A unique model of formula feeding in the neonatal rat was utilized to investigate the effects of an enterally delivered artificial milk formula on clinically relevant immunological and biological characteristics in the gut, compared to naturally reared pups. Hooded Wistar rat pups were randomly allocated to two treatment groups: formula-fed (FF) or naturally suckled (NS). A flexible silastic intra-gastric cannula was surgically implanted into the FF pups, through which an artificial rat milk supplement was continuously delivered from day 4 to day 10 of life. Rat pups were sacrificed at 10 days of age. Body weight, small intestinal weight, mucosal CD8(+) cell numbers, and ileal lactase activity in FF animals were significantly decreased compared to their NS counterparts (P < 0.05). Numbers of eosinophils, mucosal mast cells, CD4(+) T-cells, ileal villus height and gastric emptying times were significantly increased in FF pups (P < 0.05). We have developed a new rat model of artificial feeding which possesses important immunological and biological similarities to the premature human infant.