Eye Lash, Tarsal Gland,
Meibomian Gland & Eye Lid
Problems in Dogs
What's On This Page:

Problems and diseases of the eye lashes and lids:

Ectopic cilia
Meibomian cysts
Tarsal gland prolapse (Cherry eye)
What's a 3rd lid, haw, or nicatating membrane?

When eye lashes don't curl out nicely like they're supposed to they rub against the eye ball everytime the patient blinks causing a lot of pain and irritation.

Dr Pentlarge's article about the different kinds of eye lash problems is at your right.

More Eye Topics On Other Pages:

Eye Problems in Pets: Intro Page about eye diseases

Cataract Surgery and Lens Replacement in Dogs and Cats

Retinal Detachment

Excessive Tearing or Epiphora

Dysautonomia; a disease involving twitching of the eyes

Corneal Lesions or injuries to the surface of the eyeball


Kerratitis sicca or Dry Eye

Disorders of the Eyelashes
By Dr Pentlarge

Eyelash disorders are very common in the dog and less common in other species. When abnormally positioned hairs contact the surface of the eye, they can cause pain and injury.

Severe irritation leads to corneal ulceration and scarring.

Signs of eyelash disorders include excessive tearing, squinting, conjunctival redness, abnormal ocular discharge, pawing at the eye, and depression.

Distmichiasms is an abnormal condition in which extra eyelashes appear along the margin of the eyelid(s) where ordinarily they should not grow.

Distichiasis can occur in any breed, but there is a predisposition in the Cocker Spaniel, English Bulldog, Shih Tzu, Boston Terrier, Lhasa Apso, Golden Retriever, and Sheltie.

This condition might be inherited.

In trichiasis, hairs growing from a normal location come in contact with the surface of the eye. Trichiasis occurs when normal hairs turn inward, when an eyelid margin is turned inward (e.g., lower medial entropion), or when hairs on a facial fold touch the eye.
Trichiasis from facial folds and heavy brows occurs in breeds with very shortened noses (brachycephalics).

Ectopic cilia are abnormal hairs that are growing from the underside (conjunctival side) of the eyelid. These hairs usually cause severe pain and frequently lead to corneal ulceration.

Ectopic cilia are more difficult to identify, requiring careful examination with magnification and a bright light source.

Various procedures are used to correct the different eyelash disorders. Nasal fold trichiasis requires surgical removal of the nasal fold. Lower medial entropion with secondary trichiasis is treated with surgical eversion (rolling outward) of the inner lower eyelid or by cryosurgery. In dogs with abnormally large eyelid openings, medial entropion with trichiasis may be corrected by surgical excision of the hairs with permanent partial inner eyelid closure.

Treatment of lash problems:

Lashes that are causing irritation and eye disease are usually treated by cryosurgery and/or surgical excision. Sometimes electrolysis, electrocautery, or lasers are used to kill the hair follicle.

Cryosurgery uses extreme cold to destroy the roots of hairs, permanently removing at least 80% of treated hairs.
Cryosurgery is the treatment of choice for distichia and some forms of trichiasis. It is more successful and causes less scarring than electrolysis.
Cryosurgical treatment of eyelash disorders requires general anesthesia. Patients are then positioned under an operating microscope which provides magnification and a bright light source.

Goals of Management and Care if cryosurgery is used.

1. Swelling, redness, and mucoid to blood-tinged discharge are normal for the first 7 to 14 days after surgery. The amount of swelling ranges from mild to marked.

2.  Keep the eye clean of discharges. Discharges trap bacteria and inactivate medications. We recommend using Saline Solution and tissues to clean the eve.

3. Cryosurgery will cause a loss of pigment along the eyelid borders and occasional mild sloughing of conjunctival tissue in the treated areas. In almost all patients the pigment slowly returns over the next 6 months. However, a pink "freckle' may persist.

4. Regrowth of some hairs after cryosurgery is possible. Regrown hairs are usually softer, but if these hairs cause irritation, then the surgery should be repeated. Fortunately, the need for a second surgery for distichiasis has been uncommon.

Surgery to correct lash problems:

A lot of general veterinary practices don't have cryosurgery available and rely on surgical removal of any lashes that are causing problems.  Often this surgery simply consists of plucking the lashes our while under anesthesia.
This method is inexpensive but regrowth of the lashes is more likely.

Electrolysis, electrocautery, and lasers to correct lash problems:

I'm sorry, but I don't have any experience in these methods of lash removal.

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Notice the lashes laying on top of the eye.  Each time this dog blinks, they rub against the cornea causing irritation, discomfort, and corneal disease
These lashes are ridiculously long and some of them point down into the eye causing pain and discomfort. 
This dog has entropion.... a rolling in of the lower lid allowing the lashes of the eye to rub against the eye.  These problems are usually easy to fix with surgery.  It's rather rewarding to be able to make a pet feel so much better so easily.
Tumors and glandular cysts known as Meibomian Cysts are quite common in dogs.  Simple surgical removal is usually curative.  Meibomian glands produce the oil portion of our tears.  The interesting story of tear production is discussed in the column to your left.
Tear Production

The eye's tears are composed of three layers: oil, water and mucous.

The outermost oily layer is produced by the meibomian glands which line the edge of the eyelids.

The watery portion of the tear film is produced by the lacrimal glands under the eyebrow as well as the tarsal gland under the nicatating membrane or 3rd lid.

The mucous layer comes from microscopic goblet cells in the conjunctiva. 

With each blink, the eyelids sweep across the eye, spreading the tear film evenly across the surface. The blinking motion of the eyelids forces the tears into tiny drains found at the inner corners of the upper and lower eyelids.  These drains are called puncta (plural for punctum). 

The tear film travels from the puncta into the upper and lower canaliculus, which empty into the lacrimal sac. The lacrimal sac drains into the nasolacrimal duct which connects to the nasal passage.

This connection between the tear production system and the nose is the reason your nose runs when you cry.
Cherry Eye or Tarsal Gland Prolapse

The tarsal gland is a lacrimal or water producing tear gland attached to the inside of the 3rd lid (nicatating membrane) of dogs and cats and is reponsible for about 30% of the total tear production for the eye. (The other 70% of the water portion of tears comes from another tarsal gland under the upper eye lid.)

Sometimes, for reasons not well understood, this gland will become irritated, swell, and pop out of it's normal placement on the inside of the 3rd eye lid and be visible in the corner of the eye.  Luckily it doesn't seem to hurt much but it does cause some irritation and it blocks the normal flow of tears to the nasal passages so that the tears spill over onto the cheek.  It's also unsightly, and when it's prolapsed it may not produce tears effectively which might lead to inadequate tear production leading to "dry eye". .... so the problem needs to be corrected.

Since there are multiple tear producing lacrimal glands in the eye,  inexpensive surgical removal works well most of the time but with this technique, there is a small risk that the surface of the eye will become dry and damaged due to the reduction in tear production.  And since tear production decreases in old age, the risk of dry eye or kerratis sicca increases as the dog gets older.

So, surgical replacement of the gland sutured into a surgical pocket inside the 3rd lid is considered the best procedure and this is what most vets recommend.

One big thing to note is that it is VERY COMMON in dogs with a tarsal gland prolapse in one eye to have the same problem soon in the other eye.
Cherry Eye

"Cherry eye" ... also known as tarsal gland prolapse is fairly common in dogs and sometimes in cats.  The spaniel in the picture has a typical presentation.   The illustration below demostrates the proper location of the gland.   Discussion about this condition on your right.

Cherry Eye

Cherry eye  or tarsal gland prolapse is most common in young dogs, especially Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, the English Bulldog, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, West Highland Terriers, Pugs, Cocker Spaniels, and Boston Terriers.  Also Blood Hounds.

This condition is not common in cats but it does occur, especially in Burmese cats.

Say.... What is a 3rd Eyelid (nicatating membrane)?

Humans and other primates rarely have a 3rd lid but a lot of animals, reptiles, birds, and fish do.  It's interesting in that instead of moving up and down, it moves sideways across the eye and provides extra lubrication and protection.  In dogs and cats the membrane is opaque but in many animals the 3rd lid is transparent maintaining visibility.  Predator birds like falcons, hawks, and eagles can cover their eyes with this transparent membrane to protect their eyes on their super high speed dive attacks.  Same with sharks and crocodiles.

The third eyelid is sometimes referred to as a haw, especially in farm animals.
3rd Lid
The 3rd lid in cats and dogs is free floating but other birds and animals have muscles that control the lid.  The predator bird below has his eye protected by a tinted, semi trasparent, protective, 3rd lid he can see through while diving at high speed.

The horse in the picture above has cancer of the "haw" or 3rd lid