When the tear-producing gland of the third eyelid pops out of position, it protrudes from behind the third eyelid as a reddish mass at the inner corner of the eye. This prolapsed tear gland condition is commonly referred to as “cherry eye”. The problem is most commonly seen in young dogs and particularly in certain breeds of dogs such as the Cocker Spaniel, Bulldog, and Lhasa Apso.
Despite its dramatic appearance, a prolapsed third eyelid gland does not always produce detectable signs of ocular pain. However, the longer the gland is exposed, the more likely it is to become irritated and inflamed. It can even ulcerate and hemorrhage, especially if your pet rubs at the eye. Furthermore, the function of the gland can be compromised if the gland is exposed for long periods of time. The resultant damage can be permanent (dry eye).
To correct "cherry eye", surgical replacement of the gland is necessary. This treatment is far superior to the old approach where the prolapsed gland was merely removed. The gland of the third eyelid plays a vital role in maintaining normal tear production. We now know that dogs that have had the gland removed are predisposed to developing the “dry eye” condition. “Dry eye” (or keratoconjunctivitis sicca-KCS) is uncomfortable for the patient and can lead to blindness if not treated successfully. Furthermore, treatment of "dry eye" is usually required for life. Additionally, cases of KCS that result from third eyelid gland removal can be extra challenging to control. To reduce the chances for this condition, it is preferable to surgically reposition the tear-producing gland so that it can continue to function properly.
One procedure used to correct "cherry eye" is called the “pocket technique”. Although the gland cannot be put back into its original position in the third eyelid, a new pocket is made near the original position. The tear gland is tucked inside the pocket and the pocket is sutured closed. For most animals, this is the most successful approach. However, there is no technique that results in success 100% of the time. Recurrence rates vary by breed. Recurrence is most common in the Bulldog and Mastiff breeds. For other breeds, success rates are 90-95% so long as the condition is not allowed to become too chronic before surgery and so long as the postoperative instructions (eg., E-collar use, activity restriction) are followed.
If only one gland has prolapsed at this time, please be aware that the other eye could become affected with the problem in the future. Please contact us should this occur. Sometimes a procedure will be recommended to try to prevent gland prolapse in the second eye. This condition is considered genetic in most affected animals, thus this trait could be passed on if your pet is used for breeding.