Organic matter and macromineral digestibility in domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) as compared to other hindgut fermenters

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It is generally assumed that animal species differ in physiological characteristics of their digestive tract. Because investigating digestive processes is often labour-intensive, requiring lengthy adaptation and collection periods, comparisons are often made on the basis of data collated from different studies. We added a new data set on dietary crude fibre (CF) and macromineral (Na, K, Ca, P, Mg) composition and apparent digestibility (aD) of organic matter (OM) and macrominerals in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus; a total of 180 measurements with 12 individuals and 10 different diets) to a literature data collection for rodents and domestic horses (Equus caballus). Significant negative relationships between dietary CF and aD OM were obtained, but the significant difference in digestive efficiency between rabbits and guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) reported from studies where both species had been investigated under identical conditions were not detectable in the larger data collection. However, the 95% confidence interval of the negative slope of the CF–aD OM relationship did not overlap between domestic horses on the one hand, and rabbits and guinea pigs on the other hand, indicating a less depressing effect of CF in horses. Akaike's information criterion indicated that aD of a macromineral did not only depend on its concentration in the diet, but also on the individual and various other diet characteristics and the presence of other macrominerals, indicating complex interactions. The data indicate similar mechanisms in the absorption of macrominerals amongst rabbits, rodents and horses, with the exception of Na and K in guinea pigs and Ca in chinchillas (Chinchilla laniger) that should be further corroborated. In particular, the occurrence of high aD Ca in hindgut fermenters, regardless of whether they employ a digestive strategy of coprophagy or whether they have fossorial habits, suggests that this peculiarity might represent an adaptation to hindgut fermentation in general.

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