I see a lot of itchy dogs - dogs that lick their paws, dogs that scratch their belly, dogs that shake their heads because of ear infections. dogs that bite the fur off their lower back or sides. The most common reason for a dog to be so itchy is because of allergies.
Some allergies are relatively easy to deal with . Fleas? Use a monthly flea preventative to keep the parasites from biting. Chicken food allergy? Switch to a limited ingredient diet without any chicken.
But many itchy dogs have allergies that aren't so easy to prevent. Many dogs have a genetic predisposition to having multiple allergies. This is called ATOPY or canine atopic dermatitis.
For these dogs, historically we have treated them with antihistamines, which maybe decrease the itching a small amount. Steroids were used to give the best relief, but also had the most side effects. Sure your dog isn't scratching anymore, but now they are urinating in the house and getting loaves of bread off the counter. Long term, steroids can cause liver, skin, and heart issues and predispose a dog to infections.
Some dogs, once allergy testing is done to determine what is causing their allergies, do well on desensitization drops. But it can take up to a year to see improvement and the drops must be given either twice a day in the mouth or by injection.
Then several years ago a new drug came out that saved the lives of many extremely itchy dogs. This is Apoquel, a Janus kinase inhibitor. It works by blocking the cytokines that cause itching. Cytokines are substances produced by cells that work on other cells, which tell the dog to scratch.
Apoquel has made many itchy dogs stop scratching and suddenly feel so much better. Skin has healed, fur has regrown, and an enjoyable life has been restored. But, being a drug, Apoquel does have some side effects. While minimal, some dogs do have some vomiting or diarrhea. Apoquel also has a small effect on cytokines involved with immunity, so dogs taking this medication are at a slightly higher risk of developing infection, Demodecosis (mites), or worsening cancer. It is also a pill that is given daily, which can be difficult for some owners.
But now we have a new, innovative therapy for dogs with atopy: Cytopoint!
Cytopoint is a monoclonal antibody therapy, not a drug. Antibodies are formed naturally in the body and are what targets viruses, bacteria, and other foreign "stuff" to help keep us well. Antibodies are made when we get vaccinations.
The term "monoclonal" means that all the antibodies are targeted to the same thing. For atopic dogs, that "thing" is a protein that causes a dog to itch. The best thing, is that "itch" protein does nothing else in the body. So when the antibody binds to this itch protein and removes it from circulation, it isn't causing some other problem for the dog.
Cytopoint is given by injection (which doesn't sting at all) and lasts anywhere between 4 and 8 weeks. Over time, the dog's body clears the antibodies and then the "itch protein" causes scratching again. As soon as the dog starts biting or scratching again, they come in for another injection.
Because it is something normally found in the body, it really doesn't have any side effects. It is fine to give it along with other medications the dog may be taking: antibiotics, pain medication, even Apoquel. It is also ok to give it to dogs with cancer, heart disease, or other chronic illnesses.
I have seen amazing results thus far with Cytopoint. I had one little dog that had been licking and scratching herself for as long as I've known her. She had been on special diets, tried antihistamines and Apoquel, done desensitization drops for a year. We had even tried Prozac, in case it was behavioral, but the only thing that would control her scratching was daily steroids. As soon as I learned about Cytopoint, I immediately contacted the owner to try it with Sassi. I waited 2 days before contacting the owner to see how things were going (it can take up to 3 days to see improvement). She said within 24 hours Sassi had stopped scratching completely!
I'm sold on Cytopoint, just from my experience with Sassi. I have used it on other dogs, too, with similar results. There is still a place for food trials, flea treatment, antihistamines, and Apoquel, but for some dogs, Cytopoint is the best choice. So if you have a dog that scratches all the time, please give us a call or as your veterinarian if a Cytopoint injection is a good option.