When the tear gland of the third eyelid pops out of position, it protrudes from behind the eyelid as a reddish mass. This prolapsed tear gland condition is commonly referred to as "cherry eye". The problem is seen primarily in young dogs, and often in certain breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel, Lhasa Apso, Shih-Tzu, Poodle, and Bulldog.
Despite its appearance, cherry eye itself is not a painful condition. However, the longer the tear gland is exposed, the more likely it will come irritated and inflamed. If your dog rubs at the eye, it could cause the gland to bleed or become infected. Furthermore, the function of the tear gland could become compromised if the gland is exposed for long periods of time.
To correct cherry eye, surgical replacement of the gland is necessary. This treatment is superior to a somewhat older technique of surgically removing the gland. The gland of the third eyelid plays an important role in maintaining normal tear production. We now know that dogs who have had the tear gland removed are predisposed to developing Dry Eye Syndrome later in life. Dry Eye Syndrome is uncomfortable for the patient, and requires the owner to administer topical medications several times a day for the remainder of the patient's life. To avoid this condition, it is preferable to tuck the tear gland back inside the third eyelid, where it can continue to function normally.
The procedure used to correct cherry eye is called a "pocket technique". In this procedure the gland is pushed back into a small pocket on the back surface of the third eyelid, and the pocket is sutured closed.