Is Apoquel Safe for Dogs?

Apoquel, or oclacitinib, is a medication prescribed by veterinarians to help manage and control canine itchiness often related to allergies. It works by inhibiting the function of certain cytokines in the dog’s body that trigger itch and inflammation. This can provide rapid relief from itching, often within 4 to 24 hours.

Benefits of Apoquel

Many pet parents have reported significant improvement in their dogs’ comfort levels after using Apoquel. The drug can effectively reduce incessant scratching, biting, and licking caused by itchiness, which in turn can prevent skin damage and secondary infections.

Side Effects of Apoquel

Like all medications, Apoquel can have potential side effects. The most commonly reported ones include vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and lethargy. However, these effects are generally mild and resolve as the dog’s body adapts to the medication.

Apoquel and Health Concerns: Fact vs. Fiction

Despite its effectiveness, Apoquel has been surrounded by controversy and claims such as “Apoquel killed my dog.” It is crucial to clarify that there’s currently no substantial scientific evidence directly linking Apoquel to canine deaths.

That said, concerns have been raised about Apoquel possibly accelerating preexisting cancers. This does not imply that the medication induces cancer but suggests that it might expedite the growth of already existing tumors. Hence, it is advised to thoroughly check for any signs of cancer before starting the medication.

In addition, there have been reports of dogs developing elevated liver enzymes and suffering from seizures while on Apoquel. However, establishing a direct causal relationship between these conditions and Apoquel is challenging, as these issues may also result from underlying diseases or other medications.

Can a Dog Be On Apoquel for Life?

The long-term safety of Apoquel is still under study. Nevertheless, the drug has been used for years in many dogs without significant issues. It is typically deemed safe for chronic use under regular veterinary supervision. Regular health checks can help monitor any potential adverse effects and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

The Pharmacology of Apoquel

Apoquel, also known as oclacitinib, is an immune modulating drug that interferes with the signaling pathway of cytokines – proteins crucial in cellular communication. Cytokines play a central role in causing itchiness and inflammation in dogs with allergies. Apoquel acts selectively on these pruritogenic (itch-causing) and pro-inflammatory cytokines, thereby reducing the allergic response.

Administering Apoquel: Timing and Dosage

Apoquel’s effects can be observed quickly, often providing significant relief from itchiness within 24 hours of administration. This makes it a suitable option for dogs suffering from acute bouts of allergies. The drug is available in tablet form, making it easy to administer, with flexible dosing allowing it to be used either once or twice a day. However, it’s important to follow the veterinarian’s dosage instructions, since a higher or lower dose may affect the medication’s effectiveness and safety.

Alternative Treatments to Apoquel

Although Apoquel has shown effectiveness in managing itchiness in dogs, it’s not the only available treatment. Cytopoint, a monoclonal antibody therapy, is another option that specifically targets the cytokine involved in triggering allergic itch in dogs. Additionally, natural remedies like CBD oil are being researched for their potential benefits in managing canine allergies, though these alternatives often lack the extensive testing and proven efficacy that Apoquel has.

Apoquel and Increased Sleeping: An Important Consideration

A noted change in some dogs on Apoquel is an increase in sleep duration. Though not a life-threatening concern, it can impact your pet’s quality of life. The exact reason for this is unclear, but it could be attributed to the dog’s body adjusting to the decreased itchiness and consequently experiencing less anxiety and restlessness.

Apoquel and Skin Infections

Apoquel does not directly cause skin infections, but because it modulates the immune response, dogs on Apoquel might be at an increased risk of developing infections. Regular grooming, skin checks, and immediate attention to any wounds or changes in your dog’s skin are recommended for dogs on long-term Apoquel treatment.

Apoquel and Its Effect on Human Allergy Testing

A unique question that has been raised is whether handling Apoquel and then failing to wash hands could impact human allergy testing. Studies suggest that Apoquel does not have a significant effect on human cells. Therefore, it’s unlikely to influence the results of a human allergy test.

Long-Term Use of Apoquel: Safety and Monitoring

While Apoquel is often used for the long-term management of chronic allergies, regular check-ups with your vet are vital. This allows for monitoring of potential side effects, such as changes in liver enzymes, and ensures that the drug continues to be effective and safe for your dog.

Apoquel and Interaction with Other Drugs

Although Apoquel is generally considered safe for use with many other medications, it’s essential to disclose all other drugs your dog is currently taking to the veterinarian. Certain drugs may interact with Apoquel and could potentially modify its effectiveness or cause adverse reactions. For example, drugs that suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids, might amplify the immunomodulatory effects of Apoquel and increase the risk of infections.

Pre-existing Conditions and Apoquel Use

If your dog has pre-existing conditions such as liver disease or cancer, it’s crucial to discuss this with the veterinarian before starting Apoquel. These conditions might necessitate dosage adjustments or even lead to a decision to avoid Apoquel altogether. For instance, since Apoquel is metabolized in the liver, dogs with liver disease may require a different treatment approach.

Apoquel and Unintended Ingestion by Other Pets

In multi-pet households, it’s not uncommon for one pet to accidentally ingest another pet’s medication. If this happens, immediate veterinary attention is essential. For example, if a cat ingests a dog’s Apoquel tablet, while the use of Apoquel in cats is not common, certain doses could potentially cause health issues.

Apoquel and Unexpected Interruptions in Treatment

If your dog misses a dose or you run out of Apoquel, your dog may begin to itch again relatively quickly. Apoquel does not build up in the body and works only for the period that it is present in the system. It’s critical to maintain a consistent supply and not miss doses to ensure your dog stays comfortable.

Apoquel and Canine Puppies

Apoquel is approved for use in dogs over 12 months of age. While it has been used in younger dogs, it is only under specific circumstances and with careful veterinary oversight. This is because the drug’s safety and effectiveness in puppies less than 12 months old have not been conclusively proven.

Apoquel and Pregnancy or Lactation

The safety of Apoquel in pregnant, breeding or lactating dogs has not been adequately established. Therefore, it’s recommended to avoid using Apoquel in such cases unless absolutely necessary and under strict veterinary supervision.

Transitioning from Apoquel to Other Treatments

While Apoquel has proven to be highly effective, some dogs may need to transition to a different treatment, such as Cytopoint or natural alternatives. Transitioning should be carried out under veterinary guidance to ensure that the new treatment is effective and to monitor for any adverse reactions.

Signs of Adverse Reaction to Apoquel

Like any medication, Apoquel can potentially cause side effects in some dogs. Common signs of an adverse reaction may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or loss of appetite. Some dogs may also exhibit new behavioral changes or increased susceptibility to infections. If any such symptoms are observed, it’s important to consult your veterinarian promptly to discuss possible adjustments to the treatment plan.

Apoquel and Potential Long-Term Side Effects

A common concern among dog owners is the potential long-term side effects of Apoquel use. Although the medication is generally well-tolerated, long-term use might pose certain risks, such as an increased likelihood of developing skin infections due to immune modulation. Regular veterinary examinations can help detect and address any such issues early on.

Apoquel and Potential Link to Cancer

Concerns have been raised about a potential link between Apoquel and cancer in dogs. However, there’s no concrete scientific evidence suggesting that Apoquel directly causes cancer. However, there is some indication it could potentially accelerate the growth of pre-existing cancers, thus it’s generally not recommended for use in dogs with known malignancies.

Apoquel and Allergic Reaction

While Apoquel is used to treat allergic reactions in dogs, paradoxically, dogs can theoretically have an allergic reaction to Apoquel itself. Signs of such a reaction could include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat. If you notice any of these symptoms after administering Apoquel, you should seek immediate veterinary attention.

Storing and Handling Apoquel

Apoquel should be stored at a controlled room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight. Also, it’s essential to keep Apoquel out of reach of children and pets to avoid accidental ingestion.

Apoquel and Accidental Human Ingestion

While Apoquel is safe for use in dogs, it should not be ingested by humans. In case of accidental ingestion, contacting a healthcare professional is recommended. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to wash hands after administering the drug to avoid accidental contamination.

Managing Itchiness in Dogs Without Apoquel

While Apoquel has revolutionized the treatment of allergies in dogs, it might not be the right fit for all dogs, or some pet parents might prefer to explore other options. Alternative therapies, such as Cytopoint, steroids, antihistamines, or even lifestyle modifications such as hypoallergenic diets and regular bathing with medicated shampoos, can also play a role in managing itchiness in dogs.

Concluding Thoughts

While the claims of “Apoquel killed my dog” can be alarming, it’s important to approach these reports with a scientific lens and avoid jumping to conclusions. Each dog is unique, and their reactions to medications can vary greatly. If you have concerns about Apoquel or any other medication, always consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s treatment plan. Your vet is the most reliable source for understanding the benefits and risks of medications tailored to your dog’s specific health needs.

One Response

  1. My 5 year old shepherd/husky Pebbles developed allergies this summer. We went into the vet to update her shots and give her a good checkup. She was healthy as ever, and the vet prescribed Apoquel to help her itchiness from summer pollen. 2.5 months after using this drug, Pebbles collapsed on a walk to my horror. I quickly snatched her up and ran to my car, horrified knowing something was wrong. I decided to google “Apoquel side effects” and found several that matched… lethargy, lack of appetite, diarrhea… So I booked an appointment with the vet and immediately took her off Apoquel. She’s now been diagnosed with Lymphocytic Leukemia, and is slowly dying in front of me. This dog has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life. She has been a therapy dog when I was down, and a best friend. I knew in my bones it was the Apoquel, and after finding HUNDREDS of other people saying the same thing, I’m convinced this “wonder drug” is poison. DO NOT give this to your beloved pet, it will likely kill them. I wish there were something else I could do, the helpless feeling I have watching this part of my family quickly die in front of me is the absolute worst thing.

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