Does your dog have allergies? If so, your conventional veterinarian may offer you a popular allergy drug called Apoquel®.
It’s touted as “a fast-acting and safe treatment for the control of acute and chronic canine pruritus.”
Pruritus means itching … and if you’ve got an itchy dog you’re probably desperate to make your dog more comfortable and stop his constant scratching. Apoquel is said to ease your dog’s itching in as little as 4 to 24 hours. And dog owners report that it does relieve their dogs’ itching.
Sounds like something you might want to try, right?
Well, not so fast …
Before you expose your dog to the risks associated with this drug, read on. And if your dog is already on Apoquel you’ll probably want to stop the drug as soon as you can, once you find out how it demolishes essential parts of your dog’s internal disease fighting systems.
Allergies And The Immune System
An allergy is an exaggerated and inappropriate response of the immune system. Conventional medicine loves to suppress symptoms.
Suppressing can be defined as getting rid of the symptoms without helping the body to rid itself of the illness or disease. So if allergies are an improper response of the immune system, what are the kinds of drugs that have typically been used to suppress and destroy that same immune system?
The History Of Dog Allergy Drugs
First came prednisolone, prednisone and other steroids, which work by suppressing the functioning of the immune system.
Then, when allergic dogs stopped responding to steroids, veterinarians started using Atopica (cyclosporine). Cyclosporine was initially developed to prevent organ transplant rejections in humans. It works by suppressing the immune system so that the patient doesn’t reject the transplanted organ.
And then they started using it for dogs with allergies. Atopica has a devastating and destructive effect on the immune system. Read what I wrote about Atopica back in 2012.
Atopica is still harming dogs today. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has 17 pages of adverse events (starting on page 452) that have been reported for oral use of Atopica (cyclosporine) in dogs!
Here are just the top 12 from the first page!
Those are some pretty alarming numbers … and it’s ironic that the fifth side effect on the list is pruritus, which means itching – the very thing the drug is designed to stop! And now, there’s another scary allergy drug called Apoquel® (oclacitinib maleate) that suppresses your dog’s immune system in a different way.
Read on to learn what it does.
What is Apoquel And How Does It Work?
Apoquel affects kinases. Kinases are important signaling compounds that the body’s cells use to communicate with each other.
In the 1980s, an Australian chemist discovered some new ones, known as JAK1, JAK2, JAK3 and TKY2.
JAK initially stood for Just Another Kinase but was later renamed Janus Kinase.
JAKs are key elements in controlling both growth and development. These particular JAKs do the work of:
- Policing the body against tumor formation
- Controlling body growth and development
- Forming white and red blood cells
- Providing immunity with proper functioning of your dog’s antibody-producing cells (B cells) and the “policing” cells (T-cells)
- Regulating inflammatory response
Recognizing the epidemic of dogs with allergies, pharmaceutical companies saw the opportunity to create a drug would stop these JAKs in their tracks.
They sure succeeded.
Oclacitinib maleate, under the brand name Apoquel®, is a Janus kinase inhibitor. That means it stops JAKs from doing their job.
Apoquel’s mechanism is to interrupt JAKs and prevent them from working.
Without JAKs your dog’s immune system, along with other systems, cannot function correctly.
Without JAKs your dog’s immune system, along with other systems, cannot function correctly.
JAK1 is vital for the constant surveillance within your dog’s body to find and destroy abnormal cells that have become cancerous before they form tumors.
JAK1 also is an imperative messenger necessary for destroying invading parasites, fungi, bacteria and viruses.
JAK2 is central to the production of bone marrow stem cells that then become red and white blood cells and platelets.
Your dog’s antibody system (B cells) and its killer-cell system (T cells) need JAK3 in order to work well.
These JAKs all talk to each other and share information to keep your dog’s body healthy. So you can see that by preventing JAKs from working, Apoquel seriously undermines your dog’s immune system.
What The Research Says
Of course there’s research done to see how dogs react to these drugs. The problem is that the researchers are determining the timelines based on previous studies.
This is what happens … the pharmaceutical company does a very quiet study and notes when problems occur. As an example, if liver problems pop up 12 weeks into the study or tumors start to form 16 weeks into the study, these are carefully logged.
After they know all this they prepare their formal public study and make sure the study ends before the problems show up. If the problems occurred at 12 weeks they publish a 10-week study.
Apoquel research is no different.
A study conducted by the manufacturer to test the drug’s safety and efficacy stated:
“There were no fatalities and no abnormal health events that necessitated hospitalization in either the study phase [day 0–7 (+3 days)] or the continuation phase [day 8–28 (±20 days)] of the study. Given that the majority of dogs in the placebo group withdrew after the completion of the study phase, the incidence of abnormal clinical signs was similar in both groups (Table 3).”
So, it seems from these comments and Table 3 showing adverse effects that the drug is fairly safe …
… but did you notice the duration of the study? That’s right – only 7 days!
There was a “continuation phase” after the 7 day study period, from 8 to 30 days. The researchers report:
“Six dogs (four oclacitinib and two placebo group) were withdrawn from the study during the continuation phase for abnormal health events. Abnormal health events were reported in 11 of 179 oclacitinib-treated dogs post-study. These were as follows: diarrhoea (four dogs; severe enough to warrant cessation of treatment in one dog); vomiting (four dogs); fever, lethargy and cystitis (one dog); an inflamed footpad and vomiting (one dog); and diarrhoea, vomiting and lethargy (one dog).”
So about 6% of dogs tested had abnormal health events. That doesn’t seem very high.
But that was only for 30 days!
If your dog takes this drug, he could be on it for years!
Years when his immune system will be compromised by the drug – because that’s how it works!
And although the manufacturer quotes a study that says it is safe for long term use, the study results say something different. Here are some of the serious side effects:
- One dog was euthanized after developing abdominal ascites and pleural effusion of unknown etiology after 450 days of APOQUEL administration.
- Six dogs were euthanized because of suspected malignant neoplasms.
- Two dogs each developed a Grade II mast cell tumor after 52 and 91 days.
- One dog developed low grade B-cell lymphoma after 392 days.
- Two dogs each developed an apocrine gland adenocarcinoma (one dermal, one anal sac) after approximately 210 and 320 days.
- One dog developed a low grade oral spindle cell sarcoma after 320 days.
Is it worth the risk? I don’t think so.
Does Age Matter?
The manufacturer has limited Apoquel for use only in dogs over 12 months old.
That’s because, when they conducted “margin of safety” studies on 6 and 12 month old dogs, they had to discontinue the study for 6-month old dogs when the dogs developed bacterial pneumonia and demodectic mange infections!
Here’s the warning on the company’s website:
In the margin of safety study on 12-month old dogs, some of the symptoms that were considered likely to be related to Apoquel included:
- Papillomas (warts)
- Interdigital furunculosis (cysts) with related dermatitis symptoms (local alopecia, erythema, abrasions, scabbing/crusts)
- Edema of feet
- Lymphadenopathy (abnormal or swollen lymph nodes) in peripheral nodes
Yes, you read right … the side effects include various types of skin disease in dogs who are being treated for allergies!
The drug was also found to lower white and red blood cell count and affect certain types of lymphatic tissue and lymph nodes as well as bone marrow.
Detailed information about the studies is provided under the Prescribing Information tab on the company’s website … and if you’re considering giving your dog Apoquel, you (and your vet) should read it before you make a decision.
Sometimes I feel that the world of modern medicine has gone mad. One in two dogs is getting cancer.
And yet here is a new anti-itch drug that not only opens up the door to cancer – but hangs up a welcome sign as well.
Real Life Experience Speaks Volumes
When cases of cancer come to me and the dogs have been on Atopica (cyclosporine) or Apoquel the oncologist records that are sent to me always note that the oncologist got them right off the Apoquel or Atopica.
Of course it’s too late for that to make any difference at all but it is a good indication of the fact that the problems with these drugs are well known.
Here’s another example from April, whose dog died of cancer:
In 2013 I took my dog to a veterinarian in PA that does clinical trials for all kinds of diseases in dogs. I trusted this vet to guide me in the right direction for my dog. I work in the medical field as a trauma nurse so I’m not new to health care. When this vet recommended Apoquel, I was excited to hear that there may be hope for my dog.
I specifically asked the vet multiple times before giving my dog this medication how the clinical trials turned out: side-effects, long term use, adverse effects, etc? I was assured over and over again that this drug was safe and wasn’t known to have any harmful effects in dogs.
I started giving my dog this medication and before you knew it I found a mass on my dog’s abdomen. I took my dog to the vet as soon as I noticed the mass and she was sent in for surgery the next day to have the mass removed and biopsied. I found out she had adenocarcinoma of the mammary glands. Long story short, I went through surgery and chemo with my dog and in the end the cancer spread to her lungs and I had to euthanize my dog. I was devastated!
After a few weeks I contacted the vet who ran the clinical trial only to be told that this medication was known to cause abdominal tumors. ANGER is the only word to describe how I feel. I strongly believe this drug should be taken off the market.
I don’t know how this pharmaceutical company is getting away with essentially killing dogs.
There are better and safer alternatives to this dangerous allergy drug.
Allergies have become an epidemic. When we use the word “allergy” we really mean food sensitivities and intolerances as well as food and environmental allergies. Food sensitivities and intolerances are about 15 times more common than true allergies.
It’s exhausting for owners to continually read ingredients on bags of dog food and try therapy after therapy to handle the problem. Therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy can sometimes help. However, acupuncture results tend to be short term and have to be repeated every couple of weeks, while homeopathy can be a slow process, as you try a series of remedies until you find one that hopefully will do the trick. I do use homeopathy, but I use it in addition to my tailored Allergy Elimination 4 Pets Program – based on the original work in NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique) and it works incredibly well for over 90% of the patients I treat.
A good analogy for this technique is doing a virus search with a disc or program on your computer to clean up the glitches in it. The system I use works to clean up and straighten out your pet’s “computer.”
Over my many years, holistic modalities, experience, and learning, that’s what I’ve found works best. It’s non-invasive, non-toxic and helps create a stronger immune system that will fight off cancer and disease.
Meanwhile, this new drug that stops that worrisome and at times intolerable itching, causes low white cell count, low red cell count, stunted growth – and can increase your dog’s risk of cancer.
When I became a veterinarian I vowed to protect the health of our pets. I wanted to make them healthier and help them live longer and happier lives.
Sometimes, with all these new and confusing drugs that pet owners rush to without understanding, I feel like I’m swimming upstream.