Skip to main content

Apoquel for dogs: Vet's guide to dosage, uses and side effects

dog itching
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Apoquel for dogs is one of a number of treatments available for the treatment of allergic dermatitis or skin allergies. 

While many pet owners attribute allergic skin disease to food allergies, and focus on feeding the best dog food for allergies to alleviate the symptoms, the majority of canine allergies are actually caused by environmental triggers. 

Therefore, diet alone is often insufficient for the treatment of allergies. Instead, veterinarians often recommend Apoquel and other allergy medications to treat allergic dermatitis in dogs.  

What is Apoquel used for in dogs? 

Apoquel is typically used to treat atopy, a particular form of skin allergies. There are three primary types of skin allergies in dogs. 

The most common allergies in dogs include food allergies, flea allergy, and atopy: 

Food allergies in dogs

Food allergies in dogs involve an allergic reaction to a particular food protein, such as beef or chicken. Commercially-available dog food allergy tests are generally considered unreliable, so food allergies are diagnosed through a food trial. 

This requires feeding a highly restricted diet that excludes specific proteins that can trigger allergies. Dogs with food allergies need to remain on a restricted diet for the remainder of their lives. 

Flea allergies

Flea allergies involve an allergy to proteins found in the saliva of fleas. In dogs with flea allergies, just a small number of flea bites can trigger a significant, widespread skin reaction with signs that may include itching, redness, and hair loss.

Most cases of flea allergy can be treated with effective flea prevention (given according to your veterinarian’s recommendations). However, some dogs may require additional allergy medications if they are in an environment with large numbers of fleas.  

Atopy

Finally, there’s atopy. Atopy is the most common form of allergic skin disease in dogs and involves an allergic reaction to inhaled allergens. Pollen, dust, mold, and other airborne allergens can trigger atopy in dogs. 

Although atopy is the most common form of allergies in dogs, it is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that you must first rule out food allergies and flea allergies (with a food trial and consistent prescription-strength flea prevention) before definitively diagnosing a dog with atopy. 

Atopy is typically managed with long-term medication, although hyposensitization injections (“allergy shots”) can also be beneficial. 

Apoquel is typically used to treat the itching and inflammation associated with atopy in dogs. Dogs often remain on Apoquel throughout their allergy season, although some dogs require year-round treatment. 

Apoquel can also be used (less commonly) in dogs with flea allergies. It can help control itching and inflammation until flea prevention takes effect or provide additional relief for a dog receiving frequent environmental exposure to fleas. 

scratching dog

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Apoquel for dogs: Dosage 

Your veterinarian will calculate your dog’s Apoquel dosage based on your dog’s body weight. In most cases, your veterinarian will recommend initially giving Apoquel twice daily, to provide rapid relief for your dog. 

After two weeks, your dog’s Apoquel dosage will be decreased to a once-daily maintenance dose. This maintenance dose can be continued long-term. 

Apoquel can be given with food or on an empty stomach. If you decide to discontinue Apoquel for any reason, you can stop the medication immediately. Unlike some other medications, Apoquel does not need to be tapered slowly. 

Side effects of Apoquel for dogs

Historically, allergic dermatitis was often treated with corticosteroids (such as prednisone). Unfortunately, corticosteroids can have a number of unpleasant side effects and harmful impacts on the body. 

Therefore, Apoquel and other allergy medications have been designed with the goal of controlling allergic dermatitis without the harmful side effects that accompany corticosteroids.

The most common side effects associated with Apoquel are vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. Fortunately, these side effects are relatively uncommon. (opens in new tab) Rarely, dogs on Apoquel develop new skin masses; however, a long-term study (opens in new tab)  found no association between Apoquel and the development of malignant cancer. 

Apoquel can be safely combined with many other medications. If your dog is currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, talk to your veterinarian to ensure that these medications can safely be combined with Apoquel. 

Apoquel should not be used in pregnant or lactating dogs, dogs under one year old, or dogs with serious infections. 

Image of dog feeling poorly

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can you get Apoquel for dogs without a vet prescription? 

Apoquel is a prescription medication and is only available through a veterinarian. 

If your dog has signs of allergic dermatitis, regular veterinary care will be required to develop an effective treatment plan and maintain your dog’s skin health. Allergies are managed, not cured, and you will need to work closely with your dog’s veterinarian to control allergies over your dog’s lifespan. 

If you wish to avoid prescription medications and stick to home remedies, talk to your veterinarian about tips for coping with allergic pets

Depending on the source of your dog’s allergies, there may be measures you can take to minimize your dog’s allergy flare-ups. 

Summary 

Apoquel for dogs is a valuable treatment option for dogs suffering from atopic dermatitis, as well as some cases of flea allergic dermatitis. It is one of several medications that a veterinarian may reach for in an effort to provide relief for a pet with allergies. 

Every dog responds differently to medication, so effectively treating allergies may require some trial and error to determine the best possible treatment for your dog. If Apoquel works well for your dog, it can be a safe option for providing long-term relief from allergies.  

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.