gut health check

Gut health

Optimal intestinal health and functionality is a prerequisite for sustainable animal production.

Intestinal functioning (feed conversion) and health (immune system) co-determine animal performance. Various diverse and closely connected processes are influenced by internal and external factors. To further understand these different processes in context of animal performance, it is important to investigate which processes are robust or flexible and which processes are most susceptible for modulation, and how and by which internal (e.g. genes) and external (e.g. feed/antibiotics) factors adaptations of the intestine are organized. Although the intestine is a complex tissue which harbours multiple cell types that strongly interact and communicate with each other and their environment (feed and microbiota), recent developments in the areas of genomics and computational sciences now provide us with tools and methods to start studying the behaviour of the intestine as a system.


In both pigs and chicken, several experiments are performed to further elucidate the interaction between host-microbe-environment. The first days/weeks of life are very important, because different functions in the intestine are developing. Three main functions are; 1) morphology, expansion of epithelial layer and structure to have more surface area, 2) functional, specific cells are differentiating and will produce enzymes that assist digesting and absorption of feed, and 3) immunological, the (adaptive) immune system will develop (B and T cells).


During early-life, both the composition and diversity of microbiota is unstable and can be influenced by environmental conditions. The microbial diversity changes and develops over time, and stabilizes towards an ‘adult’ status. Higher microbiota diversity is associated with higher resilience in adult animals, however for young animals it has been shown that starting with less microbiota diversity is beneficial for developing towards an ‘adult’ status.

Infection / Antibiotics

Infections of the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract are a major source of loss of efficiency, downtime and additional costs for veterinary treatment in animal husbandry. Diarrhoea, assuming that it is caused by a bacterial infection, usually an antibiotic treatment is given. Respiratory and infections gastrointestinal tract infections, or suspicion thereof, are a major cause of the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry. However, antibiotics not only kill pathogenic microorganisms but also commensal bacteria, subsequently causing overgrowth of resistant (virulent) strains.


During life animals will encounter different compositions of feed, pigs (like humans) first will drink milk and afterwards eat solid feed. Also different energy requirements are needed throughout life, early in life rapid growth occurs whereas adults only need energy for maintenance. Besides these energy requirements, feed also introduces various antigens triggering the intestinal immune system. Moreover, feed can have immuno-modulatory effects. However the immune system is very complex and a balance between immune processes is necessary. Existing models can test the influence of feed components on intestinal health by a standardized method. Often these feed components containing immune-modulatory effects influence animal performance as well.

“Centrum voor gezonde veehouderij”

Sustainable animal production is an interaction between environment, pathogen, and animal. All fields of expertise are brought together within the “Centrum voor gezonde veehouderij”, which creates a platform in which all fields of expertise can interact with each other. Moreover, it can be a platform for knowledge applications and to articulate demand for the development of (new) knowledge.