Q: We adopted a mixed breed puppy from a shelter. He looks like he is part pit bull terrier. Recently he has a pink growth in the corner of his eye closest to his nose. It just suddenly appeared with no injury that we know about. It has not grown any larger, but he tries to rub it on the carpet. Is this a tumor and should we be concerned?
A: What you are describing is called a “cherry eye.” It is a prolapse of the third eyelid’s tear gland. The third eyelid is a somewhat opaque membrane that is located in the corner of the eye near the nose. This membrane comes out over the eye from the lower corner of the eye to protect it. When animals are sick, sleepy, stressed or in a dusty environment, the membrane can cover the eye for protection.
The gland behind or under this membrane is called the third eyelid gland and it serves to provide tears to moisten the eye during normal conditions. When it prolapses or pops out abnormally, it looks like what you are describing. It can be a medium pink to a more reddish color due to inflammation. Thus it gets the name “Cherry Eye.”
The fact that it comes out of the pocket behind the third eye allows it to contact the air and become irritated. This results in the more red coloration due to inflammation. The worst-case scenario is that it may irritate the surface of the eye and make it uncomfortable for the pet. This may cause him to rub it on the carpet to try to relieve it.
Cherry eye is more common in certain breeds such as English Bulldogs, cocker spaniels, pit bulls, Shi Tzus and other breeds with a pushed in face. It may have a hereditary cause resulting in a weakness of the tissue holding it in place. Other things that irritate the eye such as dirt, wind or grass in the eye may cause it to swell and prolapse. This can happen in any breed, and even in cats, although this condition rarely occurs in cats.
Occasionally cherry eye will cure itself and go back behind the third eyelid. Your veterinarian will, as a first step, want to use an anti-inflammatory eye drop to try and get it to heal on its own. The odds are not good, however, and more commonly occurs in younger puppies. Some glands can pop out and return on their own. This chronicity usually ends up with the gland out permanently at some time.
Surgery to correct cherry eye is a fairly routine procedure. A pouch is created behind the third eyelid, the gland is stuffed into the pouch and the pouch sewn shut. Thus the gland cannot prolapse again. The entire procedure takes about half an hour and your pet goes home the same day. Normally an Elizabethan collar is placed around the neck for 7-10 days while it heals to prevent scratching and tearing out the surgery until it heals. Once it is healed, there is no discomfort and it does not prolapse again. It also is fully functional in the pouch.
Many years ago the treatment was simply to cut out the prolapsed gland. We quickly learned this creates another condition called “dry eye.” This gland is responsible for secreting more than 50 percent of the tears that lubricate the eye. Thus removal is absolutely not recommended. If removed, the dry eye is a painful condition that requires expensive medication. Eye drops are required for the rest of the life of the pet. A specialty surgery can help, but again, it is very expensive. Ask to have the gland tucked in so it can do its job and your pet will thank you for it.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.