Cyclosporine (Atopica®) for Cats

Molly Price, DVM
By Molly Price, DVM on Feb. 29, 2024
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PetMD’s medications content was written and reviewed by veterinary professionals to answer your most common questions about how medications function, their side effects, and what species they are prescribed for. This content shouldn’t take the place of advice by your vet.

What Is Cyclosporine (Atopica®) for Cats?

Cyclosporine (Atopica®) is an FDA-approved prescription veterinary medication used for the management of itching and inflammation due to allergic dermatitis in cats.

Cyclosporine is available in oral solution formulations, including Atopica® and as generic Modulis® for Cats. Modulis® was approved by the FDA in 2023.

Cyclosporine (Atopica®) is commonly prescribed for treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory medical conditions. This is called extra-label or off-label treatment because this use isn’t described on the drug label.

Conditions cyclosporine (Atopica®) is used to treat in cats include:

  • Stomatitis (inflammatory condition of the gums and tissues of the mouth)

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Pemphigus erythematosus and foliaceus (autoimmune skin diseases)

  • Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (autoimmune disease causing low platelet counts)

  • Pure red cell aplasia (rare blood disease)

  • Idiopathic pruritus (itching due to unknown cause)

  • Prevention of organ rejection after a kidney transplant

  • Dirty face syndrome in Persian cats (a rare but severe facial skin infection)

  • Feline urticaria pigmentosa (rare skin condition)

  • Feline acquired alopecia (hair loss)

In certain circumstances, your vet may recommend a compounded formulation of cyclosporine. Compounded medications are prescribed if there’s a specific reason your pet’s health can’t be managed by an FDA-approved drug, such as if your pet has trouble taking pills in capsule form, the dosage strength is not commercially available, or the pet is allergic to an ingredient in the FDA-approved medication.

Compounded medications are not FDA-approved. They are created by either a veterinarian or a licensed pharmacist on an individual basis to best suit a patient’s particular needs. You can learn more about compounded medications here.

Cyclosporine (the active ingredient in Atopica®) is also an FDA-approved human drug marketed under the brand names Gengraf®, Neoral®, Sandimmune®, and as generic cyclosporine. However, due to differences in dosage and possible side effects, pets should not be given cyclosporine prescribed for humans.

Cyclosporine (Atopica®) Considerations in Cats

It is important to note that Atopica® suppresses the immune system, which may make it harder for a sick cat to fight infection and may increase the risk of cancer.

Atopica® should not be used in cats with a history of cancer, cats infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or in cats who are hypersensitive to it. While your cat is taking Atopica®, keep your cat indoors, do not feed them raw meat, and do not allow them to hunt, in order to protect them from internal parasite diseases such as toxoplasmosis.

Giving Atopica® with certain medications can result in health risks to your cat, so it is important to discuss your cat’s medications, including vitamins and supplements, and medical conditions with your veterinarian.

Atopica® is only approved for use in cats at least 6 months of age and weighing at least 3 pounds. It is not for use in breeding, pregnant, or lactating cats.

Treatment with Atopica® requires monitoring and supervision by your veterinarian. Before and during your cat’s treatment, your vet will perform blood tests to evaluate their immune system function as well as the effects of the medication on the liver, kidneys, and blood counts.

How Cyclosporine (Atopica®) Works in Cats

The active ingredient of Atopica® is cyclosporine. Cyclosporine blocks T-cells, a type of white blood cell involved in the immune response. By inhibiting T-cells, cyclosporine helps calm down an overreactive immune system. This blunts the immune system’s response, which may increase your pet’s susceptibility to infection and risk of cancer.

Cyclosporine (Atopica®) Directions for Cats

Follow the directions on the drug label or as provided by your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian may instruct you to give this medication on a consistent schedule at the same time every day.

Atopica® is best absorbed in cats if given with food or immediately after a meal.

Your veterinarian may start your cat on a daily dosage during their initial treatment period, then, under their supervision, advise you to decrease how often you give the medication so that your cat takes the lowest effective dose to help relieve their symptoms.

Missed a Dose?

Speak with your veterinarian about what to do if you forget to give a dose of Atopica®. Generally, they may instruct you to give it when you remember, or if it is almost time for your pet’s next dose, to skip the missed dose and resume your normal dosing schedule. Do not give extra or double doses.

Possible Side Effects of Cyclosporine (Atopica®) in Cats

Gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, low appetite, weight loss) may be seen, typically during the first month of starting Atopica®. Vomiting is most commonly seen within the first one to two days, and overall stomach upset generally improves over time. Your vet may advise temporarily stopping the medication or might prescribe anti-nausea medications to help your cat with these symptoms if they occur.

Less common side effects include:

  • Low energy (lethargy)

  • Drooling (hypersalivation)

  • Behavior changes (hiding, hyperactivity, aggression)

  • Fever, sneezing, coughing, eye discharge which may indicate infection

  • Gum overgrowth (gingival hyperplasia)

  • Increased thirst

Human Side Effects

Atopica® is a prescription veterinary medication that is not intended for use in humans. Wear gloves when administering the medication and wash hands afterward.

People with a known hypersensitivity to cyclosporine should avoid contact with this medication.

The active ingredient in Atopica® is cyclosporine, which is a prescription medication for humans but with differences in form and absorption, frequently with dosages different from those prescribed for your pet by a veterinarian. Due to possible side effects, humans should never use medicine dispensed for their pets and pets should not be given any medicine dispensed for a human’s use.

If you accidentally ingest a pet medication, call your physician or the national Poison Control Center hotline at 800-222-1222.

Call Your Vet If:

  • Severe side effects are seen (see above)

  • Your pet’s condition worsens or does not improve with treatment

  • You see or suspect an overdose

  • You have additional questions or concerns about the use of cyclosporine (Atopica®)

Cyclosporine (Atopica®) Overdose Information for Cats

An overdose of Atopica® may cause vomiting, diarrhea, low appetite, kidney damage, and liver damage.

If you suspect an overdose, immediately contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control center. Consultation fees often apply.

Pet Poison Helpline (855) 764-7661

ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888) 426-4435

Cyclosporine (Atopica®) Storage for Cats

Always confirm storage requirements by reading the prescription label.

Atopica® oral solution should be stored at controlled temperatures from 59 to 86 F. Keep the container tightly closed in order to protect the medication from moisture and light.

Compounded medications should be stored according to the compounding pharmacy’s label.

Keep out of reach of children and pets.

Cyclosporine FAQs

What is cyclosporine (Atopica®) used for in cats?

Cyclosporine (Atopica®) is used for the management of itching and inflammation due to allergic dermatitis in cats. It is also prescribed off-label by veterinarians for cats with autoimmune and inflammatory medical conditions.

No vet writer or qualified reviewer has received any compensation from the manufacturer of the medication as part of creating this article. All content contained in this article is sourced from public sources or the manufacturer.


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Lommer M. Efficacy of cyclosporine for chronic, refractory stomatitis in cats: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded clinical study. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry. 2013;30(1):8–17.

Irwin K, Beale K, Fadok V. Use of modified ciclosporin in the management of feline pemphigus foliaceus: a retrospective analysis. Veterinary Dermatology. 2012;23(5):403–e76.

Bernsteen L, Gregory C, Kyles A, Wooldridge J, Valverde C. Renal transplantation in cats. Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice. 2000;15(1):40–45.

Viviano K, Webb J. Clinical use of cyclosporine as an adjunctive therapy in the management of feline idiopathic pure red cell aplasia. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2011;13(12):885–895.



Molly Price, DVM


Molly Price, DVM


Dr. Molly Price has practiced small animal medicine for over 20 years and is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. She...

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