Side Effects of Cyclosporine for Dogs

By Jane Meggitt

If your dog develops the allergic skin affliction known as atopic dermatitis, he's in misery. He's scratching like crazy, and his skin likely has lesions from all that itching, making him vulnerable to bacterial infections. While there's no cure for this condition, your vet can prescribe cyclosporine tablets, marketed under the brand name Atopica. In four to six weeks, you should see notable improvement in your dog's skin. However, cyclosporine often causes side effects.

Cyclosporine for Dogs

An immunosuppressant, cyclosporine originates from a soil fungus, known as Beauveria nivea. In humans, it's used to prevent organ transplant rejection. Besides Atopica, cyclosporine is marketed under the brand names Sandimmune, Neoral and Optimmune, the latter an ophthalmic ointment. According to Novartis Animal Health, the manufacturer of Atopica, the product targets specific cells in the dog's immune system causing the allergic reaction, unlike steroids that affect the entire body. Cyclosporine helps prevent interleukin-2 production, necessary for communication between these cells.

Side Effects

About one-third of dogs receiving cyclosporine develop gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, vomiting or appetite loss. While these are common side effects, they usually stop within a week while the dog continues to receive the drug. It's important to give the drug on an empty stomach. Some dogs might develop gingival hyperplasia, or inflamed, swollen gums. Other possible side effects include ear infections, lymph node swelling, increased drinking and urination, urinary tract infections and lethargy. If your dog develops any side effects, call your vet as soon as possible.

Precautions and Contraindications

Pregnant or nursing dogs should not receive this medication, nor should dogs take this drug prior to breeding. Avoid vaccinating your dog while he's receiving cyclosporine. The drug can render some vaccines ineffective. Dogs with cancer should not receive the drug. Cyclosporine is contraindicated in dogs with kidney disease. Puppies under the age of 6 months or dogs weighing less than 4 pounds should not receive cyclosporine. Tell your vet about any other medications or supplements your dog receives, as cyclosporine can interfere with numerous drugs. These include various antibiotics, antacids and high blood pressure medications.

Ophthalmic Ointment

If your dog is diagnosed with keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye, your vet might prescribe a topical eye ointment containing cyclosporine. The drug helps to increase tear production, as well as lessening inflammation. It's likely a dog with dry eye will stay on this medication for the rest of his life. It does not appear to have the same effect on felines suffering from dry eye. It's also used to treat canine corneal disease. There are few, if any, side effects reported with this form of cyclosporine, but contact your vet if you notice any negative changes to your dog's eye.