Cocker Spaniel Cherry Eye: Everything You Need to Know

July 17, 2022

Cocker Spaniels make a wonderful addition to any home and a brilliant family dog. However, prospective Cocker owners need to be prepared for some breed-specific health issues and ailments. Cherry eye is one of the most common eye conditions you'll need to worry about.

This tear gland complaint is more common with certain breeds than others, with Cocker Spaniels being among the most susceptible to it. Most dogs who end up developing cherry eyes tend to have a genetic predisposition to it.

Although this swelling of the tear gland can look unsightly, it's usually nothing to worry about. However, if left untreated, the inflammation can become more pronounced and tear production can become compromised.

Thankfully, there are several ways you can tackle cherry eye. Dog-safe eye drops provide an effective remedy if the issue is caught early, while cherry eye surgery can be deployed to handle more serious prolapsed gland problems.

Looking to pre-empt cherry eye problems? Our guide outlines everything dog owners need to know about this common Cocker Spaniel complaint.

What is Cherry Eye?

Cherry eye is a fairly common disorder that affects cats and dogs. Technically, cherry eye refers to a prolapse of the nictitating membrane. This is often called the third eyelid, which sits within the lower eyelid.

In dogs, this extra eyelid provides added protection for the eye. This membrane not only protects the eye during fights and foraging, but it's also responsible for tear secretion.

Obviously, a swollen tear gland needs addressing. An afflicted dog will almost certainly experience dry eye and general discomfort. In severe cases, cherry eye can lead to infections and severe pain.

Cherry eye can develop in one eye or both. Many dog owners panic when the telltale signs of the disorder appear. At first glance, the fleshy mass can be mistaken for a tumour.

However, don't assume the worst if your dog's eye is inflamed. You're almost certainly dealing with an eyelid gland issue, rather than anything cancerous. If the issue requires surgery for complete removal and replacement of the affected gland, dogs can be restored to good health in a matter of weeks.

Are Cocker Spaniels Prone to Getting Cherry Eye?

Sadly, Cocker Spaniels are one of the worst-affected dog breeds when it comes to cherry eye. In fact, only Neapolitan Mastiffs, Lhasa Apsos and English Bulldogs have higher instances of the condition. Although cherry eye can occur in all Cocker varieties, it affects American Cocker Spaniels in the vast majority of cases.

Why are Cocker Spaniels more prone to cherry eye? Most cases of cherry eye arise in smaller dogs with shorter muzzles and a squashed nose. Other breeds at a high risk of developing cherry eye include Beagles, Boston Terriers and Shih Tzus.

If you're thinking about purchasing a Cocker Spaniel or welcoming a Cocker pup into the family, you'll need to start thinking about cherry eye. Investing in pet insurance is advised if you want to ensure you're covered against any eventuality.

If cherry eye occurs, you'll almost certainly need to consult a veterinary ophthalmologist, even if you don't end up pursuing surgical treatment.

What Causes a Cocker Spaniel to Get Cherry Eye?

As we've mentioned, many different dog breeds can suffer from cherry eye. However, Cocker Spaniels have a few more risk factors that make them more prone to third eyelid gland inflammation.

The nictitating membrane of the average Cocker Spaniel is particularly weak. These weaker fibres make it far more likely for the membrane to displace. Although genetic factors can play a part in cherry eye in dogs, other issues like allergies and conjunctivitis or cataracts can compromise eye health in general.

When this gland prolapses, it will become instantly visible to dog owners. Dogs who experience cherry eye will almost certainly suffer from decreased tear secretion. Not being able to produce tears leads to increased irritation and, in worst cases, permanent damage.

Because Cocker Spaniels are genetically predisposed to cherry eye, it's not uncommon for both eyes to be affected by the condition. To improve the quality of your dog's life, a vet can provide generally prescribed artificial tears to aid your dog's tear production. In severe cases, surgery and surgical replacement of the gland may be required.

Is cherry eye contagious? Thankfully, this is one thing you don't have to worry about. Although a prolapsed third eyelid isn't particularly comfortable for the afflicted animal, there's no chance of it spreading to other dogs or cats sharing your home.

Cherry Eye Symptoms

The good news is that cherry eye in dogs is fairly easy to spot. The hallmark of this disorder is the inflamed third eyelid itself. If you've never encountered the issue before, a prolapsed eyelid looks very much like a cherry pit.

However, this is by no means the only symptom. Although cherry eye inhibits tear secretion, the inflammation can temporarily increase tear production. Furthermore, it's almost certain that your dog will experience dry eye complaints.

Even if these signs aren't visible, there are other giveaways your dog is suffering from cherry eye. Are they blinking more than usual? This is a natural response to dry eye sensation.

Cherry eye in dogs isn't something you can realistically treat with home remedies. Ultimately, you'll need to consult a professional to provide you with an effective treatment plan. A veterinary ophthalmologist will carry out a Schirmer tear test to determine tear production levels, as well as inspect for other eye problems.

How is Cherry Eye Treated in Cocker Spaniels?

If your dog is showing signs of cherry eye, you should consult your vet. However, for mild cases, there are a couple of home remedies you can try to alleviate symptoms and reduce inflammation.

The massage method can prove particularly effective in mild cases. Simply close your dog's eyes and then push gently on the prolapsed gland itself. In simple terms, you're trying to push the gland back where it should be.

The massage method isn't an instant fix. Most dog owners will have to repeat the process several times before having any success with it. Using warm compresses can be useful, helping bring down swelling and ease your dog's discomfort.

Topical Treatments

If cherry eye is the result of an infection, a vet may prescribe topical medications to take care of the problem. Antibiotic drops will resolve the root infection, while eye drops can help compensate for a lack of tears.

Surgical Removal

Sometimes, cherry eyes may need to be surgically removed. There are a few different surgery options available for dogs suffering from a prolapsed tear gland.

One of the least invasive surgical approaches involves tucking the gland back into place. Veterinary surgeons will insert a permanent stitch that gently forces the gland back in place and keeps it there. However, stitches can sometimes break and this method isn't ideal for dogs suffering other eye complaints.

If tucking surgery isn't an option, a vet may attempt the pocket technique. Here, vets remove a small amount of tissue around the eye, allowing the dog's eye to return to a normal position. Although effective at treating cherry eyes, this is a fairly new surgical approach that might not be offered by your vet.

In extreme cases, cherry eyes may need to be surgically removed. This technique involves removing the afflicted gland entirely, although doing so severely compromises the volume of tears the eyelid gland produces. You'll need to use eye drops daily to compensate for the decreased tear production.

What Happens After Surgery?

Surgery typically takes around half hour. Once it's done, your dog will bounce back fairly quickly. However, post-operative care is crucial to prevent your pooch from scratching and irritating the gland as it heals.

Your vet will recommend a cone or Elizabethan collar to keep your dog from scratching at the eye as it heals. You may need to remove it while your dog drinks and eats, so you'll need to monitor them at all times. This can prove demanding, but bear in mind that the healing process should take no more than two weeks.

Can I Prevent My Dog from Getting Cherry Eye?

Sadly, there's no real way of preventing cherry eye in dogs. Although American Cocker Spaniels are prone to this disorder, there's no guarantee your dog will actually end up suffering from it. Ultimately, you need to focus on monitoring for signs and symptoms to catch the issue early.

Don't Be Deterred by Cherry Eye.

Just about every dog breed is prone to some ailment or another. Don't let cherry eye put you off choosing a Cocker Spaniel as your next dog. Cockers make excellent family pets and are generally quite a healthy breed, with an average lifespan of 10-14 years depending on the type of Cocker Spaniel you have.

Provided you're feeding your dog the right diet and exercising them regularly, your Cocker Spaniel should enjoy a long and healthy life. Even if cherry eye becomes an issue, surgical solutions are minimally invasive and recovery time is brief.

Allan  Noble
Hi, my name is Allan! I am the owner of Spaniel Advisor and I've got over seven years experience of owning Spaniels.  
I hope this article was helpful for you! 
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