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The cat is examined by the veterinarian. Vet lights up with the slit lamp in the eye of the pet.

What Is Cherry Eye in Cats?

Cats have three eyelids and “cherry eye” is a term used to describe a prolapse (slipping) of the third eyelid. The two main eyelids are responsible for holding the eye in the socket and covering the cornea. The third eyelid, also known as the nictitating membrane, sits in the corner of the eye and covers the eye diagonally. This third eyelid is responsible for producing 30 percent of the tear film for the eye. The other part of the tear film is produced by the outer eyelids and the conjunctiva (the membrane on the inside of the eyelids).

The third eyelid is held in place by fibers, and for some cats, if these fibers are weak, the tear gland will protrude (stick out). This is often referred to as a cherry eye. Cherry eyes can occur in any breed of cat but are more common in Persian and Burmese cats.

Symptoms of Cherry Eye in Cats

As a pet parent, you may notice a thin film—or a small pink swelling—in the corner of your cat’s eye. In some situations, you may also notice some clear or mucus-like discharge from the eye. If this is causing your cat discomfort, it will rub the affected eye.

Causes of Cherry Eye in Cats

The protrusion of the third eyelid in cats typically occurs from a weakness in the fibers that attach the third eyelid to the inside of the globe. There are other conditions including the cartilage of the eyelid rolling out, or third eyelid mass that could look similar in appearance to cherry eye. It’s important to consult with your veterinarian to confirm the specific condition.  

How Veterinarians Diagnose Cherry Eye in Cats

To diagnose this condition, your veterinarian will do a thorough ocular (eye) examination. They will confirm if the structure that is enlarged is the third eyelid and rule out other issues such as an ocular mass, swelling or protrusion of the conjunctiva.

Common ocular tests performed include:

  • Tonometry: This is a diagnostic test that involves checking the pressure of the eye. Your veterinarian will usually apply an eye drop to numb the surface of the eye and then a small pen is gently tapped against the surface to measure the pressure inside the eye.

  • Schirmer’s test: This is a test that helps determine if your cat has developed dry eye secondary to the cherry eye. The test involves your veterinarian placing a small test strip of paper in the eye and measuring the tear production in each eye over the course of a minute.

Treatment of Cherry Eye in Cats

The treatment for cats with cherry eye is surgical correction. If a diagnosis of cherry eye is made and is found to be secondary to weakened attachment fibers, the sooner it is corrected surgically, the better chance the gland has to maintain its normal function. The longer the cherry eye is present, the more concerned your vet will be about inflammation and further trauma your cat can cause to the gland.

One of the surgical techniques involves creating a pocket in the conjunctival tissues to place the tear gland inside and sew the pocket closed to keep the third eyelid in place.

If dry eye is diagnosed, secondary to the presence of cherry eye, your veterinarian may prescribe eye medications to help with this or to manage any conjunctivitis (pink eye) that may also be present.  

Recovery and Management of Cherry Eye in Cats

Recovery time following surgery is approximately one week. There may be some mild swelling following surgery, but after a week it should disappear. The most common complication is that the third eyelid gland may become prolapsed again. It is important to let your veterinarian know right away in case a second procedure is required, or if a referral to a veterinary eye specialist is needed.

Cherry Eye in Cats FAQs

Does cat cherry eye go away?

Cherry eye usually does not go away if it is due to weakened attachment fibers. Once your vet has ruled out other medical conditions contributing to protrusion of a third eyelid, the solution is a surgical correction.

What is the cost for surgery for cherry eye in cats?

The cost of any surgery is always variable based upon the clinic you take your cat to, but the average cost of cherry eye repair for one eye can be from $300-$500. Always consult with your veterinarian for appropriate treatment estimates.

Is cherry eye in cats contagious?

Cherry eye in cats is not contagious.

What happens if cherry eye in cats is left untreated?

If the cherry eye is left untreated there is the potential for issues with tear production in the affected eye, and a condition called KCS (dry eye) may develop. If this condition occurs, then your cat will need eye products to help lubricate the eye and medications to try to stimulate the tear gland.

References

  1. Paul Pion, D. V. M., and Gina Spadafori. “Veterinary Partner.” VIN.com, 8 Aug. 2017, veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951447.

  2. ‌ Mitchell, Natasha. “Feline Ophthalmology Part 2: Clinical Presentation and Aetiology of Common Ocular Conditions.” Irish Veterinary Journal, vol. 59, no. 4, 2006, www.eyevet.ie/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/feline-ophthalmology-part-21.p….

Featured Image: iStock.com/K_Thalhofer

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