Is Apoquel an Antihistamine?

With the growing number of dogs being diagnosed with allergies, many pet owners find themselves juggling between a multitude of medications. Among the most frequently mentioned is Apoquel. But is Apoquel an antihistamine?

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What is Apoquel?

Apoquel, whose active ingredient is oclacitinib, is a drug produced by Zoetis. It’s predominantly used to treat canine allergic dermatitis. Importantly, it’s not a corticosteroid or an antihistamine. Instead, it belongs to a unique class of drugs known as Janus kinase inhibitors.

How Does Apoquel Work?

Apoquel acts as a selective Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor. Specifically, it targets JAK-1 and JAK-3-dependent cytokines, which play a role in itching and inflammation. By inhibiting these cytokines, Apoquel effectively curbs itching and reduces inflammation without many of the side effects seen in steroids.

Apoquel vs. Antihistamines: The Difference

While both Apoquel and antihistamines aim to reduce allergic reactions in dogs, their mode of action differs significantly:

  1. Antihistamines: These are designed to counteract histamines – chemicals that cause allergic symptoms. Popular antihistamines include cetirizine, loratadine, and diphenhydramine.
  2. Apoquel: Instead of targeting histamines directly, Apoquel zeroes in on the cytokines responsible for itching and inflammation. It provides rapid relief, usually within 4 hours, and effectively controls itching within 24 hours.

Can You Combine Apoquel with Antihistamines?

Yes, in certain situations, veterinarians may prescribe Apoquel alongside antihistamines. However, it’s crucial to consult with a vet before administering any combination of drugs to ensure safety and compatibility.

Alternatives to Apoquel

Cyclosporine (Atopica)

A non-steroidal immunosuppressant, Cyclosporine is often used for dogs suffering from atopic dermatitis. Originally designed for human transplant patients, this drug reduces the body’s immune response, thus alleviating allergic reactions.


  • Proven effective in many cases of canine atopic dermatitis.
  • Reduces inflammation and itchiness associated with allergies.


  • May take a few weeks to exhibit full efficacy.
  • Possible side effects include gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhea.

Steroids (Prednisone, Prednisolone)

Steroids have been the go-to for severe allergic reactions for years. They are potent anti-inflammatory agents that can significantly reduce itching and inflammation.


  • Rapid action, offering quick relief.
  • Inexpensive compared to other treatments.


  • Not recommended for long-term use due to potential side effects, including increased thirst, increased appetite, and susceptibility to infections.
  • Long-term use can lead to more severe complications like Cushing’s disease.

Lokivetmab (Cytopoint)

A monoclonal antibody therapy, Cytopoint targets and neutralizes the cytokine interleukin-31 (IL-31), directly involved in causing itchiness in dogs.


  • Specifically designed for treating canine atopic dermatitis.
  • Provides relief for 4-8 weeks with just a single injection.


  • Not orally administered; requires regular vet visits for injections.
  • Some dogs might experience reactions at the injection site.

Fatty Acid Supplements

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acid supplements can offer relief from mild allergic reactions. These supplements work by improving the skin’s health, which in turn reduces the intensity of the allergic response.


  • Natural approach with minimal to no side effects.
  • Can improve overall coat and skin health.


  • More effective when used in combination with other treatments.
  • Might not provide sufficient relief for severe allergic reactions.

Topical Therapies

These include shampoos, sprays, and creams that contain ingredients to soothe the skin, reduce inflammation, and combat secondary bacterial or fungal infections.


  • Directly applied to the affected area, offering localized relief.
  • Can be used alongside other treatments.


  • Only addresses external symptoms.
  • Frequent application might be required for persistent cases.

Natural Solutions: Quercetin & Bromelain

Quercetin, a flavonoid found in fruits and vegetables, and bromelain, an enzyme from pineapples, are sometimes used together. They act synergistically to suppress histamine release, a primary cause of itchiness.


  • Natural antihistamine without many of the side effects of synthetic alternatives.
  • Can offer relief for mild to moderate allergies.


  • Not as potent as other medical alternatives.
  • Requires consistent administration for noticeable effects.

Is Apoquel Safe?

Apoquel has undergone rigorous testing and is FDA-approved for canine allergic dermatitis. The majority of dogs tolerate it well. However, like all medications, some side effects might occur, and it’s vital to observe your pet for any unusual behaviors or symptoms.


Apoquel is a game-changer for many dogs suffering from allergies. While it’s not an antihistamine, its targeted action on JAK-dependent cytokines offers rapid and effective relief from itching and inflammation. Always ensure you’re working closely with your veterinarian when deciding on the best allergy treatment plan for your beloved pet.

FAQs: Demystifying Apoquel

1. How quickly does Apoquel start working?

Apoquel is known for its rapid action. Typically, pet owners can notice a significant reduction in their dog’s itching within 4 hours of administration. For comprehensive control of itching, it might take up to 24 hours.

2. Are there any dietary restrictions when administering Apoquel?

No, Apoquel doesn’t come with any specific dietary requirements. It can be given with or without food. However, it’s always good to maintain consistency in how it’s administered to your pet for the best results.

3. Can Apoquel be given to cats?

While Apoquel is FDA-approved specifically for dogs, there have been instances where it’s used off-label for cats. However, this should be done only under the strict guidance of a veterinarian, ensuring the right dosages and monitoring for any adverse reactions.

4. Are there long-term side effects of using Apoquel?

Most dogs tolerate Apoquel well. However, like any medication, potential side effects might emerge with prolonged use. These can range from mild gastrointestinal issues to more severe effects. Regular check-ups and communication with your veterinarian are essential to monitor your dog’s health.

5. Can I stop giving Apoquel suddenly?

It’s recommended to follow the guidance of a veterinarian regarding the administration and cessation of any medication. Stopping Apoquel suddenly might lead to a resurgence of itching and other allergic symptoms. If you’re considering discontinuing its use, discuss a tapering plan with your vet.

6. How does Apoquel compare to steroids like Prednisone?

While both Apoquel and steroids like Prednisone are effective in controlling allergic reactions, they operate differently. Steroids broadly suppress the immune system, which might lead to a range of side effects. Apoquel, on the other hand, specifically targets the pathways causing itching and inflammation, resulting in fewer side effects for most dogs.

7. Is there any situation where Apoquel should be avoided?

Yes, Apoquel is not recommended for dogs less than 12 months of age or dogs with serious infections. It should also be used cautiously in breeding, pregnant, or lactating dogs. Always provide your veterinarian with a full medical history of your pet before starting any new medication.

8. Can Apoquel be used alongside other medications?

Generally, Apoquel can be administered with other medications, including vaccines, antiparasitics, antibiotics, and antifungals. However, interactions can occur, so always consult your veterinarian if you’re considering combining Apoquel with other treatments.

9. How should Apoquel be stored?

Apoquel should be stored at controlled room temperature, away from moisture and direct sunlight. Ensure it’s kept out of reach of children and other pets to prevent accidental ingestion.

10. What should I do if I miss a dose?

If you miss a dose, give it as soon as you remember. However, if it’s close to the time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and resume the regular schedule. Avoid giving double doses unless specifically directed by a veterinarian.

11. How does Apoquel differ from traditional antihistamines?

While both Apoquel and antihistamines aim to reduce allergic reactions, their mechanisms differ. Apoquel targets specific enzymes responsible for itchiness and inflammation, while antihistamines block the action of histamine, a substance released during allergic responses. This makes Apoquel more targeted in its approach.

12. Are there natural alternatives to Apoquel?

Some pet owners seek natural remedies like quercetin, omega-3 fatty acids, or coconut oil to soothe allergic reactions. While they can be beneficial, they might not offer the immediate and potent relief that Apoquel provides. It’s essential to discuss any alternatives with a vet to ensure they’re safe and effective for your pet.

13. How does Apoquel interact with vaccines?

There’s no known detrimental interaction between Apoquel and vaccines. Apoquel doesn’t suppress the immune response to vaccines, making it safe for concurrent use. However, always disclose any ongoing medication to the veterinarian during vaccination.

14. Can Apoquel cause weight gain in dogs?

Apoquel itself doesn’t directly cause weight gain. However, a reduction in itchiness and discomfort can lead to increased appetite and activity, which may result in weight changes. Regular weight checks and dietary adjustments can mitigate this.

15. How is Apoquel metabolized in a dog’s body?

Apoquel is metabolized in the liver and primarily excreted through the bile. Its action is quite rapid, with peak plasma concentrations occurring approximately an hour after oral administration.

16. Does Apoquel provide permanent relief from allergies?

Apoquel offers symptomatic relief as long as it’s administered. It doesn’t cure the underlying cause of the allergic reaction. Once its administration is ceased, symptoms might reappear if the allergen is still present.

17. Is it safe to administer Apoquel with flea and tick medications?

Apoquel can generally be given alongside flea and tick treatments. There’s no reported antagonistic effect. Nonetheless, always inform your vet about all treatments your dog is receiving.

18. What precautions should be taken for dogs with liver conditions when administering Apoquel?

Dogs with pre-existing liver conditions might need careful monitoring, given that Apoquel is metabolized in the liver. Regular liver function tests might be advised to ensure the dog’s health isn’t compromised.

19. How does Apoquel’s effectiveness compare to newer treatments like Cytopoint?

Both Apoquel and Cytopoint provide relief from itching. However, while Apoquel is an oral medication that works systemically, Cytopoint is an injectable that targets the itch at its source. Cytopoint’s effects last longer (typically 4-8 weeks), whereas Apoquel requires daily administration.

20. Are there contraindications in using Apoquel for pregnant or nursing dogs?

While no adverse effects have been documented, the safety of Apoquel in pregnant or lactating dogs hasn’t been thoroughly evaluated. It’s advisable to use it under strict vet guidance in such scenarios.

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