“Cherry Eye”: Nictitans Gland Prolapse

A nictitans gland prolapse occurs when the tear gland located behind the third eyelid, or nictitans, flips out of position. This tear gland is responsible for 30-50% of the tears needed to lubricate the eye.


The exact cause of this condition is unknown. It is believed that there is a weakness of the fibrous attachment that holds the gland in place. The gland may become cystic and flip out of normal position. Certain breeds of dogs are prone to developing a nictitans gland prolapse; although, many other breeds may be affected. Nictitans gland prolapse is more likely to occur in younger dogs than older dogs.



Most pet owners will notice a pink tissue in the inside corner on the affected eye. Frequently, the gland will disappear and reappear without treatment before it finally remains in the abnormal position.

Commonly Affected Breeds

–        American cocker spaniel

–        English bulldog

–        Lhasa apso

–        Shar-pei

–        Giant breeds


Untreated prolapsed glands often become inflamed, cause excessive tearing and may obstruct vision. Continued inflammation of the prolapsed gland may result in decreased tear production and a dry eye syndrome. Simple gland excision may result in dry eye, especially in breeds predisposed to dry eye. For this reason, the recommended treatment is surgical replacement of the gland into its normal position rather than removal. Occasionally complications associated with nictitans gland prolapse surgery occur. Approximately 5% of dogs have recurrent gland prolapse after surgery. A repeat surgery is ecommended if this occurs. Nictitans swelling and ocular discharge is common for 5 to 7 days after surgery.

Breeding of Dogs with a Nictitans Gland Prolapse
Currently, the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) have no recommendations on restriction for breeding of dogs with nictitans gland prolapse. If there is a familial history of this condition, restrictions of breeding should be considered.

For more information on this subject, speak to the veterinarian who is treating your pet.