like the Chow Chow, Boxer, and many listed above. Their flatter facial features are thought to contribute to the weak inner eye attachment and increase the chances of experiencing cherry eye.

Symptoms of Cherry Eye

Sad dog
Photo courtesy of Bruno Cervera

Without a doubt, the red bump is the most noticeable symptom of the cherry eye. Even if it goes away or seems to reduce in size, it needs treatment by a vet. It is not a case where at-home doggy first aid can substitute for professional medical care. Other signs of this condition are swollen eyelids, dry eyes, and pus dripping from the eye. These can appear simultaneously or develop afterward if your dog scratches, irritates, rubs at, or punctures the lump.

Many dog owners wonder whether cherry eye hurts. Obscured vision and other symptoms can cause discomfort and lead the dog to irritate the affected eye.

Regular Grooming and Hygiene Prevent Cherry Eye

Dog grooming
Photo courtesy of Tima Miroshnichenko

Since the cherry eye stems from a genetic condition, it’s not preventable. Owners can be mindful of eye trauma and practice regular grooming habits, but there’s no foolproof way of stopping this condition. Some considerations can promote a dog’s overall well-being, however.

Gently clean the eye area during every bath. Use a tear-free dog shampoo or warm water on a soft washcloth to wipe away any discharge under the eyes. Avoid touching the eye directly and focus on the outer area. You can also do this between baths to remove buildup and keep your dog’s eye area clean after spending time outdoors. During the grooming session, check for any cherry eye symptoms.

Treating Cherry Eye

Dog vet
Photo courtesy of Mikhail Nilov

The good news is that you can treat cherry eyes! There are two surgical procedures: tacking and imbrication.

In the first option, the third eyelid is put back into place and stitched to prevent it from popping out again. With imbrication, tissue above the third eyelid gets taken out. A mucous membrane is added and sewn over the eyelid to push the gland back in. Veterinarians may also prescribe artificial tears before and after the procedures to ensure the dog’s eyes are moisturized properly.

Possible Complications from Surgical Procedures

Dog eye exam
Photo courtesy of Tima Miroshnichenko

In the best scenario, a dog’s third eyelid begins working a few weeks post-surgery. However, there are other complications owners need to be aware of. Even after medical treatment, cherry eye can reappear in the same or opposite eye. The VCA Animal Hospitals report that five to 20% of pets experience a subsequent cherry lump formation and require additional surgery.

In extreme cases, the entire third eyelid gets removed. This creates another condition known as dry eye, where a dog doesn’t produce enough tears or eye moisture. They need a daily application of artificial moisturizer, or there’s a major risk of permanent vision impairment and even blindness.

Protect Your Dog’s Eyes

Lhasa apso
Photo courtesy of Alexas Fotos

Treating cherry eyes is crucial for preserving a dog’s vision and health. They might be nearsighted and colorblind to reds, pinks, and purples, but their eyesight can outperform ours.

Dogs beat us with their wider peripheral vision. While humans have a 180-to-190-degree field of vision, canine eyes can cover an area of 250 degrees. It is possible because of their eyes’ location at the side of the head.

Pups use this to scan a wider area and notice any dangers or to help them find animals for hunting. This is just one surprising fact about canine eyesight and proves why cases of cherry eye need urgent treatment.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.