Skip to main content

Dietary fibres in the nutrition of the growing rabbit and recommendations to preserve digestive health: a review

  • T. Gidenne (a1) (a2) (a3)

The importance of dietary fibre fractions in animal feeding is due to its influence on the rate of passage, mucosal functionality and its role as substrate for gut microbiota that relates to performance and digestive health. The complexity of the physical structure and chemical composition of polysaccharides in plant cell walls explains the wide and different physiological effects of this large range of fibre fractions. Our review will first briefly consider the definition and structure of the different classes of fibres and of cell wall constituents, followed by a description of some analytical methods employed for monogastric feeds. Second, the nutritional role and impact of fibre intake on digestive health will be described for the growing rabbit with an extensive analysis of previous studies performed without antibiotics. The fibres in rabbit feed are essential for reducing the risk of digestive trouble after weaning, and the requirements are defined in terms of the quantity and quality of the fibre fractions as follows: a minimal dietary level of lignocellulose ‘ADF’ (18%) and lignins (>5%), balanced with a maximum quantity of digestible fibres ‘DgF’ (ratio DgF/ADF below 1.3). Soluble fibres, defined as the difference between total dietary fibre and NDF, are quickly fermented and digested by the rabbit. However, their impact on digestive health is still questioned.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Bach Knudsen, KE 1997. Carbohydrate and lignin contents of plant materials used in animal feeding. Animal Feed Science and Technology 67, 319338.
Bach Knudsen, KE 2001. The nutritional significance of ‘dietary fibre’ analysis. Animal Feed Science and Technology 90, 320.
Barry, JL, Hoebler, C, David, A, Kozlowski, F and Gueneau, S 1990. Cell wall polysaccharides determination: comparison of detergent method and direct monomeric analysis. Science des Aliments 10, 275282.
Bennegadi, N, Gidenne, T and Licois, L 2001. Impact of fibre deficiency and health status on non-specific enteropathy of the growing rabbit. Animal Research 50, 401413.
Blas, E and Gidenne, T 2010. Digestion of sugars and starch. In Nutrition of the rabbit (ed. C De Blas and J Wiseman), pp. 1938. CABI, Wallingford; UK.
Blas, E, Cervera, C and Fernandez-Carmona, JF 1994. Effect of two diets with varied starch and fibre levels on the performances of 4–7 weeks old rabbits. World Rabbit Science 2, 117121.
Boulahrouf, A, Fonty, G and Gouet, P 1991. Establishment, counts and identification of the fibrolytic bacteria in the digestive tract of rabbit. Influence of feed cellulose content. Current Microbiology 22, 125.
Brillouet, JM, Rouau, X, Hoebler, C, Barry, JL, Carré, B and Lorta, E 1988. A new method for determination of insoluble cell-walls and soluble non-starchy polysaccharides from plant materials. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 36, 969979.
Carré, B 1990. Predicting the energy value of poultry feeds. In Feedstuff evaluation (ed. J Wiseman and DJA Cole), pp. 283300. Butterworths, London.
Carré, B and Brillouet, JM 1989. Determination of water-insoluble cell-walls in feeds: interlaboratory study. Journal of AOAC International 72, 463467.
Champ, M, Langkilde, AM, Brouns, F, Kettlitz, B and Collet, YL 2003. Advances in dietary fibre characterisation. 1. Definition of dietary fibre, physiological relevance, health benefits and analytical aspects. Nutrition Research Reviews 16, 7182.
Combes, S, Fortun-Lamothe, L, Cauquil, L and Gidenne, T 2013. Engineering the rabbit digestive ecosystem to improve digestive health and efficacy. Animal 7, 14291439.
Coutelet, G 2013. Technical and economic results of the rabbit breading farms in France in 2012. In 15èmes J. Rech. Cunicoles (ed. G Bolet), 19–20 Nov. 2013, Le Mans, France , pp. 111114. ITAVI Publications, Paris.
De Blas, JC, Pérez, E, Fraga, MJ, Rodriguez, M and Galvez, JF 1981. Effect of diet on feed intake and growth of rabbits from weaning to slaughter at different ages and weights. Journal of Animal Science 52, 12251232.
Debray, L, Fortun-Lamothe, L and Gidenne, T 2002. Influence of low dietary starch/fibre ratio around weaning on intake behaviour, performance and health status of young and rabbit does. Animal Research 51, 6375.
De Vries, JW 2010. Validating official methodology commensurate with dietary fibre research and definitions. In Dietary fibre, new frontiers for food and health (ed. JW Van der Kamp, J Jones, B Mc Cleary and D Topping), pp. 2948. Wageningen Academic Publishers, The Netherlands.
De Vries, JW and Rader, JL 2005. Historical perspective as a guide for identifying and developing applicable methods for dietary fiber. Journal of AOAC International 88, 13491366.
De Vries, JW, Prosky, L, Li, B and Cho, S 1999. A historical perspective on defining dietary fiber. Cereal Foods World 44, 367369.
EGRAN 2001. Technical note: attempts to harmonise chemical analyses of feeds and faeces, for rabbit feed evaluation. World Rabbit Science 9, 5764.
Englyst, H 1989. Classification and measurement of plant polysaccharides. Animal Feed Science and Technology 23, 2742.
Elleuch, M, Bedigian, D, Roiseux, O, Besbes, S, Blecker, C and Attia, H 2011. Dietary fibre and fibre-rich by-products of food processing: characterisation, technological functionality and commercial applications. A review. Food Chemistry 124, 411421.
FAO 1998. Carbohydrates in human nutrition. (FAO Food and Nutrition Paper – 66). Retrieved November 5, 2014, from
Garcia, J, Gidenne, T, Falcao, E, Cunha, L and De Blas, JC 2002. Identification of the main factors that influence caecal fermentation traits in growing rabbits. Animal Research 51, 165173.
Gidenne, T 1994. Estimation of volatile fatty acids and of their energetic supply in the rabbit caecum: effect of the dietary fibre level. In 6ème Journées de la Recherche Cunicole (ed. JM Perez), pp. 293299. ITAVI Publications, Paris.
Gidenne, T 1997. Caeco-colic digestion in the growing rabbit: impact of nutritional factors and related disturbances. Livestock Production Science 51, 7388.
Gidenne, T 2003. Fibres in rabbit feeding for digestive troubles prevention: respective role of low-digested and digestible fibre. Livestock Production Science 81, 105117.
Gidenne, T and Perez, JM 1994. Apports de lignines et alimentation du lapin en croissance. I. Conséquences sur la digestion et le transit. Annales de Zootechnie 43, 313322.
Gidenne, T and Perez, JM 1996. Dietary cellulose for the growing rabbit. I. Consequences on digestion and rate of passage. Annales de Zootechnie 45, 289298.
Gidenne, T and Bellier, R 2000. Use of digestible fibre in replacement to available carbohydrates – effect on digestion, rate of passage and caecal fermentation pattern during the growth of the rabbit. Livestock Production Science 63, 141152.
Gidenne, T and Perez, JM 2000. Replacement of digestible fibre by starch in the diet of the growing rabbit. I. Effects on digestion, rate of passage and retention of nutrients. Annales de Zootechnie 49, 357368.
Gidenne, T, Arveux, P and Madec, O 2001. The effect of the quality of dietary lignocellulose on digestion, zootechnical performance and health of the growing rabbit. Animal Science 73, 97104.
Gidenne, T, Lebas, F and Fortun-Lamothe, L 2010a. Feeding behaviour of rabbits. In Nutrition of the rabbit (ed. C De Blas and J Wiseman), pp. 233252. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK.
Gidenne, T, Pinheiro, V, Falcao, E and Cunha, E 2000. A comprehensive approach of the rabbit digestion: consequences of a reduction in dietary fibre supply. Livestock Production Science 64, 225237.
Gidenne, T, Jehl, N, Lapanouse, A and Segura, M 2004a. 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. British Journal of Nutrition 92, 95104.
Gidenne, T, Garcia, J, Lebas, F and Licois, D 2010b. Nutrition and feeding strategy: interactions with pathology. In Nutrition of the rabbit (ed. C De Blas and J Wiseman), pp. 179199. CABI Publishing, Wallingford; UK.
Gidenne, T, Mirabito, L, Jehl, N, Perez, JM, Arveux, P, Bourdillon, A, Briens, C, Duperray, J and Corrent, E 2004b. Impact of replacing starch by digestible fibre, at two levels of lignocellulose, on digestion, growth and digestive health of the rabbit. Animal Science 78, 389398.
Gidenne, T, Jehl, N, Perez, JM, Arveux, P, Bourdillon, A, Mousset, JL, Duperray, J, Stephan, S and Lamboley, B 2005. Effect of cereal sources and processing in diets for the growing rabbit. II. Effects on performances and mortality by enteropathy. Animal Research 54, 6572.
Gidenne, T, Kerdiles, V, Jehl, N, Arveux, P, Eckenfelder, B, Briens, C, Stephan, S, Fortune, H, Montessuy, S and Muraz, G 2013. Protein replacement by digestible fibre in the diet of growing rabbits: 2. Impact on performances, digestive health and nitrogen output. Animal Feed Science and Technology 183, 142150.
Gómez-Conde, MS, Perez de Rozas, A, Badiola, I, Perez-Alba, L, de Blas, C, Carabano, R and Garcia, J 2009. Effect of neutral detergent soluble fibre on digestion, intestinal microbiota and performance in twenty five day old weaned rabbits. Livestock Science 125, 192198.
Gómez-Conde, MS, Garcia, J, Chamorro, S, Eiras, P, Rebollar, PG, De Rozas, AP, Badiola, I, De Blas, C and Carabano, R 2007. Neutral detergent-soluble fiber improves gut barrier function in twenty-five-day-old weaned rabbits. Journal of Animal Science 85, 33133321.
Hall, MB 2003. Challenges with nonfiber carbohydrate methods. Journal of Animal Science 81, 32263232.
Hall, MB, Lewis, BA, Van Soest, PJ and Chase, LE 1997. A simple method for estimation of neutral detergent-soluble fibre. Journal of Science of Food Agriculture 74, 441449.
Hipsley, EH 1953. Dietary ‘fibre’ and pregnancy taoxaemia. British Medicine Journal 22, 420422.
Jehl, N and Gidenne, T 1996. Replacement of starch by digestible fibre in the feed for the growing rabbit. 2. Consequences for microbial activity in the caecum and on incidence of digestive disorders. Animal Feed Science and Technology 61, 193204.
Maertens, L, Aerts, JM and De Boever, J 2004. Degradation of dietary oligofructose and inulin in the gastro-intestinal tract of the rabbit and the effects on caecal pH and volatile fatty acids. World Rabbit Science 12, 235246.
Maertens, L, Perez, JM, Villamide, M, Cervera, C, Gidenne, T and Xiccato, G 2002. Nutritive value of raw materials for rabbits: EGRAN tables 2002. World Rabbit Science 10, 157166.
Maître, I, Lebas, F, Arveux, P, Bourdillon, A, Dupperay, J and Saint Cast, Y 1990. Growth and mortality of the growing rabbit according to the level of lignocellulose (ADF-Van Soest). In 5èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicoles (ed. F. Lebas), 12–13 December, Paris, France, vol. 2, pp. 56.1–56.11. ITAVI Publications, Paris.
Marounek, M, Vovk, SJ and Skrivanova, V 1995. Distribution of activity of hydrolytic enzymes in the digestive tract of rabbits. British Journal of Nutrition 73, 463469.
Marty, J and Vernay, M 1984. Absorption and metabolism of the volatile fatty acids in the hindgut of the rabbit. British Journal of Nutrition 51, 265277.
Mc Cleary, BV, De Vries, JW, Rader, JL, Cohen, G, Prosky, L, Mugford, DC, Champ, M and Okuma, K 2010. Determination of total dietary fiber (Codex Definition) by enzymatic-gravimetric method and liquid chromatography: collaborative study. Journal of AOAC International 93, 221233.
Mertens, DR 2003. Challenges in measuring insoluble dietary fibre. Journal of Animal Science 81, 32333249.
Michelland, RJ, Combes, S, Monteils, V, Cauquil, L, Gidenne, T and Fortun-Lamothe, L 2011. Rapid adaptation of the bacterial community in the growing rabbit caecum after a change in dietary fibre supply. Animal 5, 17611768.
Montagne, L, Pluske, JR and Hampson, DJ 2003. A review of interactions between dietary fibre and the intestinal mucosa, and their consequences on digestive health in young non-ruminant animals. Animal Feed Science and Technology 108, 95117.
Perez, JM, Gidenne, T, Lebas, F, Caudron, I, Arveux, P, Bourdillon, A, Duperray, J and Messager, B 1994. Dietary lignins in growing rabbits. 2. Consequences on growth performances and mortality. Annales de Zootechnie 43, 323332.
Perez, JM, Gidenne, T, Bouvarel, I, Arveux, P, Bourdillon, A, Briens, C, Le Naour, J, Messager, B and Mirabito, L 1996. Dietary cellulose for the growing rabbit. II Consequences on performances and mortality. Annales de Zootechnie 45, 299309.
Perez, JM, Gidenne, T, Bouvarel, I, Arveux, P, Bourdillon, A, Briens, C, Le Naour, J, Messager, B and Mirabito, L 2000. Replacement of digestible fibre by starch in the diet of the growing rabbit. II. Effects on performances and mortality by diarrhoea. Annales de Zootechnie 49, 369377.
Prosky, L, Asp, GN, Scheweizer, TF, De Vries, JW and Furda, I 1992. Determination of insoluble and soluble dietary fiber in foods and food products: collaborative study. Journal of AOAC International 75, 360367.
Robertson, JB and Van Soest, PJ 1981. The detergent system analysis and its application to human foods. In The analysis of dietary fiber in food (ed. J Theander), pp. 123157. Dekker Inc. Publishing.
Soler, M, Blas, E, Cano, J, Pascual, JJ, Cervera, C and Fernandez-Carmona, J 2004. Effect of digestible fibre/starch ratio and animal fat level in diets around weaning on mortality rate of rabbits. In 8th World Rabbit Congress, 7–10 September (ed. C Becerril and A Pro), pp. 9961001. Colegio de Postgraduados for WRSA Publishing, Puebla, Mexico.
Tazzoli, M 2012. Feeding strategies to improve health status and feed efficiency in growing rabbits. PhD thesis, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.
Tazzoli, M, Carraro, L, Trocino, A, Majolini, D and Xiccato, G 2009. Replacing starch with digestible fibre in growing rabbit feeding. Italian Journal of Animal Science 8 (suppl. 3), 148250.
Tazzoli, M, Birolo, M, Filiou, E, Trocino, A, Zuffelato, A, Xiccato, G 2013. Increasing dietary energy with starch and soluble fibre and reducing ADF at different protein levels for growing rabbits. Agriculturae Conspectus Scientificus 78, 15.
Theander, O 1995. Total dietary fiber determined as neutral sugar residues, uronic acid residues and Klason lignin (The Uppsala method): collaborative study. Journal of AOAC International 78, 10301044.
Trocino, A, Fragkiadakis, M, Radaelli, G and Xiccato, G 2010. Effect of dietary soluble fibre level and protein source on growth, digestion, caecal activity and health of fattening rabbits. World Rabbit Science 18, 199210.
Trocino, A, Garcia, J, Carabaño, R and Xiccato, G 2013. A meta-analysis of the role of soluble fibre in diets for growing rabbits. World Rabbit Science 21, 115.
Trocino, A, Fragkiadakis, M, Majolini, D, Carabaño, R and Xiccato, G 2011. Effect of the increase of dietary starch and soluble fibre on digestive efficiency and growth performance of meat rabbits. Animal Feed Science and Technology 165, 265277.
Trowell, H 1978. The development of the concept of dietary fiber in human nutrition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 31, S3S11.
Uden, P, Robinson, PH and Wiseman, J 2005. Use of detergent system terminology and criteria for submission of manuscripts on new, or revised, analytical methods as well as descriptive information on feed analysis and/or variability. Animal Feed Science and Technology 118, 181186.
Van Soest, PJ 1994. Nutritional ecology of the ruminant, 2nd edition. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
Van Soest, PJ, Robertson, JB and Lewis, BA 1991. Methods for dietary fiber, neutral detergent fiber, and non starch polysaccharides in relation to animal nutrition. Journal of Dairy Science 74, 35833597.
Volek, Z and Marounek, M 2011. Dried chicory root (Cichorium intybus L.) as a natural fructan source in rabbit diet: effects on growth performance, digestion and caecal and carcass traits. World Rabbit Science 19, 143150.
Volek, Z, Marounek, M and Skrivanova, V 2005. Replacing starch by pectin and inulin in diet of early-weaned rabbits: effect on performance, health and nutrient digestibility. Journal of Animal and Feed Sciences 14, 327337.
Volek, Z, Marounek, M and Skrivanova, V 2007. Effect of a starter diet supplementation with mannan-oligosaccharide or inulin on health status, caecal metabolism, digestibility of nutrients and growth of early weaned rabbits. Animal 1, 523530.
Wiseman, J, Villamide, MJ, De Blas, C, Carabaño, MJ and Carabaño, RM 1992. Prediction of the digestible energy and digestibility of gross energy of feeds for rabbits. 1. Individual classes of feeds. Animal Feed Science and Technology 39, 2738.
Xiccato, G, Trocino, A, Carraro, L and Fragkiadakis, M 2006. Digestible fibre to ADF ratio and protein concentration in diets for early-weaned rabbits. In 3rd Rabbit congress of the America, Maringa, Parana, Brasil, Maringa University Publishing, pp. 1–6.
Xiccato, G, Trocino, A, Carraro, L, Fragkiadakis, M and Majolini, D 2008. Digestible fibre to starch ratio and antibiotic treatment time in growing rabbits affected by epizootic rabbit enteropathy. In 9th World Rabbit Congress, Verona, Italy, 10–13 June (ed. G Xiccato, A Trocino and SD Lukefahr), pp. 847851. Fond Ini Zooprofilattiche E Zoot publ, Brescia, Italy.
Xiccato, G, Trocino, A, Majolini, D, Fragkiadakis, M and Tazzoli, M 2011. Effect of decreasing dietary protein level and replacing starch with soluble fibre on digestive physiology and performance of growing rabbits. Animal 5, 11791187.
Xiccato, G, Trocino, A, Tazzoli, M, Majolini, D, Carabaño, R, Villamide, MJ, García, J, Nicodemus, N, Abad, R, Blas, E, Cervera, C, Ródenas, L, Martínez, E, Falcao-E-Cunha, L, Bengala Freire, JP, Maertens, L, Bannelier, C, Segura, M and Gidenne, T 2012. European ring-test on the chemical analyses of total dietary fibre and soluble fibre of compound diets and raw materials for rabbits. In 10th World Rabbit Congress (ed. A Daader), pp. 701705. Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, 4–6 September, Egyptian Rabbit Science Association Publishing, Le Caire.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 1751-7311
  • EISSN: 1751-732X
  • URL: /core/journals/animal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed