Anti-itch medication for dogs

Anti-itch medication for dogs is one of the most commonly used treatments in veterinary medicine. They can be used for a variety of conditions, but allergies are the most common. Anti-itch medications can be used at all ages, though some may be advised against in young dogs.

There are different types of anti-itch medications as well as different ways to use them, such as tablets, injections, or sprays. Your vet will work with you to find the best dose and type for your dog. The medical term for itchy is pruritus.


What it’s for

What is anti-itch medication used for in dogs?

Anti-itch medication is used for any conditions that cause itchiness in dogs. Itchiness can present as scratching, biting, licking or chewing at themselves. This can cause a lot of discomfort and self-trauma, so the use of anti-itch medication is extremely important. Anti-itch medication can be used for short- and long-term treatment in dogs.

Common uses of anti-itch medication in dogs include:

anti-itch medication for dogs


How it works

How does anti-itch medication work in dogs?

These are the different types of anti-itch medications:

  • Anti-histamines (£): block the effects of histamine, which is a chemical in the body that causes swelling and other responses. They are not as reliable in dogs compared with humans.
  • Steroids (£), such as prednisolone or dexamethasone: prescription medications with strong anti-inflammatory actions.
  • Atopica (cyclosporine) prescription medication (££): adjusts the immune response. Can take 4-8 weeks for full response.
  • Apoquel (oclacitinib) prescription medication (£££): disrupts the immune response. Has a quick onset of action.
  • Cytopoint (lokivetmab) prescription medication (£££): it blocks a protein that is responsible for sending itching signals. Has a quick onset of action.
  • Allergen Specific Immunotherapy (££):  A medication made specifically for each patient based on the results of skin or blood tests for allergies. It helps to desensitise the body to different allergens by introducing them in small amounts. Around 50-80% of pets respond positively to this treatment.


Supplements containing fatty acids can be useful for allergy relief in dogs, often alongside other medications. Fatty acids contain anti-inflammatory properties and are more useful for long-term than short-term. Some shampoo and mousse products can also be useful for itching.

Our Joii vets are available 24 hours a day for advice; call us now if you have any questions.


Directions for use

How to use anti-itch medication in dogs

We recommend always following your vet’s advice when giving medication to your dog. Missing a dose or giving more than advised can lead to side effects. Especially for steroids, reducing the dose too quickly can cause severe side effects. Some medications may be advised to be given with food or at a certain time of the day.

  • Antihistamines tablet or liquid: used for mild cases of itching, usually alongside other medications.
  • Steroids tablet, injection, topical spray or cream: used for mild to severe cases of itching and other diseases. Topical products are preferred when itching or lesions are mild and localised.
  • Atopica capsules or liquid: usually once daily, used long-term for allergy control.
  • Apoquel tablets: usually twice daily for the first 2 weeks, then reduced to once daily. It’s useful for both short and long term itch control due to allergies.
  • Cytopoint injection: lasts 4-8 weeks so tends to be used for longer term allergy control
  • Immunotherapy injections: starts every 2-3 weeks and builds up to every 4 weeks. Used for longer term allergy control.


Side effects

Most common side effects of anti-itch medication in dogs

As with any medication, there can be side effects with anti-itch medications. These side effects are usually not common or serious and, in a lot of cases, very rare.

The most common side effects seen with anti-itch medications are:

  • Antihistamines: mild sedation or lethargy
  • Steroids: increased appetite, urination, and thirst. Lethargy and panting are also possible. Topical steroids usually have less side effects than oral ones.
  • Atopica: vomiting, diarrhoea, drooling, reduced appetite. Less commonly, gum and skin changes.
  • Apoquel: vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy and skin changes.
  • Cytopoint: vomiting, diarrhoea, and allergic reactions.
  • Immunotherapy: itching or redness at the injection site


What to do if your dog shows any of these problems

Speak to a vet as soon as possible if your dog develops any new symptoms. They will be able to advise if it’s related to the medication and what to do next.


What happens if

Are there any contraindications of anti-itch medication in dogs?

  • Antihistamines: care should be given with dogs who have seizures or who are pregnant.
  • Steroids: not recommended for pregnant dogs or dogs with kidney disease or diabetes. Special care when using live vaccines.
  • Atopica: not recommended in dogs less than 6 months or under 2kg. Not recommended for pregnant, lactating, or diabetic dogs, and special care is required with live vaccines. It’s also advised against using it for dogs with some kinds of cancer.
  • Apoquel: not recommended in dogs under 1 year old or under 3kg. Not recommended for pregnant, lactating, or breeding dogs. Or in dogs with immunosuppression. Blood tests are recommended at least every 12 months for dogs who are on this medication long-term.
  • Cytopoint: not recommended in dogs under 3kg. Not recommended for pregnant, lactating, or breeding dogs.
  • Immunotherapy: safety is not known for pregnant or lactating dogs. Advised against in dogs with immunosuppression, some cancers, and kidney disease.
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