dog scratching

Watching your dog itch and clearly feeling uncomfortable can be very distressing for both dog and owner.

Now, if you think that you are about to read about why you shouldn’t use Apoquel, think again…

Apoquel may indeed be part of your pet’s allergy treatment plan, and, hey, in many instances, it ‘stops the itch’ quickly.

However, a holistic, long term view should definitely also be considered.

What is Apoquel For Dogs?

Apoquel (oclactinib maleate) is a popular drug, commonly prescribed for the treatment of “pruritis” – which is itching.

What causes the itching?

It usually comes down to either one of these:

  • Allergic Dermatitis – this is either caused by hives, or by a hypersensitivity to a number of factors, including food, an insect bite, ear mites and bacterial infections
  • Atopic Dermatitis – this is a hypersensitivity to something in the environment that can either be breathed in by your dog or absorbed by the skin. It excludes the causes mentioned above, and, for many dogs, the exact cause of their condition never ends up being discovered

Apoquel is not a steroid, cyclosporine or antihistamine, and proposes to have fewer side effects than other allergy medicine for dogs, as well as Apoquel alternatives, particularly steroids.

How Does Apoquel Work?

Bernese Mountain Dog

Apoquel works by blocking the signal that acts as a trigger for the neurostimulation that creates itch.

But, unfortunately, it’s not necessarily going to be a silver bullet for stopping the itch of every itchy dog…

While Apoquel does treat the symptoms that your dog is experiencing, it does not actually cure dermatitis or allergies that have lead to the symptoms appearing.

What Symptoms can be Helped by Apoquel?

The symptoms that Apoquel can help with include:

  • Biting or chewing the feet or body
  • Redness
  • Rubbing their body against the floor or furniture
  • Hairloss (alopecia)
  • Broken or scabby skin
  • Hotspots

The scratching and biting of skin is common, and can lead to secondary bacterial infections – which we want to avoid.

For many, Apoquel can offer some relief from itching whilst you and your vet investigate the underlying cause of their itchy skin.

So how do you find the cause of your pet’s itch?

Your vet may perform some, or all, of the following:

  • Blood tests
  • Skin scrapings
  • Fungal tests
  • Bacterial cultures
  • Allergy tests
  • Skin biopsies

How Long Does Apoquel Take to Work?

happy puppy

Dr Nicole Heinrich (DVM, DACVD) suggests a 20% failure rate in the clients she sees and recommends this…

If you don’t see a difference in 1-2 weeks on Apoquel, there’s no point in continuing to administer it.

Check out Dr Heinrich’s excellent one-pager, Common Apoquel Mistakes, from her experience as a Veterinary Dermatologist, to learn more.

Be aware that many pet owners find that it doesn’t seem to help with itchy ears or chronic ear infections from allergies.

Apoquel Side Effects

Dog looking through window

Just like with any drug, Apoquel can have side effects.

These could include:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Ear infections
  • Weight gain
  • Pyoderma (a bacterial skin infection)

Are there any dogs who shouldn’t use Apoquel?

Yes, if any of the following applies to your dog:

  • They’re under one year of age
  • They have a serious infection
  • You are planning on breeding them
  • They are pregnant or are nursing puppies

Long Term Treatment Plans

Dog running on Beach

While Apoquel may help with your dog’s symptoms, you don’t want to have to keep your pooch on drugs in the long run.

Fortunately, there are a few lifestyle changes that you can make for your dog to help ease symptoms naturally in future.

A Holistic Approach

If you notice your pet’s “seasonal allergies” becoming more year-round, consider getting their gut assessed for the possibility of dysbiosis (aka Leaky Gut Syndrome).

It’s more common than you think, and Dr Karen Becker explains it well here

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Dr Karen Becker recommend transitioning pets with allergies to an anti-inflammatory diet – one low in carbohydrates.

What should this consist of?

To begin with, it means avoiding grains, particularly wheat – which is relatively easy.

What’s harder is avoiding the other starchy carbohydrates, such as:

  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Tapioca
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Potatoes

Fortunately, there are many dehydrated and frozen meal options out there to give your dog a balanced diet.

Boosting Omega-3 + Coconut Oil

A boost of omega-3 fatty acids can be very beneficial when it comes to helping itchy skin.

There is a lot of discussion about what source is best, but I prefer ocean sources, such as:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines

While coconut oil does not contain any omegas, it does contain lauric acid, which is a great complementary supplement for fungal and yeast prone dogs.

This can be added to your dog’s food or rubbed straight into their skin. They usually love coconut oil, and it’s obviously safe for them to lick at.


Drugs such as Apoquel may provide relief from itching, and may in fact be an appropriate choice for your dog, given where he or she is currently at.

It could very well buy you some extra time to get to the bottom of what is causing your dog’s itch, but, from a holistic perspective, it’s critical to look for the underlying cause of the itch too.

Has Apoquel helped your dog?


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