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Apoquel for Dogs

Brown dog itching near his eye

What is Apoquel?

Apoquel is an oral medication used for allergies in dogs. The generic name for Apoquel is oclacitinib, and it is produced by the animal health company Zoetis. Apoquel is a medication that inhibits specific chemicals in the body called cytokines that can cause itching and inflammation. However, it does not inhibit all cytokines, and so it does not affect other important cytokine-related jobs like the production of blood cells in the body.

Allergies frequently cause skin and ear problems in dogs, which are a couple of the most common reasons why you might take your dog to see their veterinarian. Apoquel is one of the most popular medications offered by veterinarians because it treats pruritus (itching) very effectively. It started at twice-daily dosing for the first one to two weeks and then tapered down to the lowest effective dose. Clinical signs can improve as early as twelve hours after the first dose is administered.

Apoquel is safe to give with vaccines and does not appear to have any negative interactions with other medications. It should only be used in dogs twelve months of age or older, and it should not be used with breeding, pregnant, or lactating dogs. Humans should make sure to wash their hands thoroughly after handling Apoquel tablets. Apoquel is not a steroid, and so the list of possible side effects is much shorter compared to steroid drugs like prednisone.

What causes allergic reactions in dogs?

Like humans, allergic reactions can be triggered by many things. Environmental allergens are the most common cause. These allergens include pollen, leaves, grasses, trees, weeds, and dust. Food allergies are the second most common trigger with protein or flavor of the food being the chief problem. Grain allergies are possible but much less likely in dogs. Allergies to supplements and new medications are rare but have been reported.

Signs your dog may need Apoquel

There are many reasons why your dog might need Apoquel. If your dog is rubbing up against objects with his face or his body, then he may be trying to tell you that he is itchy. Restlessness and irritability are some other subtle cues. More obvious signs include licking or chewing their paws, licking or scooting their back end, scratching their ears and sides with their paws, and frequently shaking their heads. Dry and flaky skin can also be a source of itching.

Allergies and frequent itching and scratching can cause secondary bacterial infections and physical skin lesions. Redness (erythema) is one of the most common signs. Small pink bumps (papules) and whiteheads (pustules) are also signs of a skin infection. When skin lesions are present, sometimes oral and topical antibiotics are recommended in combination with Apoquel.

What else can help your dog?

Sometimes, Apoquel alone will not help your dog’s clinical signs. Depending on the symptoms, your veterinarian might prescribe other products to use with Apoquel. Antibiotics are the most common recommendation because many itchy dogs suffer from secondary bacterial infections. These antibiotics can be oral medications, injectable, and topical medications like sprays, wipes, and ointments. Oral antifungal medications are prescribed for dogs with severe yeast infections and ringworm. Medicated and soothing shampoos are also useful. In severe cases, and particularly if Apoquel is not helping, your veterinarian might recommend a steroid like prednisone or an immunosuppressive drug like cyclosporine.

small white and tan dog itching on the sidewalk

Possible side effects

Side effects from Apoquel usage are rare but can occur, especially with long-term use. Vomiting and diarrhea are the most common effects, and your dog may become lethargic as a result. If your dog experiences this, then discontinue Apoquel right away and contact your veterinarian.

In rare cases, Apoquel may cause an increase in thirst (polydipsia), and due to its effect on the immune system, certain infections are more likely to occur. Urinary tract infections and pneumonia are possible. If your dog is urinating more frequently or having trouble breathing, then bring your dog to see his veterinarian immediately. It is okay to use Apoquel with mild infections present, but it should be avoided in dogs with severe infections like pneumonia.

Problems withDemodex mites are more likely to occur if your dog takes Apoquel.Demodex is a skin mite that lives in small numbers on the skin of most dogs and people. If the immune system is weakened, then active infection (demodicosis) can flare-up. Demodicosis can cause hair loss, skin infection, and sometimes itching. The immunomodulatory effects of Apoquel can also exacerbate pre-existing tumors and cancers, so it should be used very cautiously in these conditions.

Natural alternatives

There are some natural products that can help with mild itching, especially if you cannot get an appointment with your veterinarian right away.

Coconut oil is one of the latest supplement trends. While there are many studies that prove the health benefits of coconut oil for humans, there is mostly anecdotal evidence for the benefits of coconut oil for dogs. Coconut oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Due to its chemical makeup, coconut oil can seep into hair shafts, making hairs very shiny and healthy. It may also help with wound healing. There are few reported side effects like allergic reactions and weight gain due to its high caloric value, so be sure to use it sparingly.

Turmeric is another popular supplement that originates from a plant related to ginger root. Like with coconut, there are few studies that prove its benefits for dogs. Most of the information available is either anecdotal evidence or extrapolated from human studies. However, there is a report about turmeric that was published in 2016 inResearch in Veterinary Science, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The report discussed curcumin, a component of turmeric, and confirmed its anti-inflammatory effects for dogs with arthrosis, a type of degenerative joint disease.

CBD oil is currently being studied for its many reported benefits, including the alleviation of pain, anxiety, and itching in dogs. The anecdotal evidence is very promising, and because there are few reported side effects and drug interactions, most veterinarians are excitedly awaiting the results of the scientific studies that are being conducted at several universities.

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Having an itchy dog is incredibly frustrating because you just want your dog to feel better yet nothing seems to work. When veterinarians first started carrying Apoquel on their hospital shelves, it seemed like they couldn’t restock it fast enough! The results for most itchy dogs were dramatic. If you see your dog licking or itching himself frequently, then he may benefit from a short course of Apoquel. Ask your veterinarian for more information and to see if Apoquel can help your dog feel better faster!

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Meet the Author

author Dr. Erica Irish

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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