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Dear Daisy Dog

My cocker spaniel has a cherry eye. How did she get it, and how is it best treated?

Daisy Responds

Cherry eye is the common name for prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid. I’ve never had it, but some of my friends have, so I can explain it to you.

We dogs have a third eyelid for extra protection. You’ve probably seen it as a smooth, white sheet creeping up from the bottom inner corner of the eye when we’re falling asleep.

This third eyelid, called the nictitans, contains a tear gland that produces almost half the eye’s tears. The other tear gland is at the opposite corner of the eye.

In certain breeds of dogs, like cocker spaniels, beagles and Boston terriers, the gland sometimes isn’t well anchored, and it pops out of position, or prolapses.

When it does, it looks like a small, bumpy cherry at the inner corner of the eye. My friends tell me it’s not painful.

Treating the cherry eye with an antibiotic-steroid eye ointment helps temporarily, but the treatment of choice is to surgically tack the tear gland back into position. On rare occasions, it pops out again, and surgery must be repeated.

Some veterinarians cut the gland off, but dogs treated this way are at risk of developing dry eye from insufficient tear production. Unfortunately, breeds predisposed to cherry eye are also at risk for dry eye, even if they haven’t had cherry eye surgery.

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