One of the most common reasons we see dogs is for itching and allergies. A recent study stated that there are approximately 8.2 Million itchy dogs in the U.S.. Dogs who chronically chew, lick, scratch or constantly rub against household items are often suffering from allergies. Constant scratching can cause hair loss, discolored skin, body odor, and sores.
The underlying cause of allergies can be food, parasites, outdoor plants, as well as contact allergens such as cotton, wool or dust. In the past, often the “go to” medication was a steroid called prednisone. Most pets’ allergy symptoms significantly decrease when taking steroids, but there are many side effects to these steroids. Short term side effects include increased panting, urination and weight gain. Long-term steroid use has similar side effects as well as an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and ligament injuries.
We usually try to treat allergies in a multimodal approach. This means that we will use more than one approach to get the greatest benefit while lowering the dose of the various medications we are using. There are medicated shampoos, lotions, topical sprays, hypoallergenic foods, antihistamines, immunotherapy (specially made injectable allergens for your specific dog), and the list goes on. All of these can be important tools in controlling your dog’s allergies but some treatments are more effective than others.
We now have a new drug in our arsenal called Apoquel®. It is not an antihistamine or a steroid, but rather an entirely new type of drug that works by blocking the inflammatory pathway associated with allergies. It has been shown to be effective in dogs with food allergies, outdoor allergies and contact allergies as well as flea allergies. More specifically, it blocks what is called the JAK-1 or “janis kinase” receptors on a cell. When triggered by allergens, these receptors are signaled to release proteins which tell the brain that the skin is itchy.
Apoquel® is a small tablet which helps stop the itch in about 85% of dogs, over the age of 12 months. It is not available for dogs less than a year of age, due to the fact that their immune systems are still developing. The manufacturer, Zoetis states that it starts to work within 4 hours and has very few side effects. The most common side effect, although rare, is vomiting and diarrhea, which resolves with continued use. In a clinical trial, Apoquel® was found to have no long-term side effects in healthy dogs. Additionally, it can be safely used with most medications.
Recently we have been prescribing Apoquel for our puritic (itchy) patients with great success. I (Dr. Beger) recently started my own dog, a Schnoodle, on Apoquel® and have seen amazing results. He has suffered from year-round and seasonal allergies for the past 10 years. Steroids were the only drug which seemed to make a considerable difference in his comfort. Since the first day on Apoquel®, he is no longer chewing at his feet or licking and scratching at himself. As a veterinarian and having had tried my own dog on all of the allergy treatments available, I can state with conviction that Apoquel® has made a huge difference in my dogs life. With Apoquel®, he is finally comfortable. This in turn makes me a happier mom and strengthens my bond with him. He still gets a weekly bath and is on hypoallergenic food, but overall I would say Apoquel® has made a huge improvement with his allergies. If you would like to learn more about this new option for your dog’s itchy skin, please contact us.
Aimee C Beger, DVM