Inter-relationship of microbial activity, digestion and gut health in the rabbit: effect of substituting fibre by starch in diets having a high proportion of rapidly fermentable polysaccharides

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Caecal microbial activity, digestion and gut health were analysed in the young rabbit, in response to fibre substitution by starch, in diets with high proportions of rapidly fermentable polysaccharides (pectins+hemicelluloses:acid-detergent fibre (ADF) ratio of 1·7). A range of five diets corresponding to a 60 % linear reduction of the ADF level (230 to 92 g ADF/kg) without changes in the fibre quality, and to a corresponding linear increase in dietary starch, was given ad libitum to young rabbits from 18 d until 70 d of age. A one half reduction of the ADF level resulted in a sharp increase in energy digestibility (+25 units), associated with a lower feed intake (−35 %) and to an increase of the mean retention time (+6 h) in the whole digestive tract. Despite large variations in the fibre intake (20 to 59 g ADF/d), the fibre digestive efficiency remained similar among the five diets. Starch ileal concentrations were low after 4 weeks of age (< 5 %), and variations with age were significant when the dietary starch level was over 19 %. A 65 % lower biomass production was measured when the ADF level progressed from 230 to 165 g/kg, and no precise relationship was found with fermentative activity. Reducing the fibre intake led to a linear decrease of caecal volatile fatty acids concentrations, and to higher pH and NH3 levels. An increased occurrence of mortality by diarrhoea was registered with the lowest fibre intake. It can be concluded that a sufficient supply of fibre, with high proportions in rapidly fermentable polysaccharides, stimulates the maturation of microbial activity and reduces the occurrence of diarrhoea.

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