If you’ve got an itchy pooch, Apoquel just might be the life-changing medication that your best friend needs.
dog sleeping on owner's lap
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If your dog has allergies that make her itchy, then you are all too familiar with the routine: Constant scratching and chewing. Red, irritated skin. Frequent trips to the vet for treatments that may or may not help. Repeat. It's hard to watch your pup experience this kind of discomfort. 

Enter Apoquel for dogs, a veterinary drug that can relieve itching caused by allergies. Like most drugs, Apoquel has some side effects in dogs, but they are typically milder than the side effects of other drugs used for allergies.

I used to have a dog with seasonal allergies. There were times when Chloe would keep me up all night with chewing and scratching and my heart broke for her suffering. We tried every medication available at the time and gave her regular medicated baths to soothe her skin, but we could just barely keep her itching at bay during flare-ups. Many years after she crossed the rainbow bridge (at the ripe old age of 17), Apoquel emerged on the veterinary market. As I watched this drug provide relief to so many of my itchy patients, all I could think of was my poor Chloe. If only we had Apoquel back then!

What Is Apoquel Used for in Dogs?

Apoquel is the brand name of oclacitinib, a dog medication designed to relieve itching associated with allergies in dogs, particularly canine atopic dermatitis. Unlike some other allergy medicines for dogs, Apoquel is neither a steroid (like prednisone) nor an antihistamine (like diphenhydramine). Instead, Apoquel is a selective Janus kinase inhibitor and the first of its kind on the veterinary market. Apoquel is made by Zoetis.

Janus kinase (JAK) are enzymes that work with proteins called cytokines to signal the body's cells to facilitate essential bodily functions, including immunity, the production of blood cells and platelets, inflammation, and pruritus (itchiness). Apoquel selectively inhibits the cytokines involved in allergic reactions with relatively minimal impact on the immune system and blood cell production.

Apoquel is often prescribed by veterinarians for treating allergies in dogs because it tends to have milder side effects compared to steroids and immunosuppressive drugs like prednisone and cyclosporine. It can start working to reduce itching in as little as four to 24 hours. 

If you have an itchy dog, it's worth having a conversation with your vet to determine if Apoquel is a good option.

What Are Potential Apoquel Side Effects in Dogs?

All medications have potential side effects, and Apoquel is no different. Dogs on Apoquel may experience some or all of the following:

Gastrointestinal side effects are the most common in dogs and may be relieved by giving the medication with food. Your veterinarian may recommend routine blood tests to see if Apoquel is impacting blood cell production or organ function. Apoquel may make some dogs more prone to infections because of its effect on immune function. It can also worsen cancerous tumors and should not be used in dogs with a history of cancer.

Common Apoquel Dosage for Dogs

Apoquel is available as an oral tablet in three strengths: 3.6, 5.6, and 16 milligrams. The recommended dose range is 0.18 to 0.27 milligrams per pound, so the variety of strengths makes accurate dosing easy for dogs of most sizes. Zoetis provides vets with a convenient dosing chart as a guideline. Your veterinarian will recommend the appropriate dosage for your dog based on her body weight and medical history. 

Apoquel should be given orally to your dog as a pill twice daily for the first 14 days, then reduced to once daily for maintenance. It may be given with or without food, but giving it with food may reduce the chances of GI side effects. Apoquel can be used long-term at maintenance doses or seasonally as needed. Unlike steroids, it can be stopped without tapering.

Some dogs will respond well to the initial higher doses, but experience itching again when the dose is reduced to maintenance levels. Your vet can determine how to adjust the dose from here, but long-term treatment at higher doses is not generally recommended. Do not change your dog's Apoquel dose without first consulting your vet.

Many vets and veterinary dermatologists prescribe Apoquel along with other treatments to manage allergies in dogs. Your allergic dog may receive topical, injectable, or other oral medications along with Apoquel. The initial two-week period of higher dosage provides superior itch relief while other treatments can start getting to work at the source of the itching. 

Can Dogs Overdose on Apoquel?

It is possible for dogs to overdose on Apoquel, so keep it and all other medications out of reach of your dog. Contact a veterinarian for advice right away if your dog ingests more Apoquel than prescribed. Call your local vet or animal emergency center, or contact a pet poison control service like ASPCA Animal Poison Control or Pet Poison Helpline. The vet may tell you to induce vomiting if the overdose occurred within the last hour. Your dog will likely need veterinary treatments and supportive care to prevent toxic effects and to manage symptoms.

Apoquel (Oclacitinib) Drug Interactions and Warnings

Apoquel is considered safe to use along with some medications like antihistamines, antibiotics, and NSAIDs. Some medications should be used with caution, such as steroids and immunosuppressive drugs. 

Apoquel is intended for dogs aged 12 months and older. Its safety has not been evaluated in pregnant or nursing dogs. Apoquel should not be given to dogs with a history of cancer.

Be sure to tell your vet about all other medications and supplements your dog is taking before starting Apoquel. In addition, thoroughly discuss your dog's medical history with your vet.

Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to reflect that Zoetis is a standalone company. A previous version identified the company as a division of Pfizer.