Ruminal acidosis in beef cattle: the current microbiological and nutritional outlook

J Dairy Sci. 2007 Jun;90 Suppl 1:E17-38. doi: 10.3168/jds.2006-478.


Ruminal acidosis continues to be a common ruminal digestive disorder in beef cattle and can lead to marked reductions in cattle performance. Ruminal acidosis or increased accumulation of organic acids in the rumen reflects imbalance between microbial production, microbial utilization, and ruminal absorption of organic acids. The severity of acidosis, generally related to the amount, frequency, and duration of grain feeding, varies from acute acidosis due to lactic acid accumulation, to subacute acidosis due to accumulation of volatile fatty acids in the rumen. Ruminal microbial changes associated with acidosis are reflective of increased availability of fermentable substrates and subsequent accumulation of organic acids. Microbial changes in the rumen associated with acute acidosis have been well documented. Microbial changes in subacute acidosis resemble those observed during adaptation to grain feeding and have not been well documented. The decrease in ciliated protozoal population is a common feature of both forms of acidosis and may be a good microbial indicator of an acidotic rumen. Other microbial factors, such as endotoxin and histamine, are thought to contribute to the systemic effects of acidosis. Various models have been developed to assess the effects of variation in feed intake, dietary roughage amount and source, dietary grain amount and processing, step-up regimen, dietary addition of fibrous byproducts, and feed additives. Models have been developed to study effects of management considerations on acidosis in cattle previously adapted to grain-based diets. Although these models have provided useful information related to ruminal acidosis, many are inadequate for detecting responses to treatment due to inadequate replication, low feed intakes by the experimental cattle that can limit the expression of acidosis, and the feeding of cattle individually, which reduces experimental variation but limits the ability of researchers to extrapolate the data to cattle performing at industry standards. Optimal model systems for assessing effects of various management and nutritional strategies on ruminal acidosis will require technologies that allow feed intake patterns, ruminal conditions, and animal health and performance to be measured simultaneously in a large number of cattle managed under conditions similar to commercial feed yards. Such data could provide valuable insight into the true extent to which acidosis affects cattle performance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis / metabolism
  • Acidosis / physiopathology
  • Acidosis / veterinary*
  • Animal Feed*
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases / metabolism
  • Cattle Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Digestion
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fermentation
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Rumen* / metabolism
  • Rumen* / microbiology
  • Rumen* / parasitology


  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Lactic Acid