Hi Everyone! Well before every veterinarian in America crucifies me, the short of the long answer to this question is NO! However (and there is a big however), Apoquel is a new medication for dogs that has shown big strides in overcoming the uphill battle of trying to relieve severe itching from allergies in our pets.
Recently, we introduced Apoquel for dogs to my animal hospital, and it has been a great addition to my pharmacy. This drug has been around for about 2 years, however it just recently became readily available to all veterinarians. I ordered my supply over a year and a half ago and it finally arrived just a few months ago. Yep, you read it right, I waited over a year to get Apoquel in my hospital, as did most other general practitioners in America.
For all my pet parents that have pets who suffer from allergies and chronic itching, I am sure you are familiar, or at least have heard of this drug. I would like to take some time to discuss Apoquel, how it works, and the proper use. I would like to stress, as with all drugs used to help relieve our pets of itching, it is imperative to address the underlying problem that is causing your pet’s itching. Please refer back to my blog, How to Help an Itchy Pet, to learn more about allergies in our pets.
What is Apoquel and how does it work?
Oclacitinib, otherwise known as Apoquel, uses AK1 & JAK3 inhibitors for treating itching in dogs. Okay, let me speak English! Our bodies, as well as pets’ bodies, create something called cytokines, which consist of a group of proteins, glycoproteins, and peptides that are released by certain cells of the immune system. Cytokines are released to help regulate your or your pet’s immune system by causing inflammation and itchiness, which is your immune system’s way of fighting allergies and notifying you that something is wrong.
Apoquel restrains or prevents the release of certain cytokines, but only the cytokines that play a significant role in inflammation and itching caused by an allergic process. This medication does not significantly prevent the release of the types of cytokines that are important for other immune function.
Why Apoquel for dogs different than other medications used to treat itching?
Apoquel only targets the cytokines that are involved in causing itch and inflammation associated with allergic skin conditions. This is a target therapy medication. Unlike other drugs used to control allergies and itching, such as steroids and cyclosporine, Apoquel has a minimal negative impact on the immune system as a whole (e.g., Apoquel does not prevent the release of certain cytokines that are important for blood formation).
Which pets cannot use this drug?
Dogs that are less than 12 months of age, those with serious infections, breeding dogs, or pregnant and lactating dogs should not use Apoquel. This drug IS NOT labeled for use in cats.
What are the side effects if any, of using Apoquel?
In my limited experience with this drug, I have seen minimal side effects. Most of my patients that I have started on Apoquel report no side effects.
Some reports state that the most common side effects are gastrointestinal (vomiting, diarrhea, or anorexia). Some studies report an increase in drinking or lethargy. Other potentially serious adverse effects include susceptibility to infections (e.g., pneumonia, demodicosis), cancers, and skin disorders.
How quickly does Apoquel take effect?
Apoquel provides relief within 4 hours and effectively controls itching within 24 hours.
What is the dose?
The recommended dose is 0.5 mg/kg (which your veterinarian will dose for you) 2 times per day for the first 2 weeks and reduced to 1 time per day to control itching.
My goal, for any medication, is to keep pets on the lowest dose possible. I always start them on the recommended loading dose of 2 times per day and try to wean them onto 1 time per day or even 2 to 3 times per week.
Are there any drugs that you cannot take with this drug?
No specific drug interactions have been reported to date.
Is this Drug Safe?
What is specifically unique and exciting about this drug is that it causes less side or systemic effects as compared to other drugs used to treat allergies and itching. This new drug is proven to be safe for long term use. I must stress, Apoquel is a newer drug and there are limited studies and research. As of now, the information regarding the drug states that it is safe for long term use. Whenever a new treatment is available for pets, I am always careful and understand there is limited information.
Unfortunately allergies and itching are the most common issues I see in my animal hospital. Controlling allergies and itching in our pets is very difficult and frustrating for me, but more so for my patients and their parents. As I tell my clients and cannot stress enough, allergies in pets are not cureable, but only manageable. Apoquel does not address the primary issue, which is the allergy. My goal in using Apoquel for dogs is to relieve your pet as much as possible from breakouts, itching, and discomfort. This is not the “miracle drug” that everyone has been waiting for, but is a safer alternative to controlling the itching aspect of this multi-faceted disease as of now. Please remember, there are other causes of itching requiring different medication, so it is imperative that your veterinarian properly examine your pet, makes the correct diagnosis, and recommend the best and appropriate treatment.
I am always excited when new research and treatment options are available to us and our pets which are proving to be safe and helpful. As always, my number one goal is to make sure our pets are happy and healthy. I hope this article brings some insight into a great new treatment option for our itching pets!