Cherry Eye

Prolapse of the Nictitans or Cherry Eye

As you may know, cats and dogs have 3 eyelids contrary to humans who have 2 eyelids. Dogs have a superior and an inferior eyelid. The third on is located in the corner of the eye close to the nose and is called the nictitans membrane. It happens that the cartilage of the third eyelid bends and the third eyelid gland is allowed to protrude the interior corner of the ye. This condition is called “prolapse of the nictitans” or “cherry eye”. The cherry eye is a genetic defect and the dog affected by it should not be bred. This condition can show up and any age but it is most frequently seen during the first year of life. It is also more common in certain breeds such as the Shith-su, Lhasa apsos, Pekingese, Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels and Beagles.


There is no medical treatment for a cherry eye. Surgery is recommended as the cherry eye may become complicated by secondary infection and induce a chronic conjunctivitis. A steroid ophthalmic ointment can rarely help the situation and, if so, it will just postpone the same problem, Two types of surgeries are available. The first one is the ablation of the nictitans inside the third eyelid.

1. Ablation of the cartilage

Years ago, the ablation was performed as a routine treatment. Serious consequences occur when this surgery is done because the production of tears are reduced by at least 30% and application of artificial tears is required a few times daily, and for life (keratoconjunctivitis). These days, it it considered malpractice to perform the ablation as the first step.

2. Surgical correction.

The surgery of choice of a ophtalmologists is to tack the gland back in the third eyelid. A pocket is done in the third eyelid, the cartilage and the gland are then pushed down inside. If everything goes right, the cartilage will lay flat in the pocket. This is the surgery of choice because it preserves the production of tears. However, their is a 30 to 40% chance that the prolapse will occur again. At that time, a second surgery is requested. Tact of the cartilage can be performed again or ablation of 1/3 of the cartilage can be done. We recommend to try the tact of the cartilage a second time.

Possible complications of these two surgeries include irritation and secondary infection of the cojunctiva and the cornea. Post-op care includes and Elizabethan collar for a minimum of 10 days, application of eye ointment 4 to 6 times per day for at least 1 week.