Cherry Eye in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Home Remedies

Cherry Eye in Dogs
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

It is quite obvious in many ways how different our pooches are to us. They have four legs, we have two. They have a happily wagging tail, we don’t. But there are other ways in which they differ from us that are less obvious.

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One of these is hidden away out of view when healthy. It is a tear gland connected to a third eyelid. It is this tear gland that is responsible for the condition known as cherry eye in dogs. It is unsightly, looks painful and if left untreated can cause complications. However if you know what to do and can do it, it doesn’t need to be a problem.

What is cherry eye?

This is a condition which causes a dog’s tear gland to protrude from the eye socket. It is easily spotted and will appear as a red mass protruding from the corner of the eye nearest your dog’s nose. It can affect one or both eyes and can be recurrent.

Located underneath the nictitating membrane, commonly known as the third eyelid which protects a dog’s eyes from the wind, dust and other foreign objects this tear gland serves a very important function and that is to provide adequate lubrication of the cornea.

Cherry eye

Thought to be responsible for between 30 – 50% of the total moisture in a dog’s eye this tear gland plays a vital part in the health of your dog’s eyes. The protrusion of this gland results in none or partial lubrication and can end with your dog developing a condition called keratocon junctivitis sicca, dry eye in simple terms.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms that show your dog has this condition include:

  • An oval mass protruding from the dog’s eyelid nearest his / her nose
  • Swelling
  • Possible irritation
  • Red, thickened tissue
  • Dry eyes

It is believed that the condition is not painful for your dog and that in all likelihood he / she will carry on as normal. Your dog will likely show no signs of distress or the condition other than the visible protrusion.

Be aware that these symptoms appear similar to conjunctivitis. To learn the difference, you should check out this article on conjunctivitis in dogs.

What causes cherry eye?

The main cause remains unknown but it is thought that it may be a congenital weakness of the glands attachment in the dog’s eye. It is also entirely possible that it is an inherited condition.

Many dog owners report that in the moments before their pooch had a prolapse of the tear gland that there were certain events. These include:

  • Over excitement
  • Fear
  • Shock / surprise

This eye condition also seems to be more common in certain breeds of dog such as the Boston Terrier, Bloodhound, Beagle, Bulldog, Bull Terrier, Lhaso Apso, Cocker Spaniel, Saint Bernard and Shar – Pei.

Bulldog with cherry eyes

Breeds with shorter muzzles along with teacup and toy varieties are also at greater risk as are dogs under two years old. It may be worth noting here that all pedigree dogs may be more prone to this condition than Heinz 57 varieties due to selective breeding.

Treatment: home or away?

It is of highest importance to treat this condition as soon as possible. Leaving the condition untreated WILL lead to keratocon conjunctivitis sicca (dry eye) which WILL if un-treated inevitably lead to blindness. To learn how to properly treat and prevent dry eye, check out this article on eye infections in dogs.

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Some vets and owners will recommend that you take your dog straight to the clinic if they develop this illness. There they may receive topical anti-inflammatory drugs which reduce swelling, or it may be suggested that your dog have corrective surgery. There are two main types of surgery:

  1. The tear gland is stitched back into place. This surgery is NOT 100% effective and a prolapse may occur again.
  2. The third eyelid is completely removed. Whilst this surgery will cure your dog’s cherry eye, it will also remove your dog’s natural protection from wind, dirt et cetera and cause dry eye and its probable consequences. Your dog would need to have eye drops used on his / her eyes every day for the rest of their lives.

As with humans there are always possible complications that can come from surgery and it is an invasive process where there may actually be no need. Many owners have reported huge success from using a home treatment to correct this eye problem in their dogs.

What are the home treatments?

There are a couple of successful ways to treat your dog’s eye condition yourself.  They are simple, efficient and can be applied in a highly timely manner. Remember the quicker you treat this problem, the less chance of permanent damage to your dog’s eye.

The first of the proven home methods to cure the eye condition involves nothing more than resting your dog on its back! What could be easier?

Instructions – the rollover

On discovery of your dog’s third lid infection:

  1. Do not panic, act in a calm manner. It may look unsightly, painful and more serious than it is, but you CAN deal with this problem as long as you remain calm.
  2. Calm your dog into a relaxed state. Whatever methods you need to use to calm your dog employ them now. Back rub, soothing talk, ear massage, kisses etcetera: whatever works for you and your dog.
  3. Instruct your dog to lie down ensuring they remain in their calm state.
  4. Gently roll your dog onto their back and let them stay there for a few minutes. Your dog really needs to close his / her eyes for this to work so if you know a way to get them to do so use it now.
  5. Roll your dog back over so he / she open their eyes.

Hopefully when your dog opens their eyes the problem will have rectified and popped back in. This may not be a permanent solution and your dog may have another prolapse. You can however use this method if your dog relapses every so often. If this method hasn’t been successful you could try again over the next few days or move on to the more effective second method.
The second and probably most successful DIY treatment for cherry eye has a few variations on the tools to be used but is essentially the same process every time.

Instructions – the massage

On discovery of your dog’s eye condition:

  1. Do not panic, act in a calm manner. The problem may look unsightly, painful and more serious than it is, but you CAN deal with this problem as long as you remain calm.
  2. Calm your dog into a relaxed state. This method will not work if your dog is agitated at all so do whatever it takes to relax them fully. Whatever methods you need to use to calm your dog employ them now. Back rub, soothing talk, ear massage, kisses etcetera: whatever works for you and your dog.
  3. Instruct your dog into a laid down position. Ensure you have good access to the eye that shows signs of this dreadful condition.
  4. Place a warm cloth over the eye for a few minutes. Another method is to use ice at this point. If this is the route you choose please ensure the ice is well wrapped in a cloth. Do not allow the ice itself to make contact with your dog’s eye.
  5. Keep your dog calm whilst the cloth is in place. The warm cloth at this point stimulates tear production which will lubricate the eye. This is extremely important for this method so rub their belly, ears, talk soothingly: whatever it takes to keep them calm and still.
  6. Slowly massage the area where the gland has protruded. Use as little pressure as possible. Keep your dog as calm as possible.
  7. Remove the warm cloth checking to see if the eye looks lubricated. If there are no tears in your dog’s eye or it does not look sufficiently lubricated place some eye drops carefully into your dog’s eye. This will create the slippery surface you need for the next step.
  8. Very gently move your thumb over your dog’s eyelid using the most feather light of touches. Move from the centre of the eye towards the corner nearest the nose.Your dog’s eye needs to be closed for this step. If there is resistance to closing the eye, you may need to enlist someone’s help to calm your dog whilst you hold the eye shut and complete the thumb movements.
  9. Repeat step seven several times until you feel the protrusion suck back into place.
  10. Massage the eye a little more.

If you’re looking for other ways to keep your dog from being excitable, it would be a good idea to check out how to calm down a dog.

This step is optional but will just give the tear gland a little time to settle back in place before your dog is up and around again. This may prevent the gland popping straight back out in the next few minutes or hours.

As with the first method the success of this does not guarantee your dog will not suffer from further occurrences of the problem. It does however mean that you will not have to put your do through invasive surgery or wait the time that it takes for anti-inflammatory drugs to work.

If your attempt to correct cherry eye fails first time it would be worth retrying again over the next few days. Please note though that if you are unsuccessful for more than a week you should consult your vet. The longer left uncorrected, the more chance there is of permanent damage.

How do you prevent / lessen the chance of recurrence of cherry eye?

As with anything prevention is always better than cure. In order to prevent something though we need to know what causes it. Since there is no known cause of cherry eye though, only supposition, we cannot act to prevent it with any guarantee of success.

It is however entirely possible that the prolapse of the tear gland could indicate weakness in a dogs connective tissue. Therefore it may help to feed your dog a food, supplement or treats that enhances tissue connective strength.

Dogs eye drops

Keeping your dog’s eyes well lubricated could also aid in the prevention of cherry eye reoccurrence. If you feel your dog’s eyes are dry or not quite lubricated enough visit your local pet store and invest in some good quality eye drops.

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There are also various remedies that a vet will recommend after cherry eye surgery to stitch the gland back in, that could act as a preventative after a home treatment:

  • Bilberries – these contain anthocyanoside flavoids which may (research has been limited) provide structural support for the retina, cornea and other constituents of the eye.
  • Chrysanthemum – widely used in China to treat inflammation of the eyes, dry eye, weeping eyes and blurred vision.
  • Rehmannia – rich in amino acids and vitamins A, B and C, this has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Lycium fruit – Long used in China to support eye health, this is a herb containing b-carotene, amino acids, as well as vitamins B and C.

And finally but not at all easy, try not to allow your dog to get surprised, shocked, startled or too excited. Many owners report these kinds of events as the moment their dogs develop a case of this eye condition for the first time or a reoccurrence of the problem.

Dog at home with cherry eye

Undoubtedly more research is obviously needed into the causes, prevention and treatment of third eye lid infection in dogs, and hopefully one day there will be more successful preventions than cures. But in the meantime it is always good to know that we ourselves, caring, responsible and loving dog owners can always act quickly and successfully in treating and curing our beloved pooch’s eye problem.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Cate Turner

    Our vet told us that not all situations lead to dry eye. It was clarified that they sometimes go away, the dog can grow out of it on its own if it’s really small, etc. But we were told that cherry eye can be due to irritation and misuse of collars (they can tug on the flabby skin, etc). In any case if it’s mild/small enough it can be massaged as a remedy is the general idea our vet gave.

    • There are numerous factors and situation that lead to dry eye or cherry eye. It is true that there are some cases when they go away, or stopped growing before it becomes problematic. Massages can improve vascularity, but it is very important to consult this with your veterinarian first to make sure you are providing the right intervention and supportive management.

  • Betty Roster

    My other dog, a 2 year old Mini Pincher has cherry eye. However, the vet told me she wouldn’t operate because it’s just too small. But I can see that my dog is irritated and constantly rubbing. Any advice on how to soothe the irritation? Or should I be looking for a second opinion? Thanks all!

    • There are numerous eye drops available, which can be recommended by your veterinarian to help address the itching and irritation. This will not be a permanent solution, but it will greatly decrease the anxiety of your dog. Some cherry eyes grow fast, while some take years to «ripen».

  • Emily B.

    This is a very common disease. Most importantly — constant control and after the first deteriorations go to the vet. Without a vision, the dog can live, but it would be very painful for the owner to watch how it retrains.

  • Cherry eyes can be treated well with minimal complications if the pet parent can see it on the earliest onset. As you’ve mentioned, dogs that became blind can still live long lives, but it will be such a heartbreaking moment to see them in their blind state.

  • Monique Sherman

    I had a situation that I had to fix on my own. Of course, I first made my dog relaxed, and grabbed a clean cloth and dampened it with warm water ( to warm the area for a few minutes to lubricate the area). Then, I very gently moved my thumb over her eyelid, (no pressure on her eye) from the center of her closed eye towards the corner of her eye near her nose. I repeated this until I felt the cherry eye almost sucked back into the right place. Worked great for Marry! :)

    • Wyatt Robinson

      It is nice to know that your home remedy worked. However, there are some instances where cherry eyes can be really stubborn and may require a more comprehensive intervention from the vet.

  • John

    I have a 10 — 12 year old shitzu-lhasa mix I rescued about 10 yars ago. He was recently treated for conjunctivitis and it was determoned he has little to no tear production. I was given Cyclosporine drops for the tears and Neomycin for the infection. He developed cherry eye. Two days ago it got very large and we took him to the vet. The vet gave me the same cream with a steroid to reduce the swelling and rescheduled a follow up for Saturday. Today the bulb started to bleed. I am not sure if it was from him scratching it or rubbing against something or if it swelled to the point of rupture. He does not show signs of irritation or discomfort. I applied pressure and the bleeding stopped. I have an appointment with an ophthalmologist tomorrow but have read this massaging remedy. I am not sure if it is too large for this to work or not. Any recommendations?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      I would not recommend the massage idea for the cherry eye because the pressure can aggravate the situation and can make things worse. It is also quite hard to estimate the pressure required for the massage, as too much pressure can induce bleeding.

  • Meberly Rebultan

    I have 3months old beagle, I sold her without knowing that cherry eye is hard to cure and needs eye’s operation, I’m searching for effective ways to treat her cherry eyes without operation. Please help me. I’m currently using eye cleanser and antibiotic eye drops for her eyes but seems her condition got worsen.

    • Wyatt Robinson

      You can routinely apply cold compress in a good 15-minute sessions once a day. This prevents swelling and dilation of the blood vessels, as well as provide relief from the discomfort caused by the bulge. Stay away from dusty areas as well, as these are your strongest irritants. I would also recommend you to re-evaluate the eye cleanser because it might be too strong for your dog’s eyes. These supportive interventions will not provide full recovery, but they can significantly slow down the progression of the condition.

  • Ms J

    Hi there. Today was a very sad day. We put to sleep our beloved pooch. She was 12 years old. 2 weeks before, she had a discharge from her eyes that were black/or very dark. As I cleaned it …it would just be out in 2 days. her bottom eyelids were very swollen and red. She had cancer cos she loved to lay in the matter how we tried to keep her out — every chance she had she would lay in the sun. Could her eye infection have come from swimming in our pool (which is cleaned with chlorine?) Her brother also 12 but in better health (only hind legs are promblematic) now has the same eye «infection» what can I do please? thanks for your help

    • Wyatt Robinson

      Ms. J, I am terribly sorry for your loss. Cancer in dogs is often associated with the breed. There are dog breeds that are more prone to developing this disease than others, although the risks can be increased on other predisposing factors. That eye infection, in my opinion, was already there, and the swimming pool water might have severely aggravated it. On her brother’s case, I would recommend a routine appointment with the veterinarian for prompt assessment and if ever this ends up being cancer as well, the prognosis can be more promising.

  • pj

    Our pup has had one cherry eye for about 3 years. The vet told us it was better left alone unless it got bigger or caused problems. He said if she had to be under anesthesia for some reason, they could take care of it at the same time but there was no reason to treat right now.
    Today, I noticed the other eye has started getting one. Is this information about treatment new? Should we contact our vet for a new plan of action?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      It warrants a quick assessment from the veterinarian to evaluate the condition of the existing cherry eye, and the progression of the new erupting one. Some topical medications can be applied to the new cherry eye to inhibit its growth.