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If you're considering giving your puppy Apoquel for atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis, you're likely wondering whether it's safe.

Although the FDA has approved Apoquel for use in dogs over 12 months of age, it is not suitable for young dogs such as puppies under the age of one. 

But what makes Apoquel not suitable for puppies? Discover why this drug is not recommended for dogs younger than 12 months of age.

What is Apoquel Exactly?

Apoquel (generic name, oclacitinib) was launched in 2014 by the manufacturing company Zoetis.

Apoquel for dogs is typically prescribed to manage the symptoms of canine atopic dermatitis.

In the past, canine atopic dermatitis was managed/treated with steroids (oral prednisolone and injectable dexamethasone), antihistamines (like diphenhydramine and hydroxyzine) or cyclosporine (brand name Atopica, produced by Novartis Animal Health).

Today, another option is Apoquel, which has been FDA approved and prescribed to treat canine atopic dermatitis now by many veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists.

Apoquel is not a steroid, nor is it an antihistamine, or a cyclosporine.  Apoquel is an immune suppressant drug in the Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitor class.

What is Canine Atopic Dermatitis?

Canine atopic dermatitis is a medical condition that affects dogs suffering from allergic reactions to allergens in their environment such as pollen, grasses and molds.

Unlike people, when dogs suffer from allergies, their reaction is seen mostly in their skin rather than through sneezing fits and runny noses.

Dogs suffering from canine atopic dermatitis will therefore develop intense skin itching (pruritus) and associated complications such as secondary yeast or bacterial skin infections.

How Does Apoquel Work?

Apoquel for dog allergies works by inhibiting janus kinase (JAK “just another kinase”), special enzymes known for triggering the immune system and causing itching and inflammation.

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By inhibiting these enzymes, dogs are provided with relief because their immune system is suppressed.

As mentioned, Apoquel is therefore classified as an immune system modulator.

When Zoetis conducted several studies, it was found that Apoquel was capable of effectively inhibiting a cytokine responsible for causing itching, and when it did, it did so much faster compared to steroids.

A big advantage of using Apoquel is therefore the fact that is provides quick relief from itching (within four hours of administration) without the damaging effects seen with the use of steroids.

However, as most drugs, Apoquel for dogs is not free from side effects. 

Why is Apoquel Not For Puppies?

Apoquel is not suitable for puppies for the simple fact that some studies have shown potential complications in certain cases. 

According to a study conducted by the manufacturer of Apoquel in 2016, puppies there were given Apoquel developed the following complications:

  • Pneumonia
  • Worsening of demodex, in puppies suffering from skin mites
  • Pyoderma (a skin bacterial infection)

This medication can therefore increase the chances of puppies developing serious infections, and risks making existing parasitic skin infestations much worse. 

What Can Be used in Puppies to Replace Apoquel?

Considering the above risks for side effects in puppies under the age of 12 months, an alternative option is Cytopoint, which is considered a better option for puppies, points out veterinarian Dr. Rachel. 

Cytopoint is also made by Zoetis and is reported to be safe to use in dogs of any age. 

Cytopoint consists of an injection that is meant to reduce the itching associated with allergies.

This shot starts taking effect within one day and is capable of  providing relief that lasts for 4 to 8 weeks.

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