Cherry Eye in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and FAQs

Cherry eye, also known as nictitans gland prolapse or prolapse of the third eyelid gland, is a condition that commonly affects cats, particularly certain breeds. It’s a noticeable condition characterized by the protrusion of the gland of the third eyelid, resulting in a red, cherry-like appearance. While it may not necessarily cause discomfort in its early stages, it can lead to complications if left untreated. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for cherry eye in cats is crucial for cat owners to ensure their feline friends’ ocular health.

Cherry Eye or Third Eyelid Anatomy 


Cherry eye refers to the prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid, also known as the nictitans gland or the gland of the haw. This condition can occur in cats of any age or breed, although it is more commonly observed in certain breeds such as Persians, Burmese, and Himalayans. While the exact cause of cherry eye remains unknown, it is believed to be associated with a weakness in the connective tissue that supports the gland.

Etiology of Cherry Eye in cats:

  • The exact etiology of cherry eye in cats is not fully understood. However, it is thought to be related to genetic predisposition, as certain breeds are more prone to the condition.
  • Weakness in the connective tissue that supports the gland of the third eyelid may also contribute to its prolapse.


  • The third eyelid in cats serves to protect the eye and aid in tear production. The nictitans gland, located within the third eyelid, produces a portion of the tears that keep the eye moist and lubricated.
  • In cases of cherry eye, the gland prolapses or protrudes from its normal position, leading to a noticeable red mass in the corner of the eye.
  • This protrusion can disrupt tear production and compromise the eye’s ability to maintain proper lubrication.

Symptoms of Cherry Eye in Cats:

Recognizing the symptoms of cherry eye in cats is essential for early detection and intervention. While the condition may manifest differently in individual cats, common symptoms include:

  • Visible Red Mass: The most apparent sign of cherry eye is the protrusion of a red, fleshy mass from the inner corner of the affected eye.
  • Ocular Irritation: Cats with cherry eye may exhibit signs of ocular discomfort, such as blinking excessively, rubbing the affected eye, or pawing at their face.
  • Watery or Mucoid Discharge: Some cats may experience increased tear production or the presence of a mucoid discharge associated with cherry eye.
  • Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane covering the inner surface of the eyelids and the front of the eye, may accompany cherry eye in cats.
  • For cherry eye in dogs [click here]

Diagnosis of Cherry Eye in Cats:

Diagnosing cherry eye in cats typically involves a thorough ophthalmic examination by a veterinarian. In addition to visually assessing the protruding gland, the vet may perform tests to rule out other ocular conditions and evaluate the overall health of the affected eye. Diagnostic procedures may include:

  • Physical Examination: The vet will conduct a comprehensive physical examination, focusing on the eyes and surrounding structures.

  • Schirmer Tear Test: This test measures tear production and helps assess the eye’s lubrication status, which can be affected by cherry eye.
  • Fluorescein Staining: Fluorescein dye may be used to detect corneal abrasions or ulcers, which can occur secondary to cherry eye-related irritation.

Treatment Options for Cherry Eye in Cats:

The management of cherry eye in cats aims to alleviate discomfort, reduce the risk of complications, and preserve ocular function. Treatment options may include:

  • Medical Management: In mild cases or when surgery is contraindicated, topical medications such as lubricating eye drops or ointments may help alleviate ocular irritation and inflammation.
  • Surgical Correction: Surgical intervention, such as gland replacement or repositioning techniques, may be necessary for more severe or persistent cases of cherry eye in cats. Veterinary ophthalmologists are skilled in performing these procedures to restore normal ocular anatomy and function.

Preventive Measures and Prognosis:

While cherry eye in cats cannot always be prevented, certain measures may help reduce the risk of its occurrence or recurrence. These include:

  • Selective Breeding: Breeders should avoid breeding cats with a history of cherry eye to minimize the inheritance of predisposing genetic factors.
  • Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Routine eye examinations by a veterinarian can facilitate early detection and prompt intervention for ocular abnormalities, including cherry eye.
  • Environmental Management: Minimizing potential irritants or allergens in the cat’s environment can help reduce the risk of ocular inflammation and discomfort.

The prognosis for cats with cherry eye varies depending on the severity of the condition, the presence of complications, and the chosen treatment approach. With timely diagnosis and appropriate management, many cats can experience significant improvement in ocular comfort and function.


Cherry eye is a common ocular condition in cats that can affect their overall eye health and comfort. While the exact cause remains unclear, genetic predisposition and weakness in the connective tissue supporting the gland of the third eyelid are believed to play a role. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment, which may include surgical intervention, are essential for managing cherry eye and preventing complications. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for cherry eye, cat owners can ensure the optimal ocular health and well-being of their feline companions.


  1. Can cherry eye in cats resolve on its own? Cherry eye typically does not resolve spontaneously in cats and often requires veterinary intervention, either medical or surgical.
  2. Is cherry eye painful for cats? While cherry eye itself may not be painful, associated inflammation and irritation can cause discomfort. Prompt treatment is recommended to alleviate discomfort and prevent complications.
  3. Can cherry eye recur after treatment? In some cases, cherry eye may recur even after surgical correction. Regular veterinary follow-ups are essential to monitor for recurrence and address any concerns promptly.
  4. Are certain cat breeds more prone to cherry eye? While cherry eye can occur in any cat breed, certain breeds, such as Burmese and Persians, may have a higher predisposition due to genetic factors.
  5. Is cherry eye contagious between cats? Cherry eye is not contagious between cats. It is a non-infectious condition related to glandular and connective tissue abnormalities.

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