Side Effects of Apoquel for Dogs

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It is tough to watch your dog itch and scratch like crazy in response to allergies that you can’t seem to control or even pin down a definitive cause for. It seems like your dog’s allergies are a constant aggravation. You might even fear they will never stop!  

Unfortunately, allergies are extremely common, so the chances of your dog developing an allergy to something at some point in his life is almost a given. That means you will be on the hunt for something effective that will help treat your dog’s allergy symptoms.

The primary symptom of allergies tends to be obsessive itching and scratching. Unfortunately, such behaviors can lead to other, secondary skin problems that will then need to be treated as well. These secondary symptoms can include redness, irritation, swelling, and hotspots on dogs.  

In many cases, dog owners often look to drugs intended for humans, such as Benadryl or Zyrtec as a potential relief measure. However, antihistamines like Benadryl and Zyrtec don’t always work, and they aren’t currently FDA approved for the treatment of allergies in dogs.

Other pet owners have sought to use steroid drugs like prednisone to help control symptoms, but that comes with its own set of dangers and challenges unique to steroidal medications.

In other cases, a dog owner may decide to go the natural route and search for alternative medications and remedies to provide their dog with some relief.

What is Apoquel for Dogs?

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Apoquel is a drug created by a company called Zoetis. It is the brand name for the drug called oclacitinib, that provides a new and targeted approach to interrupting the cycle of itching and inflammation that is associated with allergies in dogs.

Allergies in dogs can be related to food sensitivities, contact and environmental allergens, as well as atopic dermatitis. It is thought that around 10% of all dogs are affected by atopic dermatitis, and it is considered one of the most common allergy conditions dogs frequently suffer from.

Because allergies can affect a dog’s quality of life so much, finding a treatment option that helps you manage your dog’s symptoms is important. Allergies can range from short-term bouts of angst and itching, to acute conditions, to chronic and reoccurring ones. None are fun!

Apoquel is fairly fast-acting, and typically will offer relief within 4 hours of administering the medication. Once given to your dog, it can control symptoms such as itching for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. Note however, that this drug is not intended for dogs under 12 months of age, or for dogs that weigh less than 6.6 pounds.

Benefits of Apoquel for Dogs

Obviously, the biggest benefit your dog will experience is temporary relief from the most maddening of allergy symptoms, obsessive itching. Apoquel begins to work within 4 hours, and begins to control itching within 24 hours.

How Does Apoquel Work for Dogs?

In “science speak”, Apoquel is called a “selective Janus kinase inhibitor” (or JAK for short). Kinases are compounds in a dog’s body that cells use for communicating information.

These JAKs are vital in regulating the body’s inflammatory response, as well as:

  • Controlling growth and development
  • Keeping your dog’s antibody cells and policing cells working properly
  • Forming red and white blood cells
  • Protecting the body against the formation of tumors

JAKs target itch-creating cytokines and suppresses the immune response to control scratching related to contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, flea allergies, and food allergies in dogs.

Apoquel is a drug that is fast-acting, and it helps to significantly reduce itching and inflammation both over the long-term as well as over the short-term.

However, even though this drug is fast-acting, it also may wear off fairly quickly, usually within a 12 to 24-hour period. This makes it a drug that must be given to your dog daily to effectively and consistently control allergy symptoms over a long period of time.

Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs

Dogs can suffer allergies related to a variety of different reasons. Environmental allergies, food allergies, and conditions like atopic dermatitis seem to be the most common.

If you aren’t sure your dog is suffering from allergies, look for common signs such as:

If you suspect your dog is suffering from allergies, see your vet to discuss appropriate methods of treatment or explore safe, more natural alternatives for dog allergies that do not require a prescription or an expensive vet visit.

Dosages of Apoquel for Dogs

The typical dose schedule of Apoquel for a dog is 0.4 – 0.6 mg/kg twice a day (every 12 hours) for up to 14 days. After that, the dosage may be reduced to 0.4 – 0.6 mg/kg once a day.

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Note that using Apoquel twice a day for longer than 14 days is not approved by the FDA. It is not advisable to exceed the dose that is recommended because of the way Apoquel suppresses the immune system.

Suppressing the immune system basically means you are treating your dog’s symptoms but doing nothing for the underlying cause of the condition. And by suppressing your dog’s immune system, it can make them vulnerable to other health concerns and illnesses.

Additionally, if you don’t give your dog enough of the medication, it may not work properly. If the drug does not seem to be working and alleviating your dog’s symptoms within seven days of the initial dose, then it is probably not going to work at all for your dog. It appears to be one of those “When it works, it works” type of medications, and when it doesn’t… it doesn’t.

Also, keep in mind that Apoquel is only FDA approved to give to dogs that are 12 months of age or older. It is not approved nor tested for use in younger dogs.

Side Effects of Apoquel for Dogs

Just like any other drug, Apoquel comes with its own set of side effects and possible reactions. Because of its immunosuppressive properties, it can increase your dog’s vulnerability to infection. This includes demodicosis infections and neoplastic health conditions.

Other potential side effects of dogs taking Apoquel include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
  • Lethargy
  • New cutaneous or subcutaneous lumps
  • Decreased leukocytes
  • Decreased globulins
  • An increase of lipase and cholesterol

A fewer number of dogs experienced:

In more rare cases, dogs taking Apoquel experienced:

These side effects are similar to what a dog may experience when taking steroids. Note that some of the side effects from taking this drug may resolve on their own with continued use, as the body adjusts.

Precautions of Apoquel for Dogs

This drug may not work with extremely severe cases of allergies that requires a daily steroid. Some interactions resulting in drowsiness may be seen if your dog takes Benadryl with Apoquel.

This drug should not be given to dogs with a serious infection, or to dogs that are pregnant or lactating. Never give this medication to a human, it is for dogs only. Also, because it works by interrupting a dog’s JAKs to keep them from working, and JAKs are necessary for healthy cell communication, it can weaken your dog’s immune system.

Natural Alternatives of Apoquel for Dogs

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Sometimes dogs don’t respond well to any medication, prescription or over-the-counter. When that happens, you may decide to go looking for more natural alternatives to try. Or perhaps you’re just a believer in natural remedies and prefer to try those first!

Remember that foods like onions and garlic are “natural,” but they can still be toxic and harmful to your canine friend.

Bathe Your Dog Regularly

If your dog goes outside often, he will track allergens into the house from his feet as well as his coat. So, bathing your dog regularly can help to significantly improve allergy symptoms. If you’re not home or in a hurry, you can also use wet wipes to rub down your dog’s coat and clean his paws. There are wipes made especially for dogs, but you can also use any type of baby wipe as well.

Protect Your Dog from Fleas

Even a single bite from a flea in a dog that is allergic can trigger an intense reaction that will drive your dog nuts. To prevent this, you can give your dog a regular flea medication, or try natural flea sprays. You can also sprinkle borax or a powder called diatomaceous earth in the cracks and crevices of your home to help protect the indoors from fleas as well as other unwelcome critters.

Change Your Dog’s Diet

Sometimes dogs suffer from food allergies, and even if their response is minimal, it can still have an effect on their immune system. This can open them up and make them vulnerable to other types of allergies as well as vulnerable to infections and diseases. To prevent this, try to feed your dog a simple and healthy diet, with as little ingredients, additives, and preservatives as possible.

Give Your Dog Probiotics

It is being shown more and more that dogs with healthy gut flora seem to fare better than dogs with compromised gastrointestinal health. You have to use probiotics for a few weeks before you really begin to see any results, but giving your dog all that good bacterium may play a very important role in helping to normalize your dog’s immune response.

Though Apoquel for dogs can be effective in treating allergy symptoms, it does come with serious and potentially dangerous side effects. If those side effects are worrisome for you, try some safe alternative therapies first. You know your dog best!

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