What causes cherry eye is mostly associated with a congenital weakness of the gland's attachment in the dog's eye. Each eye has two tear producing glands, one above the eye and one in the third eyelid. The gland in the third lid contributes to the secretion to the tear film. In certain breeds, mostly smaller, the attachment of this gland is not strongly held in place resulting in the prolapse (pops out). It has not been determined if this condition is hereditary or not, however it is mostly seen in younger dogs between the ages of 6 weeks to 2 years. It is prone, but not limited to:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Boston Terriers
- Lhasa Apsos
- Neapolitan Mastiff
- Shih Tzus
- Medications - eye-drops which are an anti-inflammatory that reduces the swelling.
- Nonsurgical Replacement of the Gland -- painless process consists of eye-drops, warm compresses and massage while applying gentle pressure with your index finger in a circular motion. Once the swelling is reduced you can gently return the gland to its place. This technique may need to be done several times since the gland can 'pop out' again.
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Prior to having surgery, it is good practice to wait a few months to see if the other eye will also 'pop out', which will lessen the chances of any additional surgery and costs. If a puppy is experiencing this condition, it is best to wait till they are at least 4 months old before any surgical option. Costs begin at $250 going up to $450 and in extereme cases can go as high as $1000.
- First surgical option -- Tucking method, where a single stitch is permanently placed to pull the gland back where it belongs. There are some possible complications:
- Stitch becomes untied, this could result in the eye being scratched by the suture, which would cause sudden pain and the suture thread may be visible.
- The tuck may not hold permanently. This procedure is notorious for failure and frequently a second tuck is needed.
- Second surgical option -- Tissue is removed from directly over the actual gland. This procedure is more challenging as it is not easy to determine how much tissue to remove. Dissolvable stitches are used to close the gap so that the tightening of the incision pushes the gland back in place. Again, there are some possible complications:
- Inflammation or swelling as the stitches dissolve.
- Inadequate tightening of the tissue gap may lead to recurrence of the cherry eye.
- Failure of the stitches to hold could cause injury to the eye depending on the type of suture used.
- Third surgical option -- Third eyelid tear gland is removed. This is a last resort option as the potential complication is life long dry eye, which would depend on the upper tear gland being able to produce enough tears to keep the eye moist. Daily eye-drops will be required.
On a final note, there currently seems to not be any known preventative measures for this condition.