Q: A bright red mass suddenly popped up at the inner corner of our cocker spaniel’s lower eyelid and disappeared the next day. Her name is Princess Leia, and this mass certainly detracted from her regal beauty. What was it? Will it reappear?
A: It sounds like Princess Leia had a cherry eye, a condition that may recur and affect both eyes.
Dogs have a third eyelid, called the nictitans, that provides additional protection by covering the eye beneath the upper and lower eyelids. You may see Leia’s nictitans as a white membrane that slides up over her eyeball just as she’s falling asleep.
The nictitans holds a tear gland that isn’t well anchored in some breeds, notably cockers, beagles, Boston terriers, bulldogs, Lhasa apsos, Pekingese dogs and shih tzus.
When the tear gland pops up and out of its normal hidden position on the nictitans, its blood supply is compromised and it dries out, turning it red. That’s the “cherry” you saw in the corner of Leia’s eye.
Cherry eye is most common in dogs under two years of age. It isn’t painful, but it can diminish tear production and damage the surface of the eye. So if Leia develops cherry eye again, make an appointment with your veterinarian, who can anchor the tear gland back into its normal position.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.