Prolapsed Gland of the Nictitans, or "Cherry Eye"

What is a “cherry eye”?

Most pets have an “extra” or third eyelid that lies between the lower eyelid and the portion of the eyeball closest to the nose. This third eyelid, or nictitans, contains a tear gland that produces about 30-40% of the tear film, and when this gland becomes exposed, the disorder is referred to as a “cherry eye”. It may also be called a prolapsed gland of the nictitans, third eyelid gland protrusion, or nictitans gland protrusion. It commonly appears as a smooth, red mass, or “cherry”, on the lower eyelid closest to the nose. This disorder is seen primarily in young dogs and most commonly in the American Cocker Spaniel, English Bulldog, Lhasa Apso, Shih-Tzu, Poodle, and Beagle. However, it may occur in any dog breed, and it is also seen in some cat breeds, including the Burmese.

What causes a “cherry eye”?

The exact cause of this condition is unknown, but it is thought to be due to a weakness of the connective tissues that normally anchors the gland in place. The condition may occur only in one eye but often occurs in both eyes with the glands prolapsing at different times.

What is the treatment for a “cherry eye”?

The gland should be surgically replaced back into its normal position in order to maintain normal tear production. The gland should never be removed because it is a significant contributor to tear film production and can predispose dogs to keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), or dry eye.

During surgical correction at The Animal Eye Institute, a “pocket” is created to tuck the gland back into its normal position. Medical treatment after surgery involves a short course of a topical antibiotics, as well as an oral antibiotic, oral anti-inflammatory, and oral pain medication. The use of an E-collar is also warranted for 2 weeks to prevent your pet from removing the small sutures used for surgery.

What is the prognosis?

If surgery is performed by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist, the success rate is 95%. When surgery is properly performed, it results in a cosmetically appealing outcome. The success rate is high, but recurrence is possible, even with a correctly performed pocket technique.

If surgery is not performed, your pet is at risk for chronic irritation and inflammation of the third eyelid gland, as well as the development of KCS, or dry eye, which requires life-long treatment. A cherry eye should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention immediately for evaluation. The sooner the gland is replaced, the better prognosis for your pet.

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