My Dog Has a Problem with His Third Eyelid

    One major difference between your eyes and those of your dog is that your dog has a third, protective lid. Under normal circumstances that membrane, referred to as the third eyelid, rests passively beneath your dog's lower lid. It should rise to cover the globe of the eye only under extreme circumstances when the eyeball retracts or gets pushed back in its socket. So, if you ever notice that third lid rising above the rim of your dog's lower eyelid, consider it an indication that something is wrong.

    That third eyelid also contains a secretory a gland that helps lubricate the eye. Usually the gland is hidden beneath your dog's lower eyelid. But if it protrudes and you can see it, that's called cherry eye. This usually looks like a red, bulbous swelling arising from the lower corner of your dog's eye, closest to his muzzle. It's most common in the brachycephalic breeds like the pug, Pekingese, shih tzu, etc., because of their bulging eyes. These breeds tend to have less physical space for the gland, forcing it up and out.

    What to Look For

    Start by conducting a typical eye examination like the one outlined in “My Dog's Eyes Are Red”. Be as thorough as possible, looking for signs of irritation, asymmetry, or abnormal structures or appearance. As part of this exam, you will force the third eyelid of your dog's other eye to rise passively and you can use it for comparative purposes.

    What to Do

    Now, ask yourself the following questions to figure out how to proceed:

    • Has your dog recently suffered any blunt trauma to the head? If a blow to the head has resulted in a protruding third eyelid, there is a good chance that bruising and/or inflammation are responsible for the problem. Try applying a cold compress for a few minutes up to thirty minutes then check the eye again. This may solve the problem.
    • Does the eye appear to be fine in every other respect? If it does and the other eye is healthy, try a closer examination of the way your dog's eyes respond to light. See if both eyes react similarly to light. If they don't, there may be some form of cranial lesion responsible for the abnormality. This would be an appropriate time to seek the advice of a veterinary ophthalmologist.
    • Is your dog having a difficult time keeping that eye open? If your dog is squinting with the affected eye, particularly in direct light, it could mean that the eye has been injured and the third lid is doing its best to cover the injury and promote healing. This will work to promote scar tissue formation, but also cause a resulting blind spot. An ophthalmologist will be much more likely to solve the problem and to preserve your dog's full vision.
    • Is there any discharge from the eye? An accumulation of yellowish to green material in the eye periodically each day is a good indication that your dog's eye is infected. Try treating the eye by following the directions outlined in “How to Flush and Treat Your Dog's Itchy, Irritated Eyes” [not available online]. If your treatment is not successful within three days, see your vet for a thorough eye exam or a referral.

    When to Get the Vet

    If both of your dog's third eyelids are showing, you will need to see your veterinarian right away.