Cherry eye is the common, more easily remembered name for "prolapsed third eyelid." The third eyelid is actually not an eyelid at all, but the "nictitating membrane." This membrane has a tear duct responsible for 30 percent of the dog's tear production. The membrane also covers the eyeball in its entirety while retracting back into the socket, creating a protective layer. This membrane, however, can become an issue. For some reason, not yet known, the membrane shifts position (or prolapses) and swells, resulting in a bright red, irritated condition in the eye. Most dogs with cherry eye end up having surgery, much to the owner's financial dismay.
What Breeds Are Prone to Cherry Eye?
Although any dog can get this condition, there are certainly breeds more prone to it. Examples of these breeds include but are not limited to bulldogs, pugs, chow chows, bloodhounds, beagles and shar-peis. The breeds where the eyes bulge, such as the Boston terrier, seem predisposed to the condition.
What Does Surgery Correct?
Cherry eye occurs when the membrane become severed from the eye socket. As the cause is unknown, prevention is near impossible; after onset, it is difficult to clear up without surgery. If caught soon enough, however, the veterinarian may want to try non-invasive treatments such as antibiotics and steroids, in both injectable and topical forms prior to surgery. These treatments oftentimes prove ineffective, but many vets and pet owners may try to alleviate the problem this way in lieu of the cost of surgery.
The “Pocket Technique” Surgery
There are three surgery options available, the "pocket technique" as well as complete and partial removal. This technique is the most effective and costly of all three treatment options. The procedure involves making two small incisions, thus creating a "pocket" and then inserting the membrane into it. This surgery allows the dog to keep his tear ducts included in the membrane. The cost of this surgery typically starts at around $250 and goes up from there, some report spending over $1,000 in extreme cases. The surgery, however, is not a guarantee the cherry eye will not return. Sometimes, the membrane or "third eyelid" becomes dislodged again and the surgery must be repeated.
Removal and Partial Removal Options
Two other surgical options are available at a less expensive cost, but are typically problematic in that they can create other issues for the animal. The complete removal and partial removal surgery options run anywhere from $100 to $400 and can oftentimes leave the dog susceptible to "dry eye," as the tear duct is no longer there to help lubricate the eyeball. This can be an expensive condition as, although medication is given, oftentimes, surgery to "create" alternative tear ducts runs over $500.
The partial removal is designed to remove only the affected area of the membrane, leaving the rest intact. Although as much of the tear duct as possible is saved, the chance of the membrane becoming inflamed again as well as the dog getting dry eye are still there.
As cherry eye can develop at any time and the cause is unknown, prevention is almost impossible. The pet owner can only hope to be lucky enough to catch the formation of it as soon as possible. The eyelid will appear red and the dog will be irritated by it. If caught soon enough, the antibiotic and steroid treatments may work, saving you an average of a couple of hundred dollars at best. If surgery is the only option, speak to the vet about which procedure would work best for your dog. The prices of the different surgery options are not that drastic and the pocket technique seems to be by far the best one available at this time.