Apoquel (Oclacitinib)—Allergy Medicine for Pets
It’s never fun to watch your dog scratch and bite to find itch relief from allergies, yet getting to the root of the problem can be challenging. When you consult with your veterinarian, they may prescribe Apoquel (oclacitinib), a relatively new medicine formulated to address allergic disease for dogs. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Apoquel?
Apoquel is the brand name for oclacitinib, an allergy medicine for dogs. It’s typically prescribed for the control of pruritus in dogs with allergic dermatitis. What does that mean? Pruritus is the medical term for itchy skin, and allergic dermatitis is an immune reaction of the skin to an allergen. Put simply, Apoquel can help control itchy skin due to allergies. It’s also commonly prescribed to help control atopic dermatitis, which in people is known as eczema.
Apoquel is different from many other prescription allergy medicines and relief solutions for dogs because it is an immune modulator, not a steroid. Dog allergies are often treated with glucocorticoids and cyclosporine, which are both immunosuppressants. Apoquel came out in 2014 to provide an alternative to these traditional steroid treatments.
What can Apoquel do for my dog?
Your vet may prescribe Apoquel to treat itchiness that can result from a variety of different allergies, including food allergies, contact and environmental allergies, and flea allergies. If you suspect your dog is itchy due to fleas, you’ll also need to look into pest prevention.
According to the manufacturer, Apoquel can provide initial itch relief in as little as four hours, up to complete relief in 24 hours, and successful treatment of all symptoms in most cases within seven to 14 days. Many pet parents use it to help relieve symptoms while getting to the bottom of what’s causing their dogs’ allergies. Thanks to how quickly Apoquel is metabolized out of the body, it’s easy to stop giving Apoquel during food trials to see if symptoms are relieved, then resume doses again if needed.
Apoquel for dogs can also be used with other medications, including allergy immunotherapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and antifungal, anti-infective and anti-parasite drugs. Check with your veterinarian first before using Apoquel with other medications for your dog. Apoquel is also regularly used long term, but dosing is usually backed off to only once a day.
How does Apoquel work for my dog’s allergies?
The drug in Apoquel—oclacitinib—works differently than a corticosteroid or antihistamine. It modulates the production of signal molecules called cytokines in some cells. Cytokines are a broad category of small proteins that are important in cell signaling and they are produced by a large range of cells, including immune cells. They are especially important to the immune system and modulate the balance of cell-based immune responses to infection, inflammation, trauma, sepsis, cancer and reproduction.
Oclacitinib works by targeting and inhibiting the cytokines that can cause itching and inflammation.
What does all that mean? Unlike steroids and immunosuppressants, this allergy medicine for dogs targets specific cytokines, so there are less of them to affect your pup’s immune system. Oclacitinib works through a different mechanism than most allergy medicines and could be worth a try, especially if other medications haven’t been effective or if your dog has experienced side effects.
What’s the right Apoquel dosage for my pet?
The manufacturer-recommended dose of Apoquel is between .18 and .27 milligrams per pound of your dog’s body weight, or between .4 and .6 milligrams per kilogram. The tablets come in 3.6, 5.4 16 milligram doses in bottles of 100 and 250 pills. Your veterinarian will help you determine the correct Apoquel dosage for your dog.
You should give Apoquel twice a day for up to 14 days to get symptoms under control quickly.—After that, the dose is backed off to once daily for maintenance. You can give it with or without food, and you don’t have to worry about tapering off. Once you get to the root of your dog’s allergies, you can simply stop giving Apoquel when directed by your veterinarian.
The following Apoquel dosing chart provided by the manufacturer can help you determine what dose to give your dog.
What are Apoquel’s potential side effects?
The most commonly reported Apoquel side effects in dogs include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, anorexia and bloodwork changes. In most cases, these side effects are temporary and resolve even with the continued use of Apoquel. Otitis—ear infection—and pyoderma—a bacterial infection of the skin—have also been reported.
Apoquel can increase susceptibility to infection and should not be used in dogs with a current infection. It should also not be used in dogs less than a year old, breeding dogs or those who are pregnant or lactating. It may exacerbate neoplastic conditions—conditions that cause both benign and malignant tumor growth. All dogs on Apoquel should be monitored for these side effects.
Some pet parents noticed that after stopping Apoquel, their dog’s symptoms returned—sometimes more severely. That’s why it’s important to get to the root cause of dog allergies in addition to administering allergy medication. If your dog is taking Apoquel and experiencing any side effects, contact your veterinarian immediately
Is there a generic version of Apoquel?
No generic version of Apoquel is available. The drug is patented by Zoetis, one of the biggest producers of medicine and vaccines for pets worldwide. The patent runs until 2026.
How do I administer and store Apoquel?
Apoquel comes in tablet form, so you can administer it in the same way you give any other tablet to your dog. Many dogs enjoy them wrapped in cheese or pill pockets. If they’re voracious mealtime eaters, you can just put it in your dog’s food dish.
For best results, Apoquel should be stored in a cool, dry place (68° to 77°F or 20° to 25°C).
How long can my dog stay on Apoquel?
There are no restrictions on how long a dog can take Apoquel, unless advised by your veterinarian. It can be used for both long-term maintenance and short-term itch relief. In the manufacturer’s clinical trials, some dogs were treated for more than two years and did not show any long-term side effects other than those discussed above. You should always consult your veterinarian regarding the best course of treatment for your dog’s allergies.
Can Apoquel be used for my cat?
Apoquel for cats is an extra-label use. That means that while cats can technically use it, it isn’t officially approved by the FDA, and there haven’t been as many studies about side effects and long-term use in cats.
If your cat hasn’t responded to other treatments or can’t tolerate steroids, you can ask your veterinarian about Apoquel and other options they would recommend.
Do you have a new dog who can’t stop scratching? After consulting your veterinarian, check out our New Dog Guide to find all the tips and supplies you’ll need for a happy life with your new companion. Dog allergies are a common problem, but there are steps you can take to help your pet feel better and get back to their regular daily routine. You can find Apoquel in the Pet Pharmacy at Petco, and choosing Repeat Delivery at checkout could get you extra savings.