Animal Health Center  >  All Things Animal  >  Health Concerns  >  Eyes
NJ Veterinary Medical Association
390 Amwell Road, Suite 402
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Phone:  908-281-0918
Fax:  908-450-1286

Health Concerns: Eyes

Dear Veterinarian:
When I woke up this morning, my cocker spaniel had a big red swollen mass in her eye. It wasn't there last night and it doesn't seem to bother her at all. What is it and what should I do?

Dear Pet Owner:
Almost all mammals, except people and pigs, have a third eye lid, which is a thin pink membrane that is normally hidden in the corner of the eye. It also goes by the names of the nictitans, the nictitating membrane and in some parts of the country as the haw. It serves several functions, the most important are for protection and lubrication. The nictitans has within it a T-shaped piece of cartilage to help it maintain its shape and a gland that is responsible for 40% of the normal tear production. For sometimes unknown reasons, the gland can become swollen and pop out of its normal location, looking like a cherry. It rotates over the top edge of the membrane until it is easily visible. The condition can occur in any breed at any age but is most often observed in young Cocker Spaniels and commonly in Beagles and Chihuahuas.

The current recommended treatment for this condition is surgery to anchor (via suturing) the gland back into the third eye lid. This allows for good cosmetic and functional results. In the past, some veterinarians had surgically removed the gland. However, it was observed that following this type of surgery, some dogs developed a condition known as “Dry Eye” from insufficient lubrication of the cornea. This in turn could lead to a lifelong problem of infection, irritation and potentially blindness for the eye.

Occasionally, cherry eye is mild and responds to the use of prescription eye drops. It is also sometimes associated with conjunctivitis and irritation of the cornea. It is important that you take your dog to the veterinarian right away to see what the best course of action would be for your dog.


Dear Veterinarian:
My older Shi Tzu, Ming, has very thick mucus which almost glues his eyelids shut. I am constantly wiping it out, but later it's back again. I think he can't see as well as he did before, too. I tried allergy eye drops that I bought in the store, but that isn't helping much. What else can I do for him?

Dear Pet Owner:
There is a good possibility that Ming is suffering from a disease called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or “dry eye”. His production of tears is low, and the tears are thicker than they should be. Consequently, there is not enough moisture to sweep the eye clean when he blinks. The eyes become inflamed and secondarily infected because they don't have the protection of a good film of tears. The disease is caused by your dog's immune system, which damages the tear glands' ability to produce tears.

Your veterinarian can diagnose this by performing a Schirmer tear test. He will place a small strip of paper into the lower part of the eye and fold it out over the eyelid. He will measure how wet your dog's tears can make this paper in one minute. This gives an objective measurement of tear production, and it is not painful for your dog. The veterinarian will also do a complete eye exam to see if there are any other problems. The chronic irritation cause by KCS can also result in a brown pigment being formed on the cornea. The cornea is the clear part of the eye. If the cornea becomes brown, your dog may not be able to see.

If this is the case, there is a treatment. Eye ointment or drops containing the drug cyclopsorine can be prescribed. This medicine helps to reverse the immune system's effect on the eye. In many cases, there will be adequate tear production, and the pigment on the cornea will start to go away. Your dog will be much more comfortable. This medicine is normally used for the rest of the dog's life.

There are milder forms of KCS, too. Your veterinarian will do a tear test whenever he suspects that a dog's chronic eye problems come from a lack of tears

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