Cherry eye is a relatively common condition that afflicts many French Bulldogs. The medical name for it is a prolapsed nictitans gland. It is very unpleasant to look at and will be uncomfortable for your Frenchie. It can be treated with both surgical and non-surgical options.
But what exactly is it and how do French Bulldogs get cherry eye? And more importantly, what can you do about it and is there an easy fix aside from surgery?
In this guide, I will lay out the basics of the condition based on conversations I’ve had with our own vet. It will include the symptoms, potential issues and the treatments that can be done to correct it.
What is cherry eye?
While we humans only have two eyelids (an upper and lower lid), dogs actually have three eyelids: an upper, lower, but also a third eyelid that comes up from underneath their lower eyelid when closed.
This third eyelid designed to give their eyes an extra layer of protection, as well as producing tears to wash the eye out and keep it clear of sties and irritants.
Humans used to have a third eyelid, known as the nictitating membrane, but this has since become obsolete, noticeable only in the small pink lump seen in the corner of your eye near your nose.
In dogs, however, this eyelid is still useable, acting like a windscreen wiper and closing along with the other lids. Because this third eyelid only usually closes when the other lids close, many dog owners don’t even know that their dogs have one at all!
And this is where French Bulldog cherry eye problems occur; the gland in the third eyelid prolapses, showing up as a reddish and inflamed lump at the corner of the dog’s eye.
It is not only nasty to look at, but it also prevents the third eyelid from working properly, potentially leading to further eye problems.
How do French bulldogs get cherry eye problems?
The actual cause of cherry eye is unknown, but what we do know is that it’s more common in younger Frenchies, and puppies in particular. However, most vets and experts believe that French Bulldogs get cherry eye due to hereditary and congenital reasons.
Congenital disorders are passed down through bloodlines, meaning that the puppies of a dog with cherry eye is more likely to get it in the future.
Other reasons why Frenchies could get cherry eye can be due to them having weakness in the eye area or possibly environmental conditions that lead to allergic swelling and reactions.
What percentage of French Bulldogs get cherry eye / how common?
According to research conducted by the Royal Veterinary College (visit website), a prolapsed nictitans gland (cherry eye) occurs in 2.6% of all French Bulldogs.
The research also uncovered that cherry eye was slightly more common in male Frenchies, with 2.7% occurrence compared to 2.4% in females.
What does cherry eye look like in French bulldogs?
Cherry eye is simple enough to spot and diagnose. It will be a clear and obvious red bulge in the corner of one of your dog’s eyes.
Cherry eye gets its name rather aptly from the protrusion itself. The exposed part of the third eyelid becomes lumpy, red and shiny due to exposure and irritation, resembling a cherry.
Some cases of French Bulldog cherry eye are bigger than others, although this can vary on a case-by-case basis and also depends on the size of the dog and the size of their eyes.
If a cherry eye is particularly large, it could end up obscuring part of your Frenchie’s vision, as well as causing eye irritation and discomfort.
French Bulldog cherry eye symptoms
The symptoms of cherry eye are mostly very obvious; the red cherry eye itself being the biggest indicator. It will start to appear as a reddish lump protruding from the edge of the eye that is often inflamed, giving it its name.
Depending on the size of the prolapsed nictitans gland, it could easily cover a large area of the eye or be relatively small. Regardless of its size, it can cause major discomfort and distress for your French Bulldog.
You may also notice your Frenchie dog pawing at and scratching their face, as well as shaking their head in an attempt to dislodge the thing they can feel in their eye. Although this won’t do any good as it is a part of their eye that they are registering and cannot be flicked away like a bit of dirt could.
As this condition prevents the third eye from working properly, you might also notice your Frenchie’s eyes becoming irritated from a reduction in tear film, as well as them squinting more and producing more tears in other areas of their eye to accommodate.
Here are those symptoms and signs to look out for:
- Pawing and scratching at the affected eye area.
- Red and dry looking eye.
- Excessive squinting and blinking.
- Red bulge covering a portion of your Frenchie’s eye cornea.
How do you fix a French Bulldog cherry eye?
How you treat Frenchie cherry eye will depend on the size of the condition. Fixing a cherry eye can require surgery in the most serious cases, with ointment and massage working for less severe conditions.
Treatments for cherry eye
There are a few different ways of treating cherry eye, depending on its size. Some treatments are more invasive than others, although which one is best for your Frenchie will be up to you and the recommendation of your vet.
For cases of cherry eye that have become inflamed (being made worse by pawing) vets can prescribe anti-inflammatory treatments such as ointment or antibiotics that will reduce the swelling down to a manageable size that also reduces your dog’s discomfort.
However, the only way of actually getting rid of the cherry eye completely is through surgery.
The surgery usually results in the vet returning the gland back to its normal place inside the eyelid. This is done by either stitching the gland back into place, creating a new pocket in the eyelid to contain the gland or removing it altogether.
This, however, is a last-resort solution as removing the gland altogether can result in your Frenchie’s eyes becoming dried out because of an underproduction of tears to keep the eye hydrated and washed out. If the tear gland has to be removed, your dog will have to be treated long-term with artificial tears to prevent further eye conditions.
The longer you leave cherry eye, the harder it will be to correct; so, the sooner you bring your dog in to receive treatment the better.
How do you massage a cherry eye?
A non-surgical treatment often touted as a home remedy for cherry eye is massaging it back into place. This is seen as an easier, cheaper and less stressful alternative to surgery.
This usually only works for cases caught very early on as the membrane is still strong enough to contain the gland once it is returned to place. Over time the connecting tissue will grow weaker and be unable to hold the gland in place.
Because of this, it is highly recommended that you go and get your dog checked out by a vet as soon as possible in order to get the best recovery outcome.
The technique for massaging cherry eye uses a combination of things, including massages, compresses and eye drops, that help you to encourage the prolapsed gland to return to its normal place.
This is done by applying warm compresses and light pressure to the lower eyelid, pushing towards the nose, to pop the gland back into place. The gland may pop out again later on, although some owners have found it returns to place permanently after one or two tries.
Always be extremely careful when attempting this, as your dog’s eyes are very delicate and can be permanently damaged if this is done incorrectly or too roughly.
If you have noticed that your Frenchie is suffering from cherry eye, take them to see your vet immediately and ask them about treatment options, as well as advice about massaging if you are worried about causing damage.
Disclaimer: Please only ever attempt massage after asking your vet how to do it properly. It can be risky if you don’t do it correctly and safely.
What happens if cherry eye goes left untreated?
As previously mentioned, leaving a cherry eye go untreated for a long period of time can result not only in it being harder to treat through both home remedy and surgical options.
The connecting tissue between the gland and the eyelid will gradually grow weaker, resulting in the eyelid no longer being strong enough to contain the gland without it prolapsing again later on.
You should not leave cherry eye go untreated altogether either, as this can result in further complications that cause your dog discomfort.
Not only this, but the fact that your Frenchie’s third eyelid isn’t operating properly can leave their eye dried out and susceptible to infections and other conditions that the third eyelid would help protect it against.
Can cherry eye in dogs cause blindness?
While cherry eye itself doesn’t usually cause further conditions itself, it can leave the eye open to developing further eye conditions and complications that can result in infections, dry eyes and even blindness.
As the prolapsed gland helps produce around a third of the tears needed to keep the eye lubricated and clear of debris, this reduction in tear production can leave your dog vulnerable to conditions such as KCS (keratoconjunctivitis), otherwise known as ‘dry eye’.
This can lead to reduced vision and even total blindness in the affected eye. This condition is usually a life-long one, but you can help prevent it from occurring in your dog by treating cherry eye as soon as you spot it.
If you are worried about your Frenchie’s cherry eye or concerned about them developing KCS, please speak to your vet for further information and treatment options.
French Bulldog cherry eye surgery & treatment costs
When caught early on, massaging the eye to return the gland to its normal position may only cost you a small amount in terms of antibiotics to reduce swelling and eye drops to lubricate the eye.
In more serious cases where the cherry eye needs to be fixed by surgery, it could cost around $250 to $300 as a starting point, although again this cost can rise depending on your vet and the severity of the condition.
Additionally, this surgery may have to be performed again if the prolapse occurs again.
While it is a last-case resort, the removal of the prolapse is sometimes required if the gland is unable to be held in place by the eyelid. This usually costs from $100 to $400, although this can increase depending on what further treatment you use to keep your Frenchie’s eyes hydrated (such as artificial tears, tear gland operations and additional medication).
However, these prices are only guidelines and can vary depending on your vet. For a more personalised estimate on the cost of surgery and other treatment options, please speak to your vet.
French Bulldogs are one of the breeds most prone to the cherry eye condition, along with other bulldog breeds, Cavaliere King Charles Spaniels, Pugs and Terries.
Our Frenchie has never had this condition, and the guidance on this page has been researched having spoken to our vet and other Frenchie owners – you should always consult with your own trusted vet for advice.
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If you like this article, you might also be interested in these other posts about your Frenchie’s eyes.
- Why does my Frenchie have red eyes?
- Why does my dog wink back at me?
- Do Frenchie puppy eye change from blue?
Image credits: Header image from Joel Mills on Wikipedia. Additional image from Steph Loughlin on Wikipedia.