Dog: Prolapsed Tear Gland of the Third Eyelid

General information

Other common/scientific names: cherry eye, prolapse of the tear gland of the nictitating membrane

Dogs and cats have an extra eyelid located in the inside corner of their eyes. This third eyelid or nictitating membrane is a triangle shaped, thin membrane that provides protection and tears to the eye. The normal canine eye receives its tears from two tear producing glands. One is located above the eye and the other is found in a gland located at the base of this third eyelid.


This condition occurs when the tear gland prolapses or slips out of its normal position due to underdeveloped connective tissue which holds it in place. Although this condition can affect any breed, it is seen more frequently in Boston terriers, Cocker spaniels, bulldogs and beagles and is thought to be hereditary.

Cardinal symptom

Red swelling in corner of eye


Prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid usually occurs in young dogs, 3-12 months of age. It can occur in one or both eyes, although typically, only one gland prolapses at a time. The other gland may prolapse a few days to months after the first. When the gland of the third eyelid prolapses, it becomes visible or protrudes above the edge of the third eyelid. It emerges as a smooth, red or pink swelling or mass appearing like a small cherry. Hence the name “ cherry eye”. The gland does not function normally when it is in the wrong position and may cause minor discomfort. Increased tearing and reddening of the conjunctiva may occur. In some cases, the gland may become very inflamed, reddened and enlarged.


Diagnosis is made by physical examination. The eye should be thoroughly examined for any other abnormalities. Although unusual, the eye should be carefully examined for any kind of corneal damage. A special stain can be used on the cornea to detect corneal ulcer or scratches that may have occurred from the prolapsed gland or self trauma. Since it is less common in older dogs, ocular neoplasia should be ruled out if this condition is seen in middle aged dogs.


In most cases, a prolapsed gland will not resolve without surgical treatment. Topical ophthalmic medications can be used to reduce inflammation and discomfort in the short term. However, the recommended treatment is an operation to permanently replace the gland in its normal position.

There are two major techniques for this surgery with different variations of the techniques depending on the veterinarian’s experience and preference. One involves using a single suture (stitch) to anchor the gland in the proper position. The second technique creates a pocket into which the gland is replaced. The pocket is then sutured closed to prevent it from prolapsing again. Antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatory eye drops and oral medication are used for 7-10 days post surgery. A protective E-collar is usually worn by the dog to prevent rubbing of the eye(s) after the surgery.

A third treatment of cherry eye is excision of the gland of the third eyelid. Because of the tears produced by this gland, this treatment is not recommended. Chronic dry eye or keratoconjuctivis sicca (KCS) with resulting pain, discomfort and sight reducing corneal pigmentation and scarring can result if the gland is completely excised.


A successful surgery carries a good to excellent prognosis. While harmful complications from cherry eye surgery are unusual, recurrence of this condition can occur. Certain breeds are more difficult to treat and a second operation may be required.


Prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid is difficult to prevent. However, since the condition is thought to be hereditary, dogs which develop this condition should not be used for breeding.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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