Attack of the Blob

So you wake up one peaceful morning to find that all heck has broken loose in your dog’s eye. A shiny, swollen glob of pink is protruding right out of it, making you queasy and frightened about the prospect of a horrible eyeball tumor. The dog does not seem to be taking this very seriously, but someone needs to! Should you rush him to the emergency vet? Will he ever see normally again? And how much is this going to cost?

Behold, the hideous cherry eye. The object we are seeing when a dog gets “cherry eye” is his tear gland, a vitally important part of the third eyelid. Third eyelid...? That’s the smooth membrane that starts to creep across his eye when he gets really drowsy. Its tear gland is supposed to nestle quietly behind it, churning out moisture to lubricate and protect the delicate tissues inside the lids. Nobody knows why that gland just gets all puffed up one day and slips out of its little pocket. But once it’s caught a whiff of freedom, it never, ever wants to go back.
Cherry eye itself isn’t painful. Most dogs won’t even realize they have it. For a long time, we thought it was mainly a cosmetic nuisance that could be quickly (and cheaply) resolved by simply snipping out the offending bulge (under anesthesia, of course). However, research eventually showed that many of these eyes would go dry months to years after the surgery, despite the presence of other tear glands in various locations around the eye. Dry eye is a painful and progressive condition. Without normal tears, the crystal clear, smooth cornea becomes vulnerable to injury and turns dark brown. A sticky, crusty residue accumulates rapidly, gluing the upper and lower lids together. It turns out that cherry eyes frequently end up going dry eventually, even if they are just left alone. The safest thing for that exposed tear gland is to promptly and securely tuck it back into its original position, without removing any portion of it.

There are several surgical techniques for replacing tear glands. They are all much more intricate (and significantly more costly) than the old snip-snip. You can help protect your investment by providing the proper after-care. For about 3 weeks after surgery, the patient will need daily eye drops and a funnel collar (and he will need to actually wear it). He must be restricted from rough play and prevented from chewing on toys. He should be switched over to a harness and discouraged from any barking behaviors. Then, it’s business as usual. On rare occasion, the eye goes dry anyway, despite everyone’s best effort. On the whole, though, these newer procedures allow a healthier eye for the remainder of the dog’s lifespan.

If your dog develops a cherry eye, don’t panic… but don’t ignore it, either. Get this addressed promptly to avoid ongoing damage. Procrastination can yield a dry and painful eye that needs medicine applied several times a day for life. Wouldn’t you prevent that if you could?

Dr. M.S. Regan