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 Three Eye Defects Common to the Molossers: Entropion, Ectropion, and “Cherry Eye”

Contributed by: Anna Huckabee

The lids of the eye keep out light, protect the eye from injury, and produce tears (via glands) that bathe the eye to keep the cornea moist. Unfortunately, problems with the lids can occur that make them less useful to the dog. The Cane Corso is a breed of mastiff and thus has eye problems common to its other molosser relatives. The most common defects are entropion, ectropion, and glandular hypertrophy (“cherry eye”). By learning about these defects and attempting to control their appearance in our dogs, we will help the Corso breed population as a whole.

entropian.jpg (87784 bytes)Entropion is the inward curling of the eyelid so that the lashes scratch the cornea and cause irritation and eventual scarring and ulceration. It occurs when the eyeball is too small for the socket and the lids roll in toward the eye. Symptoms include red, irritated eyes, tear stains on the face, and constant watering of the eyes. Entropion is hereditary (a dominant autosomal gene) and usually affects the lower lid, but the upper lid may also be affected. One or both eyes may have the condition. Features that make up the conformation of the dog’s head include shape of the head, size of the eyes and sockets, and size and shape of the lids. These things are heritable and give the specified breed its predictable look. Correction of entropion is a must and should be done as quickly as possible to avoid damage to the cornea. To surgically correct entropion, a section of skin is cut from beneath the lid (in the case of the lower lid) and sutures used to close the gap. This rolls the lid out as it is tightened and positioned properly in relation to the eyeball (orbit).

  Ectropion is the opposite of entropion and involves the lower eyelid rolling out, exposing the sensitive tissues beneath. The exposed tissue of the 3rd eyelid often becomes inflamed and infected, causing a condition known as “exposure conjunctivitis.” Dogs (especially those with heavy facial wrinkles) are either born with it, or it may occur as the result of an injury or scarring from previous surgical procedures. The sad look of the Basset Hound, Bloodhound, and the Saint Bernard is due to this condition. Often in the correction of entropion, some degree of ectropion occurs. Ectropion may even occur in conjunction with entropion where the upper lid rolls in while the lower lid droops down. The Saint Bernard has even been known to have half of the lower lid roll in and the other half droop down to give the lid an "S-shaped" appearance. Though unattractive, ectropion is not dangerous to the dog’s health unless infection occurs. Surgical correction includes removal of part of the lower lid in order to tighten it against the orbit. This corrective surgery should be done as soon as possible in order to keep the puppy’s eyes from scarring.

  Cherry Eye.  When the gland of the 3rd eyelid becomes inflamed, swollen, and protrudes from the lower lid, the condition is known as glandular hypertrophy. It is often referred to as “cherry eye” due to its resemblance to the fruit. It can occur in one or both eyes and usually occurs in dogs under one year of age. It can be quite frightening to a pet owner when seen for the first time. There are many breeds that are predisposed to “cherry eye,” most notably the Cocker Spaniel and Boston Terrier. However, even the larger breeds, including the mastiffs, are not exempt from the defect. “Cherry eye,” though often associated with irritation to the 3rd eyelid, can have a genetic factor as well, as evident by some breeds displaying it more often than others. There are three treatment choices: 1.) leave it alone and hope it falls back into place after the irritation has passed; 2.) remove the gland; and  3.) surgically reposition the gland and tack it down. The third choice is the newest and best procedure to try initially. It is called the “imbrication technique” but in layman terms is the “pocket procedure.” A pocket is cut in the 3rd eyelid and the gland pushed into it. This is then sutured to close the pocket and keep the gland in place. Sometimes, the gland breaks back through, and removal of the gland then becomes the only other option.

 However, with removal of the gland comes the risk of another condition known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or “dry eye” to occur later in life.  The gland in question makes 30% of the tears for the eye, and its removal may cause the cornea to become dry, thickened, and inflamed due to a deficiency in tear production. This may eventually lead to loss of vision. The composition of tears is just as important as the volume. Tears contain an aqueous component, lipids, and mucous. If there is not a proper concentration of these components, then the “dry eye” condition will occur. Symptoms of “dry eye” include red eyes and a sticky discharge that collects on the lashes and the hair around the eyes. Regular irrigation with an artificial tear product available from your vet will be necessary plus antibiotic drops if pus is present.  

What does this mean for show dogs? The American Kennel Club (AKC) has a list of corrective procedures that it deems to be a disqualifying factor if preformed on a dog. Their position is this:

             “ A dog is considered changed in appearance by artificial means if it has been subjected to any type of procedure that has the effect of obscuring, disguising, or eliminating any congenial or hereditary abnormality or any undesirable characteristic or that does anything to improve a dog’s natural appearance, temperament, bite, or gate.”

            “Even procedures which are absolutely necessary to the health and comfort of a dog shall disqualify the dog from competition if the former had the incidental effect of changing or even improving the dog’s appearance, bite, or gait.”

Included in that list is entropion and ectropion. Because “cherry eye” has not yet been accepted as almost completely hereditary, it is not included in this list. It instead appears on the AKC’s list of conditions in which corrective procedures would not disqualify the dog from being able to show.

While entropion, ectropion and cherry eye are conditions which should be taken into consideration when breeding Cane Corsos, it should be noted that there are many more serious problems affecting our breed: hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, joint problems, heart and temperament problems. 


 Blogg, J. Rowan. 1980. The Eye in Veterinary Practice: Extraocular Disease, Volume I. W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia.

Web Sites:   AKC Surgical Eligibility Questions page

        Kimberly Meenen. 1995.


       Drs. Dennis Hackler and Michael

            Zigler, 1999. Eyelid Abnormalities.




Copyright 2001 Cane Corso Coalition.  All rights reserved.
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