ABSTRACT We quantified the effects of a diet containing animal plasma protein on small intestinal growth and mucosal morphology in early weaned pigs. Ninety-six pigs [14 d old, 4 kg body weight (BW)] were assigned in groups of 32 to three dietary treatments as follows: 1) free access to control diet (C), 2) free access to plasma protein diet (P), and 3) plasma protein, pair-fed to C (PPF). Eight pigs from each group were killed at 2, 4, 8 or 16 d. Over a 16-d period, weight gain in the P group was 43% greater (P < 0.05) than that in C pigs; weight gain was similar in C and PPF groups. Protein intake in the P group was 33% higher (P < 0.05) than that in the PPF group; no significant difference was observed between the C and P groups. Dietary protein conversion efficiencies in both the P and PPF groups were approximately 18% greater (P < 0.05) than those in the C group. Intestinal masses in the three groups did not differ at 2, 4 and 8 d. By 16 d, the jejunal and ileal protein and DNA masses (mg/kg BW) in both the P and PPF groups were lower than those in the C group (P < 0.05). Dietary plasma protein did not affect crypt cell proliferation, crypt depth or villous height in either the jejunum or ileum. However, the intravillous lamina propria cell density in the jejunum was significantly lower (P < 0.05) in P and PPF pigs than in C pigs. Plasma urea concentrations were also 40 and 42% lower (P < 0.05) in the P and PPF groups, respectively, than in the C group. Our results indicate that dietary plasma protein reduces the cellularity of the lamina propria, but not epithelial cell surface of the small intestine. Feeding plasma protein also increased the efficiency of dietary protein utilization, in part, by decreasing amino acid catabolism.