Cherry Eye (Prolapsed Third Eyelid Gland) in Cats

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4 min read

Key takeaways

Cherry eye is a colloquial term used to describe prolapse (popping out) of the gland of the third eyelid in cats.

  • Thought to be caused by weakening of the fibers that hold the gland into place
  • Once prolapsed, the third eyelid gland is visible in the inner corner of the eye, becoming bright pink or red when inflamed
  • Diagnosed via physical exam, and may be present in one or both eyes
  • Cherry eye is not common in cats - it is more often seen in young dogs
  • Besides visible exposure of the prolapsed gland, symptoms include squinting, pawing at the face and excess tear production
  • Left untreated, chronic exposure of the gland leads to decreased tear production, causing dry eye disease
  • Treatment is surgical and carries a risk of recurrence
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A closer look: Cherry Eye (Prolapsed Third Eyelid Gland) in Cats

The gland of the third eyelid is responsible for approximately 30% of total tear production. Long-term exposure of the third eyelid gland leads to decreased tear production. This, in turn, leads to a higher risk of dry eye disease (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), which causes irritation to the surface of the eye and requires life-long treatment.

Conjunctivitis occurs in some cases, making the eye appear red and irritated.

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Risk factors

Cherry eye is rare in cats, although Burmese cats, Persians, and American Shorthairs are thought to be predisposed.

Cherry eye is not an emergency, but does need to be addressed by a veterinarian. Exposure of the gland of the third eyelid leads to inflammation of the gland and a gradual decrease in tear production. Low tear production eventually leads to severe eye inflammation, discomfort, and even loss of vision.

Possible causes

Cherry eye is thought to be due to a weakening of the fibers responsible for holding the third eyelid gland in place. Certain breeds are more likely to have this fiber weakening due to genetics. Less commonly, the third eyelid gland prolapse is due to injury or inflammation.

Main symptoms

The primary symptom of cherry eye is the visible prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid. This appears as a pink or red soft-tissue mass in the inner corner of the eye. In many cases, the gland returns to its normal location spontaneously, causing the eye to appear normal again, but this is temporary.

Testing and diagnosis

Cherry eye is diagnosed via physical exam when the gland of the third eyelid is visible. Checking pressure inside the eye, staining the eye to rule out a corneal ulcer, and checking tear production help in assessing whether secondary complications are present.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment is surgical. If diagnosed in a young cat, surgical correction is often done at the time of spay or neuter while already under anesthesia. While surgical correction is not urgent, it is important to note that the longer the gland of the third eyelid is exposed, the higher the risk of long-term complications.

It is possible for prolapse to recur, even with ideal surgical technique. Oral anti-inflammatories and topical antibiotic and anti-inflammatory ointments are used post-operatively. Use of a cone to prevent injury to the eye while healing is important.

Cherry eye is a life-long condition if not corrected surgically. If surgery initially fails, referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist is often recommended.


There is no way to prevent cherry eye in cats, although selective breeding may help reduce the incidence of this potentially genetic condition. Cherry eye is not contagious.

Is Cherry Eye (Prolapsed Third Eyelid Gland) in Cats common?

Cherry eye is not common in cats.

Typical Treatment

  • Surgical correction of the placement of the prolapsed gland of the third eyelid.
  • Anti-inflammatory eye ointments
  • Antibiotic eye ointments
  • Oral anti-inflammatories

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