Impact of dietary protein on microbiota composition and activity in the gastrointestinal tract of piglets in relation to gut health: a review

Animal. 2013 Jul;7(7):1067-78. doi: 10.1017/S1751731113000062. Epub 2013 Feb 15.


In pigs, the microbial ecosystem of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is influenced by various factors; however, variations in diet composition have been identified as one of the most important determinants. Marked changes in fermentation activities and microbial ecology may occur when altering the diet, for example, from milk to solid feed during weaning. In that way, access of pathogens to the disturbed ecosystem is alleviated, leading to infectious diseases and diarrhea. Thus, there is increasing interest in improving intestinal health by use of dietary ingredients suitable to beneficially affect the microbial composition and activity. For example, fermentable carbohydrates have been shown to promote growth of beneficial Lactobacillus species and bifidobacteria, thereby enhancing colonization resistance against potential pathogens or production of short-chain fatty acids, which can be used as energy source for epithelial cells. On the other hand, fermentation of protein results in the production of various potentially toxic products, such as amines and NH3, and is often associated with growth of potential pathogens. In that way, excessive protein intake has been shown to stimulate the growth of potentially pathogenic species such as Clostridium perfringens, and to reduce fecal counts of beneficial bifidobacteria. Therefore, it seems to be a promising approach to support growth and metabolic activity of the beneficial microbiota by developing suitable feeding strategies. For example, a reduction of dietary CP content and, at the same time, dietary supplementation with fermentable carbohydrates have proven to successfully suppress protein fermentation. In addition, the intestinal microbiota seems to be sensible to variations in dietary protein source, such as the use of highly digestible protein sources may reduce growth of protein-fermenting and potentially pathogenic species. The objective of the present review is to assess the impact of dietary protein on microbiota composition and activity in the GIT of piglets. Attention will be given to studies designed to determine the effect of variations in total protein supply, protein source and supplementation of fermentable carbohydrates to the diet on composition and metabolic activity of the intestinal microbiota.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry*
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism*
  • Fermentation*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Metagenome
  • Sus scrofa / metabolism*
  • Sus scrofa / microbiology*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins