CBD As Alternative to Apoquel For Dogs - My Blissful Pet

CBD As Alternative to Apoquel For Dogs


  • Apoquel's Mechanism and Effectiveness: Apoquel, containing Oclacitinib, is used for managing dog allergies by blocking cytokines like IL-31 that cause inflammation and itching. It's a selective inhibitor of the Janus Kinase (JAK) family and works quickly, providing relief from symptoms like itching and hot spots.
  • Apoquel is Not a Steroid: Unlike corticosteroids, Apoquel targets cellular pathways responsible for itching, making it different from steroids and requiring a prescription due to potential adverse reactions in some dogs.
  • Side Effects and Safety Profile: Apoquel is generally safe, studies show significant improvements in most dogs and minimal side effects. Regular blood work is recommended due to its potential to suppress immune system and bone marrow cells.
  • CBD as a Viable Alternative: Cannabidiol (CBD) can be an effective alternative to Apoquel, especially for skin allergies, as it works on the endocannabinoid system to reduce inflammation. It's safe, with minimal or no side effects, and can be used topically or ingested. 


Why Do You Use Apoquel for Dogs?

Apoquel is a medication used to help manage allergies in dogs. It is designed to block production of cytokines that cause inflammation and can reduce symptoms, such as itching, hot spots, licking paws, and digestive issues associated with allergies.

The active ingredient in Apoquel is Oclacitinib – an oral JAK inhibitor which helps to control the body’s response to allergens without affecting the dog's entire immune system.



How Does Apoquel Work?

Apoquel mechanism is well described in the 2014 paper from Gonzales et. al. If you want to be nerdy, read this section; otherwise, you can skip it. 

Apoquel is a selective inhibitor of the Janus Kinase (JAK) family. Specifically, it suppresses the functionality of JAK1 and JAK3, and to a lesser extent, JAK2 and tyrosine kinase 2. What that means is that Apoquel binds to JAK enzymes and stops them from doing their job. 

What they would otherwise do, is to activate cytokine signaling in immune cells. This is a process responsible for increased inflammation. Specifically, Apoquel blocks the proteins that increase the levels of molecules, called interleukin (or IL), such as IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-13, and IL-31. Once their levels are high, they make your dog's skin inflamed and itchy. IL-31, particularly, binds to a pruritogenic receptor present in specific neurons in the skin, initiating itch and inflammation responses. Since Apoquel blocks the production of these molecules, it indirectly diminishes itch and inflammation.

 These results demonstrate that oclacitinib is a targeted therapy that selectively inhibits JAK1-dependent cytokines involved in allergy, inflammation, and pruritus and suggests these are the mechanisms by which oclacitinib effectively controls clinical signs associated with allergic skin disease in dogs. (J. of Vet. Pharm. and Ther. 37 (4): 317–324)

Upon oral administration, Apoquel is rapidly absorbed with high bioavailability, meaning that it's being picked up really well by the body, and it works in as little as a few hours. Thus, Apoquel represents a crucial therapeutic target in the management of allergic and atopic dermatitis by mitigating pruritus and inflammation. 


Is Apoquel a Steroid?

Steroids, more specifically corticosteroids, are molecules produced by the adrenal gland. They are known to reduce inflammation by blocking the production of inflammatory molecules and increasing the levels of anti-inflammatory signals. While Apoquel is often mistaken as a steroid due to its anti-inflammatory effects, it falls under a class of drugs known as Janus Kinase inhibitors.

 Unlike corticosteroids, Apoquel does not mimic molecules produced by the body, but it operates by targeting cellular pathways responsible for itching. It is not available over the counter generally prescribed by veterinarians because, despite being widely used, it still can cause adverse reactions in some dogs.


Understanding The Side Effects of Apoquel

apoquel side effects alternatives

Apoquel is typically a safe drug, with multiple clinical studies backing this up. For example:

While it is a very safe drug, it does suppress cells in the immune system and bone marrow. Generally, vets recommend regular blood work to make sure that your dog is ok while taking the medicine.

Overall, in dogs treated with Apoquel, the only rare side effects are a modest vomiting and diarrhea, which could point towards mild gastric irritation leading to intestinal distress. Considering their rarity, safety, and the great benefits of Apoquel, most pet parents are comfortable with their dogs continuing the medication.

Suddenly stopping Apoquel may not be good

Apoquel doesn't cause any dependency. However, if your dog is taking Apoquel, stopping it may cause the itchiness to come back. This could be caused by the way in which the medication works. While it blocks the production of pro-inflammatory molecules (see above), it does not block it forever. 

Take it like a dam. A dam blocks water and at times lets only a small part of that out. The dam does not block the original flow of the river from its source, but it contains it. So that if you remove the dam, well, you know what happens.

If you give your dog Apoquel, your vet can help with finding the best way to stop it, or switch onto another medication.


Allergies Symptoms

Several pet owners prefer to explore natural treatments before putting their pet on any medicine, no matter how safe that can be. That is fully understandable, we all want to help our dogs, and there are several valid options, from lifestyle changes to plant-derived alternatives that can offer some relief from dog allergies.

Reducing environmental allergens


Identifying environmental allergens can be an important first step in safely managing, and preventing, pet allergies. Common sources of environmental allergies include pollen, mold, and dust mites.

Exposure to these triggers can result in itching, sneezing, scratching and other uncomfortable symptoms for affected pets. Indoor air quality can be improved with the use of an air purifier. Most modern purifiers use HEPA filters to capture small particles, allergens, and pathogens that can cause inflammation on the skin and in the lungs.

Since dogs can spend a lot of time on carpets, on the couch, and sleeping on the bed...well, our Winston surely does..., you can make sure to wash them regularly. When possible, use hypoallergenic detergents and hot water, that will help adding an extra layer of safety in your cleaning.

Dietary changes

Just like in humans, what your dog eats can promote or reduce inflammation. Therefore, adjusting your dog's diet can help reduce skin inflammation, relieve itching, and address underlying food sensitivities that can be linked to allergies.

When possible, avoid commercial foods that contain artificial preservatives or dyes; instead, opt for fresh whole-foods like meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. Among others, Winston has a very delicate tummy and needs to eat simple food designed to reduce inflammation. Things like chicken and rice, when possible, are wonderful. 

If your pup has trouble digesting certain ingredients, an elimination diet is recommended to identify food triggers and irritations – this will help you determine what foods have potential irritants for your pet’s immune system so that you can develop an appropriate feeding plan to keep them safe from further allergic reactions.


Are There Any Natural Remedies For Skin Issues?

Natural options such as yucca extract, quercetin or bromelain, and coconut oil can help reduce inflammation while promoting overall skin health through increased moisture levels and essential fatty acid consumption.

Quercetin may serve as a potential bioactive substance for atopic dermatitis-related symptoms through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities (Pediatr Allergy Immunol Pulmonol. 2020 Jun;33(2):69-79)


CBD as an Alternative to Apoquel for Dogs

CBD stands for cannabidiol, and acts on the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is responsible for regulating physiological processes including inflammation, sleep regulation, appetite control and pain relief.

Dog allergies or skin sensitivities are caused by an excessive activation of the immune system. CBD can work by reducing the levels of inflammation of the skin when given topically, or when ingested.

The topical administration of CBD ointment, without any THC, is a safe and effective non-invasive alternative for improve the quality of life in patients with some skin disorders, especially on inflammatory background (Clin Ter. 2019 Mar-Apr;170(2))

While skin allergies in pets can have environmental, genetic, food-related or lifestyle related causes, CBD can help to manage allergies because it reduces inflammation, lowering the pruritic symptoms that make your pet uncomfortable. It does not really have any harmful side effects, and beside sleepiness, thirst or some minor intestinal discomfort, CBD can be a great alternative treatment, since it acts as a natural antihistamine compound.

Switching or supplementing Apoquel with CBD

If you were recommended Apoquel, a vet visit is the first step to include CBD into your dog's treatment plan. While CBD does not work for every dog, your vet can help you decide what's best for your pet, guiding you through the pros and cons of using CBD in the context of allergies and inflammation


Other Pharmacological Alternatives to Apoquel

A dog taking Apoquel in a field of flowers with caution signs and pills scattered around.

Apoquel is still not the unique medication that can be used to address skin conditions common in dogs. Alternatives, such as vanectyl P (Temaril-P), Atopica, and other antihistamines are also valid options

  • Vanectyl P (or Temaril P): Vanectyl P (also known as Temaril-P or trimeprazine/prednisolone), like Apoquel, is a pet medication used to treat itching and inflammation associated with allergies in dogs. It is considered as an alternative to Apoquel, providing relief from mild to severe cases of allergic reaction.
  • Atopica, also known as cyclosporine A, is a prescription medication that is used to treat atopic dermatitis in dogs. It can be used as an alternative to Apoquel for treating itchiness in dogs due to allergies and other skin irritations.
  • Antihistamines are often considered to be less effective than Apoquel for the treatment of dermatitis in dogs, but may offer some relief from symptoms. Generally, antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) work by blocking histamine receptors that cause allergic reactions such as sneezing, runny eyes or nose, itching and hives.



Despite the success of Apoquel, some pet owners still prefer to find alternative solutions to medicinal approaches to treat skin conditions in their dogs. Natural alternatives, environmental and lifestyle changes and easy to implement and can address allergy symptoms in as little as a few hours.

CBD oil is also a very helpful alternative for treating itchiness and skin allergies in dogs. Antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec and Benadryl are also viable replacements that modulate the immune response of your dog

No matter which choice you make, go with what works for your dog and seek veterinary help if you notice that anything is off. Our goal is to help dogs and dog owners alike, and we hope that the material in this article was helpful.



Q: Is Apoquel safe for the long-term health of my dog?

A: Yes, Apoquel is considered safe in the short and long term. Rare side effects can occur, but overall, it's a very safe medication.

Q: Are there any natural alternatives to Apoquel that I can use?

A: Yes, there are several natural alternatives to Apoquel for dogs who suffer from skin allergies. A popular choice is CBD, a full spectrum hemp extract is not suggested because it contains CBD, however, broad spectrum hemp extract doesn't. CBD shampoo and creams can also help soothe allergic dermatitis. 

Q: My dog suffers from severe itching. Can I use Apoquel?

A: Yes, Apoquel can decrease itching in dogs within a few hours and allows dogs to get back to normal. Your vet can easily prescribe Apoquel for your dog.

Q: What should I do if Apoquel isn’t effective for my dog anymore?

A: If Apoquel isn't working, it might be time to look for Apoquel alternatives. Talk to your vet about switching to natural alternatives like broad spectrum CBD or even changing your dog's diet.

Q: Are there any situations where Apoquel cannot be used in dogs?

A: Yes, the use of Apoquel is not suggested in dogs that are less than 1 year of age or have severe infections. It's also crucial for owners to realize that Apoquel often doesn't address the root cause of the allergies, but only alleviates the symptoms.

Q: How does Apoquel compare to Cytopoint for dog health?

A: Both Apoquel and Cytopoint are treatments for allergies in dogs and work for atopic dermatitis. However, Cytopoint directly stops itching by blocking IL31, while Apoquel works by disrupting kinase signaling and blocking the process that triggers itching. 

Q: How long does it take for Apoquel to start working?

A: Apoquel starts reducing itching in dogs within 4-6 hours and allows dogs to get back to their regular activities. Despite its fast-action, it is worth consulting with your vet for more long-term, holistic solutions.

Q: Are there any generic versions for Apoquel available?

A: As of now, there is no generic for Apoquel available. There are, however, several natural alternatives for dogs that work with the body's natural system.

Q: What changes in my dog's health should I look for while they're taking Apoquel?

A: Monitor your dog's health closely while they're on Apoquel. Some dogs may experience side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. If you observe any of these or other health conditions, talk to your vet immediately.


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