Apoquel for Dogs: Side Effects and Vegan Alternatives for Itchy Dogs

Apoquel for Dogs: Side Effects and Vegan Alternatives for Itchy Dogs

If your dog is constantly scratching or biting their skin, you’ve likely heard of several pills and creams recommended to provide your furry friend with instant relief - including Apoquel. While this drug markets itself as the leading brand for itch relief in dogs, the many side effects leave many pet owners questioning whether it’s worth the risk. 

One of the major Apoquel side effects that many are concerned about is its potential to cause or worsen cancer. Thankfully, a much safer alternative is available that you might not have considered: switching your dog to an organic, fresh, vegan diet.

What is Apoquel for Dogs? 

10-15% of dogs suffer from atopic dermatitis, and this is only one of the many conditions that cause itching in dogs. The scratching, hair loss, and irritated skin that dogs often suffer from will naturally cause every dog owner to seek out the quickest possible solution. 

Apoquel is a brand name for the active drug oclacitin made by Zoetis. This drug works as a Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitor, targeting this enzyme in your dog’s immune system to stop the brain from sending out any signals that there’s an itch. 

It claims to begin working within four hours of giving your pet the tablet and provides complete relief within twenty-four hours. Like many miracle drugs, the downside to Apoquel’s rapid relief is that its effects wear off just as quickly, requiring most dogs to be given this medication daily. 

So, if this medication doesn’t provide a long-term solution, why is it still recommended?

Apoquel for dogs

Why Do Vets Prescribe Apoquel for Dogs?

Just like many of us, medical professionals tend to stick to what they know. They recommend the treatments and medications they’re familiar with and have been advertised the most. Since Apoquel has proven to be effective in stopping dogs from itching, this is the medication many vets will recommend. It solves the problem (albeit temporary) that the owner wants a solution for. 

According to Zoetis, over the last ten years, Apoquel has been administered to over 13 million dogs in the United States alone. The drug generated US$ 464 million in revenue in 2018, and the global market is only increasing. 

While it’s always important to listen to the advice of a medical professional, the onus is on pet owners to determine whether a quick fix for their pup’s itching problem is worth the many side effects of this drug.

Apoquel Side Effects: Does Apoquel Cause Cancer?

No medication is without any side effects, and every dog won’t have the same reaction to prescribed medications. But as we’ve mentioned before, Apoquel isn’t a one-and-done type of medication; many dogs take this medication on a long-term basis, leading to many health issues over time, including cancer. 

Listed under the warnings on the label for this drug states, “New neoplastic conditions (benign and malignant) were observed in dogs treated with APOQUEL during clinical studies and have been reported in the post-approval period.” Clearly stating that this medication displayed the potential to cause cancer even during the clinical trials. 

If you’d like to hear more about the potential link between Apoquel and cancer, you can listen to this insightful episode of the Plant Powered Paws podcast. 

According to Zoetis, in the Post-Approval Experience reports, the following adverse effects have been observed in dogs using this drug: Vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, diarrhoea, elevated liver enzymes, dermatitis, seizures, polydipsia, and demodicosis. Benign, malignant, and unclassified neoplasms, dermal masses, lymphoma and other cancers have been reported. Death (including euthanasia) has also been reported. 

Even with the company openly stating the dangers of this medication, many dog owners swear by this drug to reduce itching. While the purpose of this article isn’t to bash Apoquel for dogs or discourage anyone from asking their vet about the drug, it’s important that every pet owner knows all the options available when making decisions about their pet’s health. 

Other negatives of using Apoquel for dogs

No dog likes to go to the vet. Unfortunately for your dog (and your pocket!), veterinary consultations for the "safe" use of Apoquel are regular and often. Reputable veterinarians will offer blood tests regularly to make sure that your dog remains healthy enough to take the drug. So veterinary visits will be regular to start with, and as the warnings state, vet visits may continue with other conditions arising as a result of taking the drug. 

Using Food to Treat Your Dog’s Skin Conditions

Many dog owners spend a lot of money trying to treat their pet’s skin conditions through expensive dog foods and veterinary-recommended medications like Apoquel. Unfortunately for the pup, these treatments are often a short-term solution to a long-term issue. 

healthy food for dogs

There’s a saying that you are what you eat, and this doesn’t exclude our pets. A dog’s diet is crucial to its overall health and susceptibility to allergens and skin infections. A 2015 study found that dogs' most common food allergens were beef, dairy products, chicken, wheat, and lamb. Considering that dog diets mainly consist of animal products, what’s the solution? Vegan food for dogs.

Providing your dog with organic, vegan dog food that has been correctly formulated to be balanced eliminates the triggering ingredients commonly found in meat-based diets. It also provides your pet with essential nutrients needed for skin and coat health, natural antioxidants to reduce inflammation and promote a healthy immune system, and dietary fibres that reduce the buildup of toxins that cause skin issues in dogs. 

Nutrient-rich foods like sweet potatoes, lentils, quinoa, hemp, and chickpeas can help reduce skin issues in dogs. However, not everyone can prepare raw or home-cooked vegan food for dogs and ensure their dog gets all the nutrients it needs. If you live in the UK, Fleetful offers convenient, easy-to-prepare organic recipe kits that are a natural solution for itchy skin in dogs. 

Many dog owners worry that their pets won’t receive the right nutrients from a vegan diet. However, studies have proven that dogs can thrive on a plant-based diet. In 2023, a comprehensive study was published detailing the health outcomes of domestic dogs fed a commercial plant-based diet for a year. The study followed fifteen dogs and found that they maintained health while being fed vegan food for dogs. More studies on feeding dogs a vegan diet can be found here.

Resources on Feeding Your Pet Organic Dog Food

Knowledge is the most important tool for anyone with a pet. While a fresh vegan diet is an excellent choice for your furry friend; it’s important to ensure you’re well-informed before transitioning your pet’s diet. I highly recommend reading Plant Powered Dog. This book is a useful reference guide on feeding your dog the best plant-based diet, and it’s available worldwide. 

Learning the right foods and portions to provide your dog with allergy-prone skin is an easy way to avoid the need for harmful prescription medications, like Apoquel for dogs. So, if you’re ready to take control of your dog’s health but aren’t sure where to begin, explore Dr Arielle’s in-depth course on plant-based nutrition for dogs. It will give you the knowledge and confidence to successfully transition your dog to an organic, vegan diet. 

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