Our furry family members differ anatomically from us in many, many ways. Some of these are super obvious (they are covered in fur with long, slobbery tongues, for one), while others are not so easy to spot. Take, for instance, our pet’s eyes. Like us, they have an upper and lower eyelid. However, if you look closely, you may be able to see a difference in our eyes, as our pets actually have a third eyelid.
The third eyelid, also called a nictitating membrane, sweeps across the eye horizontally from its origin at the inside corner of the eye. In addition to protecting the eye, it also helps to keep it moist. In the healthy eye, the third eyelid is rarely noticeable.
What is cherry eye?
The third eyelid makes its most obvious appearance in the condition commonly known as “cherry eye.” A cherry eye is a prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid, and it has earned its nickname by resembling a cherry pit. When the gland of the third eyelid prolapses, the result is a round pink protrusion at the inside corner of the eye.
While cherry eyes can occur in cats, it is much more common in dogs. Any dog breed can get cherry eyes, including mixed breeds, but the most commonly affected breeds are Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, Boston Terriers, and English Bulldogs.
The clinical signs of a cherry eye are obvious; you will easily see the protrusion of the gland of the third eyelid at the corner of your pet’s eye. In general, cherry eyes are painless, though they may lead to bacterial infections or ocular discharge. Cherry eyes can occur in one or both eyes, though they rarely affect both eyes at the same time. They occur spontaneously and may start intermittently (or come and go) or they may prolapse and remain so indefinitely.
Cherry eye treatment
The treatment of cherry eyes has evolved over the years. Historically, the cherry eye was just cut out, but this technique has fallen heavily out of favor. Removal of the gland of the third eyelid may lead to reduced tear production, which may in turn lead to keratoconjunctivitis (KCS), or dry eye. KCS requires lifelong treatment and may lead to blindness.
The current treatment options center on correcting the condition rather than removing it. The gland of the third eyelid is surgically replaced in its correct position and either anchored down or secured in a “pocket” made from existing tissues. Both methods are relatively easy to perform with very few side effects and can be covered by a dog insurance or cat insurance policy from Petplan pet insurance.
Prior to surgery, your veterinarian may prescribe topical anti-inflammatories in the form of eye drops to try to reduce the size of the cherry eye. Post-operatively, you can expect your pet to need to wear the dreaded “cone of shame” (or e-collar) until her eye is healed so that she cannot delay her healing by scratching at it.
Luckily, your pet’s recovery time will be short in duration. During this time, you should be on the lookout for any abnormalities. Squinting, excess discharge, and apparent pain should all be brought to your veterinarian’s attention during the post-operative period.
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