At some point, pet owners will likely find their dog scratching, itching, and gnawing at their coat as if the dog’s life depended on it.
Just like humans, dogs also suffer from allergies. These allergies can take several forms, including food allergies, environmental allergies, and flea allergies. Regarding environmental allergies, if something in the air is affecting you, it’s likely also affecting your dog.
Dogs can also have allergic reactions to different medications or new supplements.
A trip to the veterinarian may have you leaving with a prescription for a conventional medication called Apoquel.
What is Apoquel for Dogs
Apoquel is a conventional medication produced by the company Zoetis. It is the brand name for the drug known as oclacitinib.
Apoquel for dogs provides a new way to alleviate canine pruritus (itching). Pruritus is the most common symptom of allergies in dogs.
Just like humans, allergies can greatly affect your dog's quality of life. Your dog can be allergic to things just like we can.
From a simple food allergy to contact and environmental allergies to atopic dermatitis, it's likely that your pup may find themselves in a fit of itchy sensation at one point or another.
Studies show that up to 10% of all dogs are affected by atopic dermatitis, making it one of the most common allergies found in dogs.
Atopic dermatitis in dogs is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease that can either be associated with or caused by allergies. As you may be able to imagine, atopic dermatitis can be incredibly uncomfortable for your pup.
In fact, we don't have to remind you how awful dealing with allergies can be. They can greatly disrupt your everyday life and can have the same effect on Fido. Therefore, finding a solution is absolutely necessary.
Furthermore, allergies can range from causing only quick bouts of itching to becoming a chronic, recurring condition throughout a dog’s life.
Keeping that in mind, it is important to find a solution that fits your dog's individual allergy needs. Be aware though, that allergies dogs, like allergies in humans, cannot be cured; they can only be managed.
After performing a physical examination and asking you detailed questions about the history of your dog’s itchiness, your vet may prescribe Apoquel to ease your dog's allergy symptoms. Apoquel is fast-acting and typically begins to work within 4 hours.
The medication can control allergy symptoms for 12–24 hours once it is administered. However, this means that it will need to be given at a consistent rate. In addition, Apoquel’s potential adverse reactions, which we’ll talk more about below, may leave you feeling cautious about using this medication.
Benefits of Apoquel for Dogs
The most appealing part of Apoquel for dogs is how quickly it begins to work. It's hard not to like the idea of Fido being itch-free within a mere 4 hours.
Understanding How Apoquel Works
Scientifically speaking, Apoquel is a selective Janus kinase inhibitor (JAK). JAKs control the immune system's response to itchy sensations.
Therefore, Apoquel helps control scratching associated with canine atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, allergic dermatitis, flea allergy dermatitis, and food allergies.
Signs that Fido Has Allergies
Your dog may be suffering from allergies for a lot of reasons. Most commonly, dog allergies are caused by environmental allergens, food allergies, and conditions like canine atopic dermatitis.
Canine allergy symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Paw chewing
- Obsessive scratching
- Runny eyes (discharge from eyes)
- Balding areas (from excessive scratching and biting)
- Scabs and sores (from excessive scratching and biting)
Dog Itching: What Else It Could Mean
If Fido has been itching and itching with no relief in sight, it is important to discuss the situation with your veterinarian.
Although dog allergies are very common, it is also possible that your dog's itchiness is an underlying symptom of a different issue.
Before treating your dog for allergies, you'll want to make sure that allergies are the actual problem at hand. Confirming this will require an accurate diagnosis from your vet. Often, many other diseases have to be ruled out before an allergy can be accurately diagnosed.
Most often, the typical dose for Apoquel tablets is 0.4 – 0.6 mg/kg every 12 hours, twice a day for up to 14 days.
After the 14-day mark, your veterinarian will likely tell you to reduce the dose to once a day.
We want to note that Apoquel is not FDA approved for administration longer than 14 days. It is not approved for long-term use because it suppresses the immune system. Immunosuppression is a serious and concerning side effect of this drug.
For treating canine allergies, suppressing the immune system will suppress the “itching” allergic response, which can be a good thing. However, suppressing the immune system also decreases the body’s ability to fight off foreign invaders, making a dog more susceptible to developing infections.
Immunosuppression does not cure a problem like allergies. It simply suppresses the body’s usual allergic response.
What can also be troubling is that, like other conventional medications, Apoquel doesn’t necessarily work in every dog with allergies. You may give your dog Apoquel in hopes that it will alleviate your dog's discomfort, but it's totally possible that the medication won't work at all.
That's right. For some dogs, Apoquel just doesn't work. It's awful to think that you could be dangerously suppressing Fido's immune system with no benefit in the end.
Apoquel 16mg, 5.4mg, 3.6mg
Apoquel’s dosage will ultimately be based on your dog's weight. The drug is sold per tablet in strengths of 3.6 mg, 5.4 mg or 16 mg.
The Apoquel tablets should be given orally. The official website for Apoquel states that the medication can be given with or without food.
Apoquel Side Effects
Here's where things get worrisome.
All conventional medications are accompanied by possible adverse reactions. With some medications, the potential side effects are relatively mild. For that reason, the conventional drug may be worth the risk.
However, with an immune-suppressing drug like Apoquel, the potential adverse reactions can be extremely dangerous.
As we previously mentioned, due to its immunosuppressive properties, Apoquel can make your dog more susceptible to infections like demodicosis, and exacerbate pre-existing cancers.
Apoquel can also cause bone marrow suppression, which may lead to additional, severe health conditions. Additional adverse reactions can include:
- Appetite loss
- Ear infections
- Skin infections
- Increased aggression
- Decreased globulins (proteins)
- Vomiting (with or without blood)
- Diarrhea (with or without blood)
- New cutaneous lumps
- New subcutaneous lumps
- Increased lipase and cholesterol
- Polydipsia (excessive water drinking)
- Reduced leukocytes (white blood cells)
The most common side effects of Apoquel are vomiting and diarrhea.
If your dog is showing any clinical signs of distress once taking Apoquel, it is imperative that you seek medical intervention straight away.
Precautions of Allergy Medicine for Dogs
Of course, the biggest precaution with Apoquel is its immunosuppressive properties that ultimately weaken the immune system and its ability to protect the body.
Furthermore, the following dogs should never take allergy medications:
- Breeding dogs
- Pregnant dogs
- Lactating dogs
Additionally, the manufacturer of Apoquel has limited the drug for use only in dogs over 12 months old. Why is that, you may ask?
Well, the company conducted two “margin of safety” studies, one of of which was conducted in dogs that were 6 months old. Margin of safety studies help determine the acceptable level of safety for a drug and identify toxicities that can occur when the drug is given too high of a dose.
This Apoquel margin of safety study was discontinued after several months when the dogs receiving the extremely high doses of Apoquel (3x and 5x the recommended dose) developed bacterial pneumonia and demodectic mange infections.
That's right. A drug that can alleviate skin-related ailments was, in fact, causing other skin conditions to develop when given in doses that were several magnitudes of order higher than the recommended dose.
Additional Dog Allergy Medications
Although Apoquel is a commonly prescribed drug for the treatment of allergies and dogs, it’s not the only one that pet owners may find.
We want to make sure that our readers are aware of additional dog allergy medications, and recognize that no conventional drug comes without its share of potential adverse reactions.
Some may be less severe than others, but regardless, they all exist. Before we get into home remedies, let's take a look at some of the other drugs that are commonly marketed as allergy relief for Fido, but may result in anything but.
Zyrtec for Dogs
You likely heard of Zyrtec. The conventional medication is a second-generation antihistamine that is often prescribed for human use.
Although Zyrtec is not FDA approved for animals, more and more vets are prescribing the drug. Zyrtec is prescribed to reduce itching and other clinical signs of allergic reactions.
These allergic reactions are typically associated with allergic contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis. Both forms of dermatitis will trigger allergic reactions such as inflammation, hives, itching, and swelling.
Although Zyrtec usually doesn’t present side effects that are too worrisome, here’s where the trouble lies. Studies show that antihistamines work in only approximately 30% of dogs. Unfortunately, up to 25% of those dogs will experience adverse side effects.
Furthermore, as we previously mentioned, antihistamines are not a cure. They simply treat symptoms.
Furthermore, Zyrtec can cause additional issues for dogs with kidney or liver problems. Although your dog may no longer have symptoms of allergies, Zyrtec may exacerbate other issues that are much worse than itchy skin.
Hydroxyzine for Dogs
Hydroxyzine is yet another antihistamine that has not been FDA approved for animals, yet is prescribed by veterinarians to ease allergies in dogs.
Please know that we are certainly not trying to take away from all of the incredible scientific growth that Western medicine has given us. Without conventional medications, who knows where we would be today.
Furthermore, we are not trying to take away from the knowledge that veterinarians have in their field. However, we do find it concerning that so many prescriptions are for medications that are not formulated for dogs or FDA approved for animal use.
Concerning as it may be, it is worth acknowledging that veterinarians are permitted to use human drugs for extra-label use in animals, as specified in the Animal Drug Use Clarification Act. Veterinarians, though, must follow specific guidelines to ensure that extra-label use of drugs does not harm the animal.
We want our readers to be aware of these medications and know that, while they may work for some dogs, other dogs may experience serious negative side effects.
Hydroxyzine for dogs may effectively treat allergic reactions in some dogs, but can also cause the following adverse reactions:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble urinating
- Change in behavior
- Loss of coordination
- Increased thirst or urination
Comparable to so many conventional medications on the market, hydroxyzine for dogs has not been studied thoroughly enough to be able to clear it for use in pregnant, lactating, or breeding dogs.
Also, dogs with a slew of pre-existing conditions should not take the drug.
Now, we know that was a lot to take in. You may be reading this thinking, “Well I don’t wanna use Apoquel, but my dog is still itching.”
Don’t worry, there are quite a few home remedies that you can try first. We’re happy to tell you that these alternatives don’t come with the laundry list of potential reactions.
In fact, the alternatives that we’re about to discuss some with virtually zero side effects.
Other Ways to Ease Allergies
Wait, there are even more ways to ease Fido's allergies that don't come with a slew of side effects? You bet. Read on for more!
If you and your dog frequently walk the neighborhood, go to dog parks, or simply enjoy the outdoors, it’s inevitable that Fido will track allergens into your home.
Although washing your dog's paws and giving them a brush down when getting home will certainly help, it’s much more effective to bathe them regularly.
Regular baths will significantly reduce allergy-associated symptoms. Even better, bathing helps to physically remove allergens from a dog’s body. Of course, we don’t expect for pet owners to be able to give their dog a bath after every walk. And please don’t try to, because frequent baths can strip a dog’s coat of its natural oils.
A regular bathing schedule along with occasionally wiping down the coat and feet will do the trick. Certain companies make wipes specifically for dogs. If you’re unable to find these wipes, you can also use a baby wipe.
It may surprise dog owners to learn that just a single bite from a flea has the ability to cause an allergic reaction that will leave your dog obsessively gnawing at their skin.
To prevent reactions like this, we recommend having your dog on flea medication. We highly recommend trying a natural flea allergy remedy, as conventional flea medications can produce from negative side effects for your pup.
We also recommend a powder called diatomaceous earth. Dog owners can sprinkle the powder in the cracks of their home as well as on the dog's coat. Diatomaceous earth will ward off fleas and other creepy crawlers that you don’t want in the house.
Your dog’s diet is incredibly important. You can help them in so many ways, but their diet also be the reason why your pup is miserably itchy.
Dogs suffer from food allergies just like you and me. We recommend feeding your dog a species appropriate raw food diet. Work with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that the raw food diet meets all of your dog’s nutritional needs.
Sometimes a simple change up in your dog's food can make a world of difference for their allergies.
If diet is the source of your dog's allergies, it can often be tricky to find out exactly what they are allergic to. Some dogs have an intolerance to beef while others may have a sensitivity to poultry.
Unfortunately, the only way that pet owners can truly figure out what food source their dog is allergic to is through a process of elimination. This can take quite a while and will not be the cheapest thing that you and your dog ever do together. But let us tell you, it is worth it.
Speaking of your dog's diet, studies show that dogs with a healthy gut will often have significantly fewer issues when it comes to allergies. You may want to consider adding a probiotic supplement to your dog's diet.
Probiotics need to be given for at least a few weeks before you will notice a difference. Give probiotics a chance...it will likely help your furry companion.
CBD for Dogs
CBD oil is phenomenal for dogs prone to seasonal allergies. Studies show that CBD oil supports skin health—especially pups with sensitive skin—and helps maintain normal moisture content.
Because allergies are so common in our furbabies, we created CBD-infused coconut oil for dogs and cats!
Talk about a double whammy! Our coconut oil is definitely a fan-favorite.
Apoquel For Dogs: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we know that your dog means the world to you. You would do whatever it took to make sure that they are living the best life possible: free of itching, scratching, and all pain.
Although Apoquel certainly brands itself on being a quick fix for your dog’s irritating allergies, we want pet owners to be fully aware of its potential negative side effects, which can be serious.
We encourage our readers, whenever possible, to research natural alternatives for their dogs. We are lucky to be living in a world where we have information at the tips of our fingers.
Before giving your dog any medication or supplement, do your homework. Know what you are giving your dog and how it might affect them. Trust us, your dog will thank you for it. We sincerely hope your pup feels better soon!
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, she pursued a non-traditional career path as a veterinarian.
JoAnna completed a 2-year postdoctoral research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, then became a medical writer. As founder and owner of JPen Communications, a medical communications company, JoAnna is passionate about educating pet parents about pet care and responsible pet ownership.
Although she does not currently have any pets to call her own, she loves living vicariously through other pet parents and watching Nat Geo!