Flip's cherry eye

Flip came in to us in March this year for her regular 6 monthly senior check up. In general she was a happy dog, but there were a couple of things that had been causing her a bit of discomfort. Her teeth had become quite dirty with tartar buildup and it was time for her to have her teeth cleaned before they got any worse. We also noticed that Flip had a “cherry eye” which had been a problem on and off for the past 8 months. This condition is called a “cherry” eye because it looks like a small red cherry sitting at the inside corner of the eye. However, it is not caused by cherries! It is actually an inflamed gland of the third eyelid.

Dogs and cats (and some other animals too) have one more eyelid than we do. It is called the third eyelid and lives underneath the upper and lower eyelids. It is usually pale in colour and moves in a slightly diagonal sideways direction across the eye, moving from the inside corner to the outside corner. Most of the time while the animal is awake and the eyes are completely open,  it cannot be seen as it stays tucked out of sight at the inside corner of the eye. If the eye is partially closed (for example, when the animal is drowsy or asleep) the third eyelid moves across the eyeball for extra protection. Many people don't realise that this is normal for animals and it can make them look quite scary, like a character in a horror movie!

Within this third eyelid there lives a gland, which helps produce tears to keep the eyes moist and lubricated. The normal gland is quite small in size and difficult to see in a normal eye, being anchored by a small attachment so it stays hidden. If this attachment becomes weak, the gland can protrude over the lip of the third eyelid, looking like a little red “cherry” sitting in the corner of the eye, even when the animal is awake and the eye completely open. Once protruding out of its normal position, the gland can become very inflamed and swollen as it dries out. Sometimes it will pop quickly back into position and shrink down to normal size, but often the longer it stays out, the harder it is for it to shrink and go back to its normal position. Some glands, like Flip's, will pop in and out at different times. Although it doesn't seem to cause a lot of pain, it can cause enough discomfort that the animal tries to rub their eye with their paw or rub the face on the ground, leading to more problems, and sometimes an infected gland or scratched eyeball. Anti-inflammatory drops can sometimes help the swelling to reduce, but usually surgery is needed to pull the gland back into normal position so it can shrink down to its normal size, and stay permanently in place.

While under anaesthetic to have her teeth cleaned, we performed surgery on Flip's right eye to tuck the cherry eye back into position. Within a few days, the swelling of the gland had reduced to normal, and Flip's right eye looked as good as new!