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Ask Our Vet: Is Apoquel or Benadryl Better for My Dog?

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itchy pup biting at his back leg

Allergies in dogs are one of the more frustrating issues to treat-for everyone involved! While identifying and removing the allergen is preferable, it’s often not feasible. Fortunately, there are many products out there to assist in your dog’s road to being allergy symptom free. But which one is best? We’re here to help you learn about two frequently used ones: Apoquel and Benedryl.

Dog allergies

Environmental allergies are a common battle for dog owners. While most dogs live allergy-free for most of their lives, approximately 10% of dogs suffer from allergies. To complicate the issue, allergies can’t be cured. Instead they have to be managed but finding the best management approach often takes lots of trial and error and working closely with your dog and veterinarian. This is because there are multiple drugs that target allergies in different ways and knowing which one is best for when is an important part of the process. With this in mind, let’s dive into when to use Apoquel and when to use Benadryl.

When is benadryl best for dogs?

Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine, used to be one of the most commonly prescribed antihistamines for allergies in both people and dogs. Because of its dosing safety, affordability, and apparent effectiveness, it was a leading choice. While some evidence supports that Benadryl can help manage mild itching and allergic reactions, in recent years it has become a less popular option. Instead, vets are turning toward prescription medications that appear to be much more effective. Benadryl can still be used for short-term relief of sudden-onset symptoms or occasional allergic issues if effective.

Pros: Benadryl is widely available, cost-effective, and offers some sedative effects that some pet owners believe help their dog remain calmer and more comfortable.

Cons: Benadryl’s activity is of short duration and may not be effective for more severe allergies. Also, the sedative side effects may not be wanted by some dog owners.

When is Apoquel best for dogs?

Apoquel is a relatively new medication (2013) that has taken the veterinary community by storm. It is effective and ideal for severe, chronic allergies, and is increasingly recommended when Benadryl isn’t effective. Apoquel offers quick and effective relief without the sedative effects which makes it more appealing for regular, long-term use.

Pros: Apoquel is potent and effective, it targets inflammation, and there are minimal side effects.

Cons: Apoquel is less widely available than Benadry, requires a prescription, and is more costly than Benadryl. There are also some potential side effects with long-term use of Apoquel.

Which is more effective: Apoquel or Benadryl?

While Benadryl’s accessibility is appealing, Apoquel excels in managing severe allergies and is highly recommended to ensure dogs suffering from allergies are getting the best care possible. While allergies in humans often present as respiratory signs and can be managed with both allergy medications and symptomatic control, allergies in dogs most often present with severe itchiness, hair loss, significant skin inflammation, and sometimes recurring infections.

If allergies can’t be managed with Benadryl, or dog owners want to get straight to an improved outcome, Apoquel may be the better option given its relatively quick efficacy.

Are there downsides to using Apoquel or Benadryl long-term?

In rare circumstances, prolonged administration of Benadryl may result in dry mouth, urinary retention, and even decreased effectiveness. While these side effects are relatively minor, the trade-off is that the medication may be less effective or even ineffective for many allergy patients.

Apoquel’s efficacy is often cited when deciding whether any side effects are worth the risk. Many pet owners opt to continue Apoquel because it’s the best way to keep their dog comfortable, instead of miserable. It is possible that long-term use may lead to gastrointestinal upset or immune system suppression.

In a 5-year review, adverse reactions to Apoquel were rare. Rare means between 1 and 10 dogs (per 10,000) appeared to have a reaction of some kind. That’s less than 0.1%.

The most common side effects were vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, anorexia, and blood-work changes, but less than 0.01% of dogs experienced these.

It’s important to consult with your dog’s veterinarian and weigh your options based on your dog’s unique needs and health status.

Prescription of Apoquel and Benadryl

When Benadryl is prescribed, it may be dispensed by your dog’s veterinarian or they may suggest you get it over-the-counter. The dose varies depending on your dog’s weight, and the frequency will depend on your dogs signs. Some dogs are comfortable on twice a day dosing, while others may need it three times a day.

Apoquel is a prescription medication, which means your veterinarian will have to dispense it, or write/ submit a prescription in order for you to get it filled. The dose is dependent on your dog’s body size, and there are different milligram strength tablets to suit the needs of different sized dogs. Initially Apoquel is often prescribed for twice a day dosing, and then reduced to once a day. This once a day frequency might be convenient for pet owners whose schedules don’t allow for the flexibility needed for regular doses twice or three times a day.

Alternatives to Apoquel and Benadryl

There are a variety of treatment options for allergies in dogs:

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

  • Other antihistamines may be useful to treat the body’s reaction with varying efficacy. These may include hydroxyzine, clemastine, and cetirizine. These are less commonly prescribed versus Apoquel or Benadryl.
  • Steroids suppress immune responses and also reduce inflammation. These may include prednisone or dexamethasone. The down side to steroids is that long-term use could lead to increased appetite and thirst, negative effects on the adrenal glands, and in some rare cases dogs with pancreatic issues or obesity may be at increased risk for developing diabetes.
  • Immune modulators also act on the immune system but in a different way than steroids; they reduce production of antibodies. The most common immune-modulator is cyclosporine.

Since all of these products have up sides and down sides, be sure to discuss them thoroughly with your dog’s vet.


What is the best itch medicine for dogs?

The best medication for your dog’s allergies depends on your dog, their health, the type and severity of allergies, and your veterinarian’s recommendation. Some dogs with minor signs may benefit from a low dose of Benadryl, while dogs with severe and persistent allergies may not respond to Benadryl and instead need something stronger and more effective like Apoquel or cyclosporine.

Do vets recommend Benadryl for dogs?

Many veterinarians may recommend Benadryl for mild allergies or short-term relief, depending on your dog’s situation since it is very affordable and easy to get.

Can you give Benadryl and Apoquel together?

Benadryl and Apoquel are not often prescribed together, and no safety studies exist supporting the idea that they can be given together safely. Never give your dog any medications without veterinary supervision.


  • Dr Chyrle Bonk, Veterinarian

    Dr. Chyrle Bonk received her Master in Animal Science from the University of Idaho and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University in 2010. She has over 10 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice, working for a veterinary clinic in Idaho.

  • Kate Howard, Vet Tech

    Kate Howard lives in Upstate New York, and received her degree in Veterinary Technology from Alfred State College of Technology in 2010. She has been a veterinary technician for 13+ years, and spent her career working primarily in general practice and veterinary emergency care. Kate has 3 dogs, a cat, and keeps a small flock of backyard poultry.

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