Apoquel Alternative: Over The Counter and What You Must Know

itchy dog
(Last Updated On: September 26, 2022)

Taking care of a crazily itchy dog is no joke! Dogs in this state can keep you up at night, going days and days without proper sleep, and might just drive you crazy dealing with the unbelievable itch during the day.

Yours and your pet’s days will be filled with scratching, hair loss, biting, red inflamed skin, sticky moisture coming from their pores, and long sleepless nights for both of you. Just imagine, Itchy, allergic dogs are the #1 reason that pets actually go to vets!

The problem with itching lies in the dog’s immune system and happens when it’s been working overtime or malfunctioning in any way. One of the most popular new drugs that deal with itching in dogs is Apoquel. A relatively new drug, that became very popular among vets and dog owners really fast.

While Apoquel does work when it comes to controlling itching, there are certain side effects and doubts around it, that makes a lot of dog owners and vets stay away from it.

Nexgard Effects

Apoquel Alternatives

Itching in dogs can definitely be cured. And by cured, I mean not only stopping but actually getting your dog well and healthy without any use of continual medication.

And a lot of these Apoquel alternatives are better and safer than Apoquel.

One safe way to deal with your dog’s allergies is by getting a vet to do a tailored allergy elimination program that works perfectly for over 90% of dog patients. Unlike Apoquel, this approach is non-toxic and strengthens your dog’s immune system.

Another approach that you can take, that some dog owners swear by, is classical homeopathy, which involves hiring a trained veterinary homeopath. Veterinary homeopaths will look in-depth at not only your dog’s itching problem but the rest of your pet and its wellbeing.

They often start by asking basic well-being questions that might help them in their goal of curing allergies while the whole animal becomes healthier. Some of the questions you should be ready for are – if your dog has been thirsty, fearful, constantly hungry, or even averse to getting its feet wet.

Allergy Shots

Just like humans can take allergy shots, so can your dog. These shots can help your dog with flea dermatitis, food allergies, and dermatitis that comes from other sources like their environment. Your vet will just give them a little dose under their skin and increase the dosage over time.

In the end, you should notice less severe allergic reactions as the shots mute their immune response.


You can also give your dog something like Benadryl as an antihistamine. Of course, you need to talk to your vet to make sure you’re dosing correctly since human and animal doses are different, but they can still be used to treat mild allergies.

Ideally, your vet will give you some recommendations about medications it can be combined for the best results. They’ll let you know more about the side effects too.


This is a form of antioxidant that can work to stop inflamed skin and stop itching. Actually, Quercetin is something found in fruits and vegetables, and has been studied in alternative medications for dogs for a while.

Teas and Herbs

There are different types of tea that you might find beneficial for your dog, like chamomile and green tea. Chamomile can be used to treat wounds and other irritations, so it can help soothe itchy skin. Green tea can do the same and has antioxidants in it as well.

You can also find calendula, which is an herb that has been used for centuries to help treat dermatitis and itching. For all of these, though, do make sure to check with your vet about dosage.

Oatmeal Baths

Yes, you can give your dog an oatmeal bath, which is much simpler than you might think. You only need to sprinkle the oatmeal into their bath water or just add it into their shampoo, which will help to relieve their itchy skin—with no worry about dosages either.

Fish Oil

Finally, you have fish oil supplements, which contain the omega-3 fatty acids that have some great anti-inflammatory properties. There have been actual studies on this that show how it can benefit your pooch.

What is Apoquel Used For?

So, Apoquel is basically an oclacitinib, an FDA approved immunosuppressant drug that claims to provide onset or relief within the first 4 hours and effectively controls itching within 24 hours. It is a drug that’s used to treat/control itching and inflammation in dogs caused by flea / food / contact allergies or atopic dermatitis.

The reason Apoquel works when it comes to providing relief and controlling itching is that it’s a so-called ‘immune modulator’ that acts on the immune system of dogs.

To get all scientific about it, this drug works this way that it stops a piece of the inflammatory chemical cascade through interfering with certain enzymes (kinases), also known as JAK, which blocks the effects of inflammatory cytokines and the cytokine directly involved in the sensation of itch.

Tramadol for your dog?

Why Some Dog Owners Don’t Want To Give Apoquel To Their Dogs

Even though Apoquel seems to work, a lot of dog owners would rather skip it when it comes to itch relief. The reason for that is that nobody has tested the safety of Apoquel for longer than 30 days. The first conducted research lasted only 7 days, and it did prove that the drug is fairly safe.

The second research that lasted for 30 days showed that about 6% of dogs tested had abnormal health events (like diarrhea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, and cystitis). But dog owners are concerned because their dogs might have to use the drug for years, and they fear the dog’s immune system might be really compromised by the drug.

Another reason for concern is that the manufacturer has limited Apoquel for use only in dogs older than 12 months because the studies on 6 and 12-month-old dogs were discontinued when the dogs developed bacterial pneumonia and demodectic mange infections.

Glucosamine for dogs

Side Effects and Disadvantages

Apoquel is used to treat allergies in dogs, but as with any medication, there are some potential side effects associated with the medication. Your dog might experience some or all side effects, which can include: vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, decreased appetite, and some increased risk for things like UTI, skin infections, respiratory infections, and mange.

Your dog also might struggle with potential changes in their bloodwork that lead to decreased blood cell counts, as well as an exacerbation of any existing tumors or cancer. You can potentially also notice some gastrointestinal side effects like an upset stomach, but this can potentially be relieved by giving your dog the medication with food.

Either way, your vet will likely be keeping an eye on your dog when you start with the medication just to make sure none of their conditions get worse.

Apoquel vs. Cytopoint

Cytopoint is another option that you might be considering for your dog, especially since it can usually start controlling the itching within a day. It can provide some relief that lasts for a month or two as well. You can use it for dogs in any age range, and it isn’t chemically based, so it might be a better option for your pet to try.

Now, whether one is better than the other depends on your specific pooch. You might simply prefer trying Cytopoint because it comes in an injection, which is good for dogs that won’t take oral medication. Cytopoint only needs to be given every 4-6 weeks, too, rather than every day with Apoquel.

Granted, if your dog isn’t a huge fan of the vet, then Apoquel might be better so that they feel more comfortable taking their medication at home.

For either one, they do need to be taken on a schedule to keep the itching and skin problems at bay and to help alleviate your dog’s symptoms. 


Whether you decide to use Apoquel or some other drug or take a completely different approach depends completely on you and your vet’s opinion. A lot of conventional vets support the new drug, but there is still some uncertainty about long-term effects, so some would rather go without using it.

My advice is that before making any decision or rushing to some new ‘miracle drug,’ you should keep your dog’s health and wellbeing in mind and do some thorough research.

Make sure you go through all the pros and cons and study all the positive and negative side effects of a drug like Apoquel (or any other approach) before deciding on using it. Even consult more than one vet if you think it’s necessary.

Before getting your dog on some prescribed meds, always try to find a way to cure instead of treat. After all, you want only the best for your dog, and you don’t want to risk anything. Hope this has helped you in finding more info regarding this new drug.


  • Delphine Broekstra says:

    My 4 year old Labrador is allergic to quite a few things. She had open sore on her face but wasn’t scratching it. Put on antibiotics and now on Apoquel for ‘life,’. I’m not happy at cost per month £60. She doesn’t scratch and wondered if she could go on Pititeze if the sore returns on her face. I’m tempted to give her 16mg tablet alternate days. Thankyou.

    • Leigh says:

      Hi Delphine, unfortunately, I really can’t give specific advice on whether she can go on Pititeze. A vet will be able to give you professional advice. All the best!

  • David Shanley says:

    My year old pup has been put on this tablet. It is costing me €90 for 20 days worth. I need a different more cost effective way.

  • Steve says:

    Nice. I’m not sure about homeopathy though

  • Betty Phillips says:

    My small pug which is 9 years old is on seizure meds, potassium bromide, phenobarbital and keppra. she is always itching vet put her on apoquel 3.6mg. it’s so expensive along with all the other meds shes on. what can I give her over the counter? Thanks in advance!!

  • Becky Hurdle says:

    I have 2 dogs-sisters-but only one has skin allergies. Lissa has had a problem with ‘spring grass’ since she was a puppy – they’re now 8-1/2. Started off with Benadryl, then heavier creams & then went to Hydroxyzine which worked for a couple of years but then had to switch to Apoquel this year. The problem is that even that isn’t working as well as in the beginning & she has developed digestion problems-only after being on the Apoquel. I’m looking into something with fewer side effects.

  • June Casazza says:

    Be careful with Apoquol – look it up on line and you will see that there was limited testing done, and no long term effects have been measured, also from what I read – most vets will not put a dog under the age of 1 on it -that says danger to me – there are other alternatives, you can find many of them on line. The same company makes rimadyl which can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and liver damage’

  • AnneMarie says:

    My westie molly is 8 years old and I have been using apoquel for years seasonally. Usually from March/April until September/October. She scratches and licks her skin until it’s inflamed and red. Is there any alternative I can use as it is very very expensive

    • Leigh says:

      Hi Annemarie, maybe you can take your dog to the vet for tailored allergy elimination or see a trained veterinary homeopath. It’s worth a try. All the best!

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