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Dog Allergies: Is Aqoquel Right for your Dog?


Constant itching, scratching, head shaking, and skin or ear infections are the norm for dogs with severe seasonal allergies.  Not only are these symptoms frustrating for dogs, but they can be aggravating for pet owners as well.  Many veterinarians are touting prescription Apoquel as a miracle cure for allergies.  What are the benefits and side effects of Apoquel, and is this solution right for you and your dog?  These questions, and more, will be discussed. 

Photo by: www.lifeinthedoglane.com

Allergies in Dogs

Dogs experience many of the same allergies as humans, including grass, pollen, mold, weeds, dust mites, and even pet dander.  The main difference is how allergies manifest in dogs.  Instead of sneezing, watery eyes, and congestion, dogs experience a whole-body histamine release.  This reaction causes extreme itching, scratching, and yeast overgrowth. 

There are many ways to minimize a dog’s reaction to allergens.  However, not all of them are feasible for busy dog owners.  Additionally, for dogs with severe allergies, quality of life may be diminished.  For these animals, prescription Apoquel may be the right choice. 

What is Apoquel?

Apoquel is an allergy medication for dogs that is specifically prescribed to reduce itchiness and inflammation caused by allergic dermatitis.  Unlike other allergy medications, Apoquel is not an antihistamine, steroid, or cyclosporine.    

How Apoquel Works

Apoquel works to block the source of the itching.  This medication is fast-acting and can work in as little as 4 hours to relieve the itch while fully eliminating it after 24 hours.  Apoquel affects kinases in a dog’s bloodstream.  Kinases are necessary for proper signaling, communication, and regulation among cells.  When certain kinases are turned “off,” cellular signaling, such as itchiness, is eliminated. 

When should Apoquel be used?

Apoquel can be used as a short-term solution for allergic flare ups, or for long-term use to control severe allergies.  The best way to use Apoquel will be dependent on each individual dog; however, the FDA has approved Apoquel for use in pets for up to 2 years continuously. 

Side Effects of Apoquel

The most common side effects from Apoquel are vomiting and diarrhea.  Additional side effects include loss of appetite, lethargy, new cutaneous and subcutaneous lumps, decreased leukocytes, decreased globulins, and increased cholesterol.  Some pet owners have also reported increased itchiness. 

Benefits of Apoquel

The major benefit of Apoquel is relief from environmental allergies.  When dogs experience allergic dermatitis, their day is consumed by incessant scratching.  Not only is the itchiness uncomfortable, but dogs that are experiencing allergies are also more susceptible to developing skin and ear infections.  Additionally, the chronic inflammation associated with allergies can leave dogs prone to chronic disease. 

Apoquel also has fewer side effects than other common allergy medications.  For instance, Benadryl can cause extreme drowsiness and lethargy for pets.  Other antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Claritin can also cause lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. 

Steroids can hinder a dog’s quality of life by causing weight gain, increased thirst, increased urination, and a general worsening of symptoms.  These side effects may also negatively affect the pet owner, as increased bathroom frequency may be difficult to accommodate.

Finally, cyclosporins can cause vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and lethargy, among other symptoms. 

Disadvantages of Apoquel

There are numerous potential disadvantages that pet owners must consider before administering a new medication to their dog. 

Price is a major factor, as Apoquel is not cheap.  One pill costs approximately $2.00 – $2.50, and dosage varies based on the dog’s size and the severity of the allergies.  In comparison, other antihistamines, steroids, or cyclosporins typically cost $0.25 – $1.00 per pill. 

Side effects are another concern.  While dogs generally exhibit fewer side effects with Apoquel than other allergy medications, all dogs react differently.  Vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive itching can occur, which would make Apoquel a poor option for allergy control.   

Finally, Apoquel is the first drug of its kind to be put on the market, which means the long-term side effects are not as well known.  While the FDA has recognized this medication as generally safe, there may be concerns over disrupting the dog’s natural biology. 

Is Apoquel Right for my Dog?

Ultimately, pet owners with dogs suffering from extreme allergies must ask themselves whether prescription Apoquel is right for their pets.  Major considerations are the cost, side effects, and the medication’s mechanism.

While Apoquel is pricier than many other forms of allergy medications, the high cost of the drug may cut down on vet visits if the frequency of skin and ear infections is decreased.  Additionally, if a dog’s quality of life is severely affected by allergies, Apoquel is a great option.

Side effects are another major concern.  While many dogs do not experience significant side effects, those that do can be severe.  However, since Apoquel is fast-acting pet owners would quickly know whether their dog was negatively affected.  Dog owners should talk to their veterinarians about a short course of Aopquel to ensure there are no serious side effects. 

Finally, the medication’s mechanism may be a concern for pet owners.  However, the FDA has approved Apoquel for use in dogs for up to 2 years.  For dogs that are truly suffering, Apoquel – despite its potential disadvantages – may still provide an enhanced quality of life versus any of the other anti-allergy options, thus making it the right choice for your pet.   

Alternatives to Apoquel

If you are unsure whether Apoquel is right for you, there are numerous natural alternatives.  These include:


Supplements can be useful when fighting allergies in dogs because they work to strengthen the immune system.  Two useful supplements in fighting allergies are:

Zesty Paws

Zesty Paws Immune Supplement for Dogs is a soft chew that contains fish oil, probiotics, prebiotics, colostrum, and apple cider vinegar to naturally fight seasonal allergies and hot spots by strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation.  These soft chews are favorites in the author’s household and have worked well to reduce seasonal allergies.


WINPRO supplements are revolutionary in the way they heal the immune system by targeting inflammation.  Oftentimes, allergies are aggravated or even caused by inflammation in the gut.  WINPRO uses blood protein technology that has been proven in livestock and race horses to treat this inflammation at the source.  Once the inflammation has been addressed, additional active ingredients go to work to minimize symptoms. 

Allergen Avoidance

Another option is to have your dog allergy tested in order to avoid allergens completely.  Allergy testing can be performed by specialty veterinarian.  Here, a portion of skin is shaved, and common allergens are exposed to the dog using the skin prick or scratch method.  Once the allergens have been identified, pet owners are then advised to help their dogs avoid the known triggers. 

For instance, if your dog has grass allergies you can place rubber booties on your dog’s paws before going outdoors or set up a paw wash station at the door to remove as many allergens as possible before going indoors.    

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a natural remedy that has numerous uses.  One common use is for the relief of allergies.  Two common areas dogs exhibit allergy symptoms are paws or ears.  Apple cider vinegar can be diluted as used as a foot soak to relieve the itchiness.  In addition, a diluted apple cider vinegar substance can be used as an ear wash to prevent yeast growth.  Always talk to your veterinarian before incorporating any remedy or supplement into your dog’s routine. 


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Anna Weber

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