Great Dane with cherry eye

How to Identify and Treat Cherry Eye in Great Danes

Eye health is certainly something that tends to get overlooked, but you should be mindful of it with every dog breed. Great Danes, like many other large breeds, are susceptible to an array of health issues known to affect their eyes. If you’re like us and your Dane is the apple of your eye, you’ll be sure to notice when something goes amiss with one of theirs!

Cherry eye is a rare but possible occurrence that if caught early, can be corrected and assist in adverting more serious eye illnesses.

This eye condition is also known to effect other dog breeds such as beagles, bloodhounds, boxers, and bulldogs. However, any breed at any age is equally likely to be affected.

What is Cherry Eye?

Did you know that dogs have a third eyelid? Of course, you are aware of the ones on top and bottom of the eye, but if you look closely you can see a third eyelid in the corner of your pup’s eye. This is referred to as a nictitating membrane.

The nictitating membrane protects the eye against wind, dust, dirt and other foreign objects as they walk, eat, and play. It also has its own dedicated tear duct, the nictitans gland. Making is responsible for producing the majority of moisture for the eye. Keeping your dogs’ eyes lubricated and free of debris is a major component towards maintaining eye health and keeping other ailments at bay.

Cherry eye happens when the ligaments and connective tissues around the gland are damaged or begin to weaken and the gland starts to protrude onto the eyeball, giving a bright red, cherry-like appearance.

How to Identify Cherry Eye

Cherry eye is pretty easy to identify—it’s pretty much in the name! You can tell if your Great Dane has it if there is a bright pink swollen lump extending from the side of the eye onto the eye ball.

The red swelling mass is actually the gland that normally sits on the inside of the dog’s eyelid. While in its normal position, the gland produces tear fluids that help lubricate the eye and protect it from over drying and scratching on the cornea.  

This ailment can be seen in either just one or both eyes. It should be noted that if it befalls one eye, it usually doesn’t take long for the other to start to develop the same issue.

The cornea can also start to become red as a result of the displaced gland rubbing against the surface of the eye, so be sure to be weary of any redness in your Dane’s eyes as it may be a sign they can be developing cherry eye.

Other signs of cherry eye can include watery or thick discharge from the eye, redness in the lining of their eyelid, pawing or scratching at the eyes, or the more obvious red or pink bulge in the corner of the eye.

Even though the condition looks severe, dogs usually don’t experience any pain from this condition. However, it is advised that you take immediate action if you believe your dog to have this—get your Dane examined by your vet as soon as you notice the out-of-place gland since the longer it is exposed, the more damage can be caused.

Causes of Cherry Eye

It is not fully known what precisely causes cherry eye to take place.

What we do know and believe to be the leading cause of cherry eye is weak tissues surrounding the third eyelid gland causing it to slip out and sit on top of the eyeball while exposing it to air and potential grime and obstructions.

Is it contagious?

Cherry eye is not contagious, but it is known to be an inherited trait for some breeds. If your Dane has a history of cherry eye, it is advised that you refrain from breeding them in hopes of halting that gene from being passed on to their puppies.

While this doesn’t count as contagious, it’s also important to point out that dogs who have had cherry eye in one eye are at a higher risk for developing it in the second eye as well.

Treatment Options

Home remedies

One popular and often effective route to fix cherry eye is to massage it back into place yourself. Timing and severity of the issue is critical for this remedy to work. The longer the gland is left untreated, the less likely massage will be able to restore it to its original place.

To do this, you can use a warm damp cloth to sooth the affected eye. After a few moments of placing the cloth and allowing it to warm the area and promote tear production, you can start to gently and slowly massaging the area where the gland is protruded.

With soft pressure, move your thumb repeatedly over the eyelid starting from the center of the closed eye, bringing it back towards the center of their nose. Note that the direction should be both downward and diagonal. Keep massaging until you feel the gland get sucked back into the pocket underneath the eyelid. You can keep your dog’s eyes lubricated by adding false tears during the process.

If you attempt to massage the gland back into place and it pops out soon after, it may be a sign of complete detachment of the anchoring tissues and ligaments and surgery may be required.

Other options before surgery can include steroid ointments or antibiotics to help reduce swelling. Seek veterinarian advice if your dog’s gland shows no signs of improvement after these trying these solutions.

Surgical Correction

If your pup has a projecting gland that can’t be solved by home remedies, corrective surgery may be an option.

There are two routes of procedures that can reposition the gland back into its rightful place: tacking and pocketing.

The first technique involves stitching the gland under the membrane that covers the skull. This is a great solution once the sutures take hold. However, if you choose to go this route, be aware that this method may require repeat surgery.

The alternative course of pocketing involves creating a fold in the membrane of the third eyelid and stitching the gland back into its original position, allowing for more eye movement.

A final option for surgery involves the partial or complete removal of the gland. However, this is not recommended since the third eyelid gland makes up to 40% of tear film and is important for keeping eye moisturized. While medications can help to remediate dry eye, removal still seems like a less than ideal route.

Recovery from cherry eye surgery

As with all surgeries, there will be inflammation after the operation. However, this usually only last 1-2 weeks before returning to its normal appearance. During that time your veterinarian will likely have provided an ointment and antibiotic to help prevent infection and aid healing.

Unless you speak Dane, they’ll probably also require that your dog wear an Elizabethan collar during the recovery phase to prevent them from scratching their eye(s). Doing so could increase the risk of infection and affect sutures or the other corrective measures performed in the surgery.

How much do cherry eye treatments cost?

If we’re talking about the home-based massage approach, then we’ve got some great news for you. Aside from a little time and TLC it’s completely free! Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the surgical approaches.

As with all veterinary care, the cost can vary so we’ll be sharing approximate amounts. The range for the tacking and pocketing approaches typically range between $250 – $1,000. The higher end being generally applicable only to the most complex of cases. Aside from the cost, the other big downside here is that the surgery isn’t guaranteed to permanently fix the problem. It could re-appear and lead to compounding costs with repeat surgeries.

Although this option is the least commonly used, the gland removal approach typically runs between $100 – $400.

What happens if cherry eye goes untreated?

Although you are already probably aware of all the health problems that can befall your Great Dane, what you do and how fast you act when you notice something wrong is what counts the most.

Take your pup for a vet visit as soon as you notice or suspect that their gland has emerged. The longer the gland is prolapsed, the greater the risk he has of developing associated eye issues.

Also, if left untreated, the gland may swell larger and larger the longer it is exposed and start to obstruct your dog’s vision and become a source of infection.

Conclusion

By the looks of it, cherry eye comes off as a severe condition. But Great Dane owners can rest easy since the disorder is virtually painless for the dog plus it is easy to identify and can be fixed with simple home remedies or a quick trip to the vet.

It’s best to catch this condition early on. It is strongly advised that you get a vet’s opinion as soon as you suspect their gland has protruded. If left untreated, you can expose your dog to a multitude of other health risks involving their eyes. For other potential sources of red eyes, take a look at our article covering the other common conditions responsible for red eyes in Great Danes.

Here’s looking at you and your dog’s eye health! 😉

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