Apoquel For Dogs: Dosage, Side Effects, and Natural Alternatives


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My dog, Penny, developed an allergy to grass when we first moved to our house. Her body has since gotten used to it, but she was miserable and covered in hives for the first year.

My veterinarian and I discussed Apoquel as an option. As a pharmacist, I like to research drugs that I use on my dogs first and wound up going with Zyrtec. Now, if my dogs have seasonal allergies, I use Zyrtec and CBD combined.


Apoquel (or oclacitinib) is a prescription drug called a JAK-inhibitor.

It works by blocking chemicals in dogs that cause the inflammation and itching we call "allergies."


Apoquel is used to control itching and inflammation of the skin due to allergies in dogs. You may hear your veterinarian refer to this as "atopic dermatitis." This itching can be due to allergies to flea bites, foods, things your dog touched, or atopic dermatitis.


You cannot legally get Apoquel for dogs without a veterinary prescription in the United States. This is because the drug has potentially serious side effects and because it is only a good choice in some situations.

Your veterinarian will ensure your dog is old enough and healthy enough to take Apoquel safely.


Apoquel works by blocking chemicals in your dog's body called cytokines. When your dog's skin develops an allergic reaction, their body makes the skin itch using cytokines. By blocking cytokines, Apoquel blocks your dog's skin from itching and inflammation.


Veterinarians dose Apoquel at 0.18-0.27mg per pound of bodyweight. It is initially prescribed twice daily for 14 days, then once daily for maintenance therapy. You can give your dog Apoquel with or without food.

Dosage Chart

Range (lb)
Number of Tablets
to be Administered
Low High 3.6mg
6.6 9.9 0.5
10 14.9 0.5
15 19.9 1
20 29.9 1
30 44.9 0.5
45 59.9 2
60 89.9 1
90 129.9 1.5
130 175.9 2

This chart was adapted from the manufacturer's prescribing information.

To read it, find your dog's weight range and then look on the right side to see what dose they need. Here's an example: My dog weighs around 70 lbs. On the chart, that is between 60 and 89.9lbs, which means she would take one tablet of 16mg a day.

Keep in mind that veterinarians must prescribe Apoquel, and they will provide directions on how you should give it to your dog on the label.


Apoquel is sold online and at local pharmacies or veterinarian offices. It can cost anywhere from around $2-$3 per tablet or $60-$90 for a one-month supply.


Apoquel is approved for safety and efficacy in dogs by the FDA. It can cause some serious side effects and must be administered only under the authority of a veterinarian. If given at the wrong dose or time to the wrong dog, it can cause serious problems.

Precautions Before Using Apoquel

Apoquel must not be used in dogs less than 12 months of age or in dogs with serious infections. Apoquel can make it easier for dogs to get infections, and it can make certain tumors worse.

Some dogs given Apoquel in clinical studies developed new cancerous tumors and were put down, and other dogs given Apoquel after its approval have developed cancerous tumors.

Finally, Apoquel is associated with dogs being more susceptible to demodicosis or a skin infestation of Demodex mites.


Apoquel is associated with the following side effects:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia
  • New lump in or under the skin
  • Lethargy (tiredness)
  • Decreased leukocytes (immune system cells)
  • Increase cholesterol
  • Cancer


Apoquel vs Zyrtec

Apoquel and Zyrtec work differently. Zyrtec blocks histamine, which helps control all allergic reactions in the body. Zyrtec causes side effects in dogs, but not as much as Apoquel.

The side effects are all reversible after the dog stops taking Zyrtec, and none of the very serious side effects Apoquel can cause are caused by Zyrtec. Specifically, Zyrtec is not associated with the formation of new lumps or cancerous tumors.

While all care should be discussed with a veterinarian because each situation and dog are different, I can say that as a dog owner and pharmacist that when my dogs have had allergy symptoms, including dermatitis due to grass allergies, I have always used antihistamines over Apoquel because of the difference in side effects caused.


CBD, or cannabidiol, is another alternative for dermatitis and itching. It does not work the same way as Apoquel or Zyrtec.

In fact, the means by which it works to reduce itching is not as well understood as those drugs, nor are there large studies to show safety and efficacy.

That said, thousands of pet owners, including veterinarians use CBD products for their pets, including dogs.

There are studies showing that it is effective for topical itchiness. There are also many reports and studies on side effects in dogs. I've used it on my own dogs.

CBD has fewer side effects than either Zyrtec or Apoquel. It is known only to cause diarrhea and a minor change in liver enzyme values (this has never been associated with harm).

CBD should be used under the guidance of a veterinarian as it can change the way your dog's body uses drugs.

It's also important to note that only high-quality, third-party lab-analyzed CBD products should be used, and a veterinarian or other professional can help you source such products.

Lastly, keep in mind the difference between Broad Spectrum and Full Spectrum CBD products. Broad spectrum CBD products contain no THC, while full spectrum products do. THC is the part of the hemp plant that causes euphoria in humans, and as of right now, research indicates it can cause adverse effects in dogs.

Always consider the side effects of different CBD oils before choosing to give one to your dog.


Apoquel is used to help dogs with their skin itching and inflammation caused by allergies.

Apoquel is associated with more side effects than Zyrtec or CBD – some of them quite serious.

Zyrtec and CBD alone or combined are likely safer for your dog if they successfully control your pet's itching and inflammation.

CBD products should be sourced from a quality manufacturer that confirms the contents of their products with a third-party lab.

Most importantly, all therapies used should be approved by your veterinarian!


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