What is Apoquel for Dogs?

Oclacitinib, also known as Apoquel, is a selective inhibitor of JAK1 and JAK3 enzymes, which are important in signaling a pathway that results in itching and inflammation.

Apoquel is FDA-approved for canine allergic dermatitis, including flea allergy dermatitis, food allergy, atopic dermatitis, and contact dermatitis.

Studies have shown that it can control itching and skin condition comparable to glucocorticoids in flea-allergic dogs and has been successful in treating allergic dermatitis and atopic dermatitis in dogs.

As a veterinary dermatologist, the author has found it to be helpful in atopic patients that were nonresponsive or had a limited response to other available treatments for atopy. It is also a plausible alternative to long-term corticosteroids, which can have negative effects on the body over time.

It is important to note that long-term use and safety of the drug are still being studied and it is important to monitor any potential side effects.

What does Apoquel do for my dog?

Apoquel (oclacitinib) is a medication designed to reduce itching and inflammation in dogs suffering from allergic dermatitis, including flea allergy dermatitis, food allergy, atopic dermatitis, and contact dermatitis.

Apoquel works by inhibiting the JAK1 and JAK3 enzymes, which are responsible for signaling a pathway that leads to itching and inflammation. By inhibiting these enzymes, Apoquel reduces the production of cytokines that cause itching and inflammation, particularly interleukin-31 (IL-31). This results in a reduction of itching and inflammation, improving the overall skin condition and quality of life for your dog.

Does my dog really need Apoquel?

While Apoquel can be an effective treatment option for dogs suffering from itching caused by allergic dermatitis, it is important to consider the dog’s medical history and diagnosis, alternative treatment options, long-term safety, cost, and monitoring before starting treatment. A veterinarian should be consulted to determine if Apoquel is the best option for your dog and to create an appropriate treatment plan.

  • Medical history and diagnosis: Before starting Apoquel treatment, it is important to thoroughly evaluate the dog’s medical history and perform a physical examination to identify any underlying conditions that may be contributing to the itching. A proper diagnosis of the underlying cause of the itching is crucial to determine the appropriate treatment plan.
  • Alternative treatment options: While Apoquel can be effective in treating itching in dogs, it is important to consider alternative treatment options as well. These may include but are not limited to, allergen-specific immunotherapy, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, and topical therapy. Depending on the underlying cause of the itching, these options may provide similar or even better results.
  • Long-term safety: Apoquel is a relatively new medication and long-term safety data is still limited. While the drug has been found to be well-tolerated in most cases, there is a concern about potential side effects such as decreased white blood cell count and increased risk of infections. It is important to discuss these risks with a veterinarian and weigh them against the potential benefits of the drug.
  • Cost: Apoquel is a relatively expensive medication, and the cost of treatment may be a factor to consider when determining if it is an appropriate option for your dog. It is important to discuss the cost with a veterinarian and determine if there are more cost-effective options available.
  • Monitoring: Regular monitoring and follow-up appointments are necessary to ensure that the treatment is effective and to monitor for any potential side effects. This may include blood work and physical exams, as well as tracking the dog’s response to treatment.

Does Apoquel really work?

Clinical trials have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of Apoquel in treating allergic dermatitis in dogs. In a study of dogs with allergic dermatitis, 67% of treated dogs showed treatment success with Apoquel after one week, compared to 29% of dogs treated with a placebo.

Another study of dogs with atopic dermatitis found that 66% of dogs treated with Apoquel were successfully treated, compared to 4% of placebo-treated dogs. These studies suggest that Apoquel is effective in reducing itching and improving skin conditions in dogs with allergic dermatitis.

In addition, Apoquel has been found to be more effective than oral prednisolone and injectable dexamethasone in inhibiting IL-31, a cytokine responsible for pruritus in dogs. It also controlled itching and skin condition comparable to glucocorticoids in flea-allergic dogs. This suggests that Apoquel may be a more effective treatment option for dogs with allergic dermatitis than traditional steroids.

However, Apoquel is not recommended for use in breeding, pregnant, or lactating dogs. Additionally, the long-term safety and efficacy of Apoquel have not been fully established. Apoquel should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian and it should be used in conjunction with an appropriate management plan for the underlying cause of the allergic dermatitis.

What are the negative side effects of Apoquel?

While Apoquel is effective in treating these conditions, it is not without potential side effects. Some of the negative side effects that have been reported with the use of Apoquel include:

  • Gastrointestinal upset: Some dogs may experience vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite while taking Apoquel. These side effects are generally mild and resolve on their own without treatment.
  • Increased susceptibility to infection: Apoquel may suppress the immune system, making dogs more susceptible to infections. This is particularly concerning for dogs with underlying immune system disorders.
  • Blood-related side effects: Apoquel may cause changes in the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This can lead to anemia, bleeding or clotting disorders.
  • Hormonal side effects: Apoquel may cause an increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus, or Cushing’s disease.
  • Development of tumors: Long-term use of Apoquel may increase the risk of developing tumors, particularly in breeds that are predisposed to certain types of cancer.

These side effects are rare and most dogs do not experience any negative side effects while taking Apoquel. However, it is important to monitor your dog closely while they are taking this medication and to contact your veterinarian if you notice any unusual symptoms.

How long should a dog stay on Apoquel?

The duration of treatment with Apoquel (oclacitinib) varies depending on the individual dog and the severity of their condition. According to the manufacturer, Zoetis, Apoquel is intended for short-term use, typically up to 14 days. However, some dogs may require longer treatment, particularly those with severe or chronic conditions.

Apoquel should not be used as a long-term treatment option. It is designed to provide quick relief of symptoms while other underlying causes are being investigated and treated. Long-term use of Apoquel may increase the risk of side effects, such as infection and decreased white blood cell count.

Apoquel does not address the underlying cause of the allergic dermatitis. So, it’s crucial to work with your veterinarian to identify and address the underlying cause of the allergy, which can include flea allergy, food allergy, atopic dermatitis, or contact dermatitis.

Is there a safer alternative to Apoquel for dogs?

There are several alternative treatment options for dogs with allergic dermatitis that may be safer than Apoquel (oclacitinib). These include:

  • Immunotherapy: This treatment involves administering small doses of allergens (such as pollen, dust mites, or flea saliva) to the dog over time. This helps the dog build up immunity to the allergens, reducing symptoms of allergic dermatitis.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These supplements have anti-inflammatory properties and have been found to be effective in reducing itching and inflammation in dogs with allergic dermatitis.
  • Diet modification: Some dogs may have food allergies that contribute to their allergic dermatitis. Changing to a hypoallergenic diet can help reduce symptoms.
  • Topical therapy: Shampoos, sprays, and creams containing ingredients such as hydrocortisone, salicylic acid, or sulfur can help soothe irritated skin and reduce itching.
  • Probiotics: These supplements may help improve the health of the gut microbiome, which can in turn reduce symptoms of allergic dermatitis.

Conclusion of Apoquel for dogs

Apoquel (oclacitinib) is a selective inhibitor of JAK1 and JAK3 enzymes that has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of itching and inflammation in dogs with allergic dermatitis, including flea allergy dermatitis, food allergy, atopic dermatitis, and contact dermatitis. It works by inhibiting the signaling pathway that leads to itching and inflammation, reducing the production of cytokines that cause itching and inflammation, particularly interleukin-31 (IL-31).

Pros:

  • Rapid onset of action: Apoquel has been found to inhibit IL-31 faster than oral prednisolone and injectable dexamethasone, providing quick relief from itching and inflammation.
  • High treatment success rate: In clinical trials, treatment success was found in 67% of treated dogs with Apoquel vs. 29% of dogs treated with a placebo after one week of treatment.
  • Effective in atopic dermatitis: In dogs with atopic dermatitis, 66% of dogs treated with Apoquel vs. 4% of placebo-treated dogs were treated successfully.
  • Alternative to long-term corticosteroids: Apoquel can be a plausible alternative to long-term corticosteroids in atopic patients that are nonresponsive or have a limited response to other treatments, or if corticosteroids are contraindicated such as in cases of diabetes or pancreatitis.

Cons:

  • Short-term safety data: As Apoquel is a new drug, long-term safety data is not yet available.
  • Side effects: Apoquel may cause side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, and anorexia.
  • Drug interactions: Apoquel may interact with other medications your dog is taking, so it’s important to inform your veterinarian of all medications your dog is on before starting Apoquel.
  • Contraindications: Apoquel is contraindicated in dogs with serious infections and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neoplasia.

Toxicity:

  • No toxicity has been reported in dogs treated with Apoquel at the recommended dose.

Drug interactions:

  • Apoquel may interact with other medications your dog is taking, so it’s important to inform your veterinarian of all medications your dog is on before starting Apoquel.

Contraindications:

  • Apoquel is contraindicated in dogs with serious infections and should be used with caution in dogs with a history of neoplasia.

Research and study:

  • Apoquel has undergone extensive laboratory and clinical trials, and has been found to be effective in treating itching and inflammation in dogs with allergic dermatitis.

Natural or OTC veterinary alternatives:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, have been found to be effective in reducing itching and inflammation in dogs with allergic dermatitis.
  • Topical treatments such as shampoos, sprays, and creams may also provide relief from itching and inflammation.
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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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