Cherry Eye in Dogs: What It Is and How to Treat It

If your dog is suffering from cherry eye, it can be pretty hard to miss, causing noticeable pain and discomfort in one or both of your dog’s eyes.

Typified by the red mass of puffy flesh at the corner of your dog’s eye, there are a number of treatments that can alleviate or fix the problem altogether. If your dog develops any sort of eye problems, you should contact your vet as soon as possible.

What Is Cherry Eye?

It’s the common name for a prolapsed nictitating membrane. Like most mammals, canines have a third eyelid, otherwise known as a nictitating membrane. The third eyelid serves as another protective layer for a dog’s eye, especially when fighting or hunting. It also holds a tear-secreting gland.

When this gland prolapses, or “pops out”, it appears as a red, swollen mass on the lower eyelid of the dog, near its nose or muzzle. This red mass is where it gets the name cherry eye. The protruding mass may be large, covering a good portion of the cornea, or it may be small, only appearing periodically.

Any appearance of a mass in your dog’s eye should be checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Similarly, if your dog is continuously messing with their eye, a veterinary appointment should be made.

Cherry Eye in Dogs

Signs of Cherry Eye in Your Dog

A dog suffering from this condition will have a red or pink spot in their eye. It won’t bleed or be painful to the touch, but it can cause other painful problems, such as dry eye, corneal ulcers, irritation, and inflammation of the cornea. Any of these conditions can cause your dog to continuously rub or paw at its eye, increasing risk of further injury.

Signs include:

Red or Pink Bulge

The most obvious symptom is the fleshy pink or red mass that will be popping out from your dog’s lower eyelid. This protruding gland may be continuous or it may come and go. It may also be quite large or very small. Since it may be difficult to see in some dogs, you should be alert to the other symptoms associated with cherry eye.

Pawing or Rubbing the Eye

Since cherry eye can cause discomfort, or induce other discomfort producing symptoms, your dog may frequently paw or rub at their eye when suffering from this condition. If you notice that your dog is constantly rubbing or pawing at their eye, you may want to bring them to your vet to have them checked for cherry eye, especially if their behavior goes on for an extended time.

Eye Won’t Fully Close

In the case of extreme prolapses, the fleshy mass protruding from your dog’s eye may actually interfere with their ability to close that eye. If you notice that your dog’s eyes don’t fully close, you should check them for cherry eye and contact your veterinarian.

Extreme Dry Eye

Because the gland secretes tears, when it prolapses, it affects tear production in that dog’s eye. An eye that is not lubricated properly can become irritated and inflamed, sometimes even leading to ulcers. If a dog cannot close its eye fully due to the prolapse, that can also increase the severity of the dry eye.

What Are the Causes of Cherry Eye?

A dog may have a cherry eye at birth, but more commonly they develop somewhere between the first and second year of the dog’s life. The fibrous attachment which holds the nictitating membrane in place can become detached, which causes the gland located there to prolapse (or pop out) of the eye.

The fibrous attachment which holds the gland in place can become more easily detached in certain breeds. Many of these breeds can develop a cherry eye at any time in their life, though it is more common before they reach the age of two.

Some of the most common breeds at risk of developing a cherry eye are:

  • American Cocker Spaniel– This lap-sized cocker spaniel has become one of the world’s most loveable breeds. Developed as hunting dogs, they are well known for their loyalty and companionship.
  • Shih Tzus – A small dog bred to spend its days inside royal palaces, Shih Tzus have become well-known for their agreeability and child-friendly nature. You only need a small space for this royally-bred lapdog.
  • Beagles – Bred to hunt in packs, these dogs are great company and generally easygoing. The fact that they’re loyal companions and great hunting dogs makes them a favorite around the world.
  • Lhasa Apsos – This thousand year-old breed has historically been used as sentinels to palaces or monasteries. Their lavish coat, loyal behavior, and comical personality make them great dogs for leisure or play.
  • Boston Terriers – Despite the word “terrier” in their name, these dogs have been bred as non-sporting dogs. Their affable personality and people-oriented behavior make them a wonderful companion for children or adults.
  • Bulldogs – These thick-set, low-to-the-ground dogs are unmistakable and distinctive. Their loyal natures and fierce determination make them wonderful partners for work and play.

Nearly all brachycephalic breeds (dogs with “squished” faces and short limbs) can be at risk for developing cherry eye. If you own one of these types of dog, you should be especially attentive to their eyes, just in case.

How Is Cherry Eye Treated?

Different surgeries have been developed in order to treat and correct cherry eye. Gland replacement is the preferred method of veterinarians in order to maintain tear production. If the gland cannot be replaced, it can be removed altogether, though this can put your pup at risk of a lifetime of dry eyes.

The three surgeries used the most to correct cherry eye are the pocket method, orbital rim anchoring, and scleral anchoring. The pocket method is the easiest, so your veterinarian will probably offer this procedure first. If your dog is healthy enough to undergo surgery, this method will typically cause the gland to return to normal after just a few weeks.

Medications may also be given to help ease any discomfort or pain from the procedure, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of infection. A medical collar will be needed for your dog’s period of healing to prevent dirt or other foreign material from getting into the healing eye.

Can Cherry Eye Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, no one knows why some dogs have a predisposition to develop cherry eye, so no one knows how to prevent it. If you own a dog of a brachycephalic breed (typified by “squished” faces and short limbs), you need to be aware of the possibility that they may develop cherry eye.

Particularly affecting dogs two and under, these are the years you need to be most observant of any problems that may develop with your dog’s eyes. Luckily, with surgery and medication, cherry eye does not need to be a seriously disabling problem for most dogs.


Certain dog breeds are at risk of developing the condition referred to as “cherry eye,” where the nictitating membrane, or third eyelid, becomes detached and sticks out of the dog’s eye. Most commonly affecting brachycephalic breeds, the problem usually presents itself between the ages of 1 and 2, but can occur at any time during a dog’s life, though atypical.

The most common solution to the problem is surgery to place the membrane, and the gland it holds, back where it belongs.

Love you guys,


P.S. If you’re new to this world, you may want to check out my Ultimate Guide for First Time Dog Parents. It’s a great reference to get you started on this journey.


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Disclaimer: The Can My Dog articles contain information based on the individual research and opinions of the author of the site – who just so happens to be a dog. How you utilize the information given is completely up to you. Proceed at your own risk.

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