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Apoquel for Dogs - The Side Effects Of Giving Your Dog Apoquel

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Apoquel for Dogs - The Side Effects Of Giving Your Dog Apoquel

Posted by Michael Jones on
Updated at: January 19, 2021

Apoquel for Dogs - The Side Effects Of Giving Your Dog Apoquel | Innovet Pet

Allergies, they are just lovely, aren’t they? The constant sneezing and slimy runny nose. Oh, and how about the itchiness that consumes your entire body? Quite a delight for sure! 

Whenever we feel an allergic reaction about to happen, our first reaction is to reach for allergy medications for help. And just like us, our loveable pups get allergies, and for the same reasons.

They can experience food allergies, drug-induced allergies, environmental allergies, and seasonal allergies.

Since we take medication to stop allergies, it only makes sense to give our dogs allergy medication as well! But which is one is right for your dog? Well, If you go to your veterinarian, they will probably prescribe them Apoquel.


1. Using Apoquel To Treat Allergies In Dogs
2. What Are The Benefits Of Using Apoquel For Dogs
3. How Does Apoquel Work?
4. Does Your Dog Have Allergies?
5. Other Common Reasons Your Dog Is Scratching
6. Temporary Allergies: Irritant Contact Dermatitis
7. Apoquel Dosage
8. What Are The Side Effects Of Apoquel
9. Apoquel Alternatives: What Are Your Options?
10. Conventional Alternatives To Apoquel
11. Why Antihistamines Should Not Be Used Long-Term
12. CBD For Dogs
13. Other Ways To Ease Allergies
14. Final Thoughts On Treating Dog Allergies

Using Apoquel To Treat Allergies In Dogs

Oclacitinib, brand name Apoquel, is a medication formulated to better manage canine pruritus - symptoms due to an allergic reaction

It’s strange how we can turn on the television and not go one episode without seeing a commercial for allergy medication.

Yet, we seemingly forget about the fact that many dogs struggle with allergies, and this can leave them in abhorred pain and suffering. 10% of dogs suffer from atopic dermatitis - a chronic and incurable type of allergy due to an overactive immune system.

Even scarier, this statistic doe not even include allergies caused by food, medications, or the environment.

Allergies can take away your dog’s ability to enjoy life and their time with us is already short enough as is.

So now we know why it’s so important that we are always on the lookout for allergies, let’s look for solutions available that can provide immediate relief.

Apoquel is one of the most commonly prescribed medications to help treat inflammation and itchiness due to a range of allergic conditions. Apoquel will take around 4 hours before it starts working and it can provide relief anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.

The issue with this, however, is Apoquel will need to be re-administered on a constant basis. This can lead to side effects developing, and even first-time use can come with alarming side effects.

What Are The Benefits of Using Apoquel For Dogs

It’s convenient, and with effects lasting up to 12-24 hours, they can experience a full day free of allergies with just one or two administration.

How Does Apoquel Work?

Apoquel is a selective Janus Kinase inhibitor (JAK) that acts on the immune system and inhibits its response to signals that trigger itchy allergic sensations. By eliminating itchiness, Apoquel can successfully be used for all forms of allergies: allergic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, food allergies, and external parasite-related allergies.

Does Your Dog Have Allergies?

Remember dogs experience allergic reactions to all of the same things we do: pollen, dust mites, mold, animal dander, etc...

As well, you can expect to see the same symptoms:

  • Scratching and constant itchy.
  • Bald spots in fur
  • Hotspots
  • Lesions or scarves
  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Chewing or biting at paws, legs, etc. 

Other Common Reasons Your Dog Is Scratching

While allergies are a common cause of scratching and itchy, there are other completely separate reasons as to why they can’t stop that itch. Fleas and other parasites like dog ticks and mosquitoes can cause your dog to itch like hell.

As well, they could have an underlying medical issue that could be either physical or mental. Anxiety is often seen as a culprit in the development of hot spots forming.

Hot spots are lesions and tears in the skin that are infected or severally prone to becoming infected. They are caused by constant scratching regardless of the source.

Temporary Allergies: Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Last, we have irritant contact dermatitis, and while it’s a type of allergy, it won’t need the exact same treatment that atopic dermatitis requires. As you’ve probably guessed by the name, Irritant contact dermatitis happens when a strong chemical touches the skin and causes a reaction.

It may burn the skin causing blisters - in the case of acids - or cause it may them to break out in a rash - in the case of poison ivy. 

In the large majority of cases, this type of allergy will pass after the substance is no longer in contact with the skin. Wash the area thoroughly, then contact your veterinarian for advice on how to proceed.

If your vet advises you to bring your dog in, they will at most prescribe them a steroid, corticosteroid, or antihistamine.

Apoquel Dosage

The typical dosage for Apoquel is 0.4-0.6mg per kilo of body weight, or 0.18 - 0.27mg per pound of body weight every 12 hours, or twice a day - administered in tablet form. This dosage should be given for 14 days, after which your vet will likely reduce the dosage to once a day.

The 14-day marker is an important marker to pay attention to as the FDA does not approve more two applications of a drug per day after, and after 14 days, Apoquel should only be applied once a day.

This is due to the way Apoquel suppresses your dog’s immune system, which we don’t want to suppress for too long. By suppressing the immune system, we can open our dog up to diseases far and wide.

They can end up getting sick and spend their life constant in discomfort and misery. Even worst, Apoquel just doesn’t work for some dogs. This puts your dog at risk for no reason at all.

Apoquel 3.6mg, 5.4mg, or 16mg

Apoquel is administered in tablet form - available in three sizes: 3.6mg, 5.4mg, and 16mg. It can be administered with or without food.

What Are The Side Effects of Apoquel  

All things come with a risk, but some more than others. While many conventional medications have mild side effects that are worth the risk, others don’t.

With short-term use, avoiding the side effects that come with conventional drugs isn't difficult. However, that changes if they're used for extended periods of time.

Because Apoquel suppresses the immune system and Janus Kinase enzymes, the FDA only recommends it's used for up to 14 days. While helping in the short term, extended suppression of the immune system can lead to devastating effects. Our poor pups become victims to exacerbate neoplastic or infections like demodicosis.

As well, JAKs just aren’t responsible inducing itching, they also protect against tumor formations, and help grow white and red blood cells.

Reasons why we don’t want to use Apoquel for extended periods:

  • Appetite loss
  • Cutaneous lumps
  • Decreased globulins
  • Development of polydipsia
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infections
  • Histiocytomas
  • Increased lipase and cholesterol
  • Increased aggression
  • Lethargy
  • Pneumonia
  • Reduced leukocytes
  • Subcutaneous lumps
  • UTIs

As well, in some cases, dogs have overdosed on Apoquel, causing permanent damage and some cases have even died from taking it. Be sure to closely monitor your dog when administering Apoquel and if you notice any concerning signs, immediately call your vet.

Apoquel Alternatives: What Are Your Options?

Apoquel is not recommended for many dogs due to the sensitive nature of immunosuppressive medications. These drugs can quickly open your dog up to a host of diseases, bacterial infections, etc. because their immune system is too weak to fight them.

Apoquel is not recommended for the following dogs:  

  • Breeding and pregnant dogs
  • Dogs nursing pups  
  • Dogs under 12 months old

Apoquel can put these dogs at a greater risk by increasing the chances of infections developing, promoting the growth of pre-existing cancers, and worsening pre-existing parasitic skin infections.

As well, there are no studies detailing the risk of using Apoquel in conjunction with other common medications for treating skin conditions like corticosteroids and cyclosporine. However, Apoquel can be safely used with some common medications such as antibiotics, vaccines, and parasiticides.

Common antihistamines like Benadryl and Apoquel are safe to be used together.

Conventional Alternatives To Apoquel

Before we move past Apoquel and look into all natural alternatives that can provide fantastic relief with low side effects, let's talk about common allergy medications.

Apoquel isn’t the only allergy medication out there of course. And since Apoquel comes with serious side effects that can cause devastating and lasting results, we wanted to share with you the concerns associated with other common allergy medications.

Zyrtec For Dogs

Zyrtec is a popular second-generation antihistamine first prescribed to people. However, more and more veterinarians have started prescribing it to dogs with allergies.

The reason for this is Zyrtec is rather low-risk, however, it’s not as effective at Apoquel. Zyrtec’s main issue is that it’s an antihistamine which studies have found to only help about 30% of dogs with 25% of them having adverse reactions.

As well, Zyrtec like Apoquel will not cure your dog’s allergies - only manage them while they are on the medication. This goes for all allergy medications, which means they will likely always have to be on some form of allergy medication for their entire life.

Because of this, we want to make sure long-term use is as low-risk as possible. We don’t want anything to come back and harm them when we were just trying to help.

Long-term use of Zyrtec can lead to kidney and liver problems. As well, it can increase symptoms of allergies - completely defeating our goal of helping.

Zyrtec has not been approved for use in dogs by the FDA.

Hydroxyzine For Dogs

Hydroxyzine is another antihistamine. Hydroxyzine is commonly prescribed to people to help treat nervousness and tension related to mood disorders. It does this by acting on natural substances in the body like serotonin and acetylcholine.

As well, it blocks histamine, but this isn't something we want to block for extended periods of time. While histamine causes itchiness, it’s a natural compound vital to health.

Why Antihistamines Should Not Be Used Long-Term

Antihistamines are commonly prescribed to dogs to help manage allergic reactions by blocking histamine. However, allergies are not currently curable and may require extended periods where medication is needed to control them.

We do not want an antihistamine, in this case, as histamine plays a vital and beneficial role in the body.

Histamine makes you itchy for the same reason running does increased blood flow. Histamine will contract smooth muscles, dilate capillaries, and allow an increase of blood flow into the area to fight the infections. However, this isn’t all histamine does:

Histamine’s role in the body:

  • Cools the body down
  • Increases alertness and wakefulness
  • Increases motivation
  • Increases water intake
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Reduces appetite
  • Reduces stress
  • Protects against seizures 

Benadryl vs. Apoquel

Unlike the other antihistamines we discussed above, Benadryl - generic name diphenhydramine - is an over-the-counter that provides quick relief with lower side effects. Relatively safe to give to dogs for immediate help, but watch extended use and high doses can produce dangerous hallucinations.

Alternatives To Apoquel

Before we proceed with even more alternatives to Apoquel, we want to address the elephant in the room. We 100% support and recommend that you always talk to your veterinarian first before treating allergies yourself.

If you suspect that your dog has allergies, or have a concern about their allergy medication, talk to them first. Never discontinue use of medication prescribed by a veterinarian without getting their approval.

The goal of this article is to bring attention to the advantages and disadvantages of conventional treatments. We found concerns with long-term use of many conventional allergy medications and wanted to let our readers know.

This especially goes for Apoquel whose makers have been called out by the FDA for misleading claims. This should only strengthen the discussion between you and your vet.

We want to show you alternatives that are safe for long-term use. As well, these alternative methods can be used alongside conventional treatments. This is great as it can keep conventional medications dosages low and used sparingly.

CBD For Dogs

Apoquel for Dogs - The Side Effects Of Giving Your Dog Apoquel | Innovet Pet

If you haven’t heard about CBD before now, then you’re in for a CBD treat - which you can give to your dogs. CBD studies have shown that it works naturally with the body, boosting lipid-based neurotransmitters that activate receptors that specialize in promoting homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the equilibrium of body and all the internal functions working together in harmony. It optimizes and repairs an organism on a cellular level giving them the best at survival in their environment.

For example, the immune system is constantly fighting off pathogens, bacteria, and other nasties and this puts it under a lot of stress. Eventually, all this stress causes it to become unbalanced and damaged.

But the body uses homeostasis to re-balance and repair internal functions like the immune system when this happens. Studies have shown that CBD acts and strengthens a major repair and regulation system that is found throughout the entire body called the endocannabinoid system.

Instead of suppressing the immune system, CBD can act on mechanisms that regulate, re-balance, and repair the immune system. By keeping the immune system calm and functioning as it should, your dog’s immune system is less likely to overreact to harmless molecules.

CBD has been used for its inflammation and immune system protection properties which are well-known and loved by the many who have tried it. But because of the way CBD works, it can have the ability to help with virtually every condition in some way.

In fact, CBD oil first rose to fame because studies had shown to improve many rare forms of epilepsy that conventional medications failed to control. As well, it’s a fantastic medication for anxiety and perhaps the first true over-the-counter supplement for it. This is just the beginning.

Check out awesome ways CBD can help benefit your dog:

  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis/anti-inflammatory
  • Behavioral issues
  • Cancer treatment
  • Epilepsy/seizures
  • Immune system regulation and protection

Our Favorite CBD Products

Apoquel for Dogs - The Side Effects Of Giving Your Dog Apoquel | Innovet Pet

There is no better way to give your dog better health than rewarding them with a lip-smacking, mouth-watering, and delicious treat. And with CBD treats that’s now a complete possibility. With flavors like Steak & Cheese or Maple Bacon & Berries, your dog will come running, eager to take their daily treat for better health.

For smaller dogs, there are CBD soft chews that provide a more appropriate dose. As well, Chews like Turkey & Apple are perfect for older dogs that need to watch their teeth or are reluctant to take harder treats.

If treats aren’t an option CBD comes in an oil/tincture form. This is great for giving your dog a precise dose - you can also make your own customized CBD dog treats with the tincture. CBD oil has all the same great benefits that come along with the treats and can improve your pet’s health in a multitude of ways.

  • CBD oil and CBD treats are rich in healthy fats like omega 3s and 6s.
  • Promotes a shiny and soft coat, healthy appetite, and lowers inflammation.  
  • CBD can give older dogs a youthful boost.
  • Promotes appetite, reduces pain, improves recovery, and relieves arthritis.
  • Appropriate for all ages and pregnant & lactating dogs.
  • Unlike Apoquel and other conventional medication to control allergies.

Other Ways To Ease Allergies

The best way to avoid the side effects of Apoquel and other conventional medication is to use them as sparingly as possible. As well, we want to keep dosage as low as possible.

We learned how CBD can help reduce allergies - thus reducing the use of other drugs. But let’s learn about even more ways for maximum health and protection.

Regular Baths

Remember, like us, dogs get allergies for the same reasons, and for many of us that suffer from allergies, we dreaded times of years. Pollen, ragweed, etc. are the banes of many, and dog hate them just as much, if not more so.

Why? Because it gets trapped in their fur, so even when they remove themselves from the environment it travels with them. Best way to avoid this happening is with regular baths.

You’ll want to be careful that you don’t dry out their skin with regular bathing as this can engender itchiness and scratching - once a month or so in the winter and maybe twice a month in the spring and summer are ideal. If your dog is outside a lot or you live in a high pollen area, you may have to increase the rate.

Flea Protection

Baths will help with fleas as well. These parasites are notorious for biting and causing out pups to break out with an allergic reaction. You can talk to your vet about an appropriate formula or check out an all-natural flea and tick solution.


One of the first things you’ll want to check when you see your dog having an allergic reaction is their food. Dogs are just like us and can have reactions to the same foods we do.

Try to stay away from lots of grains and make sure the food is rich in meat protein. Raw food diets are a great option for healthy adult dogs - especially if grains are causing issues.

Now, dogs can have allergic reactions to beef, poultry, and other meats. Your vet will have the ability to test them and nail down the specific cause.  

Gut Health: Microbes, Probiotics, and More 

Paying attention to gut health is all the rage today, and there is a big reason why - an unhealthy gut can spell inflammatory bowel disease, weight issues, poor mental health, and trigger allergies. A healthy gut means a digestive tract full of 100+ different single-celled microorganisms which are all there to aid in digestion.

So what’s the best way to create a booming micro-colony in your dog’s gut? Well, there are lots of ways, and this is great because most methods by themselves don’t deliver a full spectrum of microbes.


That’s right a good walk can do a lot to improve your pup’s gut health. Healthy microbes are found in the dirt, on plants, and even in the air. So take them outside and let them smell away.

Probiotics and fermented foods

Probiotics are showing promise, but they are running into some serious roadblocks. In most cases, they offer only one type of bacteria or they aren’t delivered in an ideal state/environment.

One study compared a probiotic to fermented foods - both in a petri dish -  and saw a healthy and rich microcolony develop in the fermented food but not the probiotic. This shows the importance of a multifaceted solution to improving gut health.

Raw foods

A raw food diet can deliver a lot of healthy bacteria, but care needs to be taken to ensure bad bacteria doesn’t form.


Mental health and gut bacteria share a circular relationship. A bad gut can cause stress and anxiety, while stress and anxiety can cause an unhealthy gut. We’ve talked about CBD above, and it’s ability to improve anxiety and reduce stress is loved by many. Another reason to check out this awesome oil!

Final Thoughts On Treating Dog Allergies

We hope you have found this article to be of great help when it comes to providing your dog with the best health possible. At the end of the day, it is your decision to make how you want to treat your dog’s allergies.

We recommend a multifaceted approach of CBD, regular baths, a flea & tick solution, improvements gut health, along with your veterinarian’s recommendation.  

These are all fantastic ways to reduce and prevent the use of medications that can come with very serious side effects - some of which can last with your dog forever. Our goal is to bring attention to pet health - both in the natural health world and in modern medicine. For more information, our blog contains a wealth of knowledge all with easily explained science.

For more information on CBD for dog allergy, click here!


Approved by:

Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade

Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.


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The Innovet Team

Please do not ask for emergency or specific medical questions about your pets in the comments. Innovet Pet Products is unable to provide you with specific medical advice or counseling. A detailed physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinarian are required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet requires emergency attention or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic health conditions, please contact or visit your local/preferred veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

Please share your experiences and stories, your opinions and feedback about this blog, or what you've learned that you'd like to share with others.


HENK VAN BIJLEVELT - December 08, 2018

Very informative !!
Thank You

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