Effects of therapeutic levels of dietary antibiotics on the cecal microbiome composition of broiler chickens

Poult Sci. 2022 Jun;101(6):101864. doi: 10.1016/j.psj.2022.101864. Epub 2022 Mar 17.


Dietary antibiotics, including antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs), have been commonly used to improve health and growth of poultry. The present study investigated the effects of therapeutic doses of dietary antibiotics, including bacitracin methylene disalicylate (BMD), penicillin G potassium (PP) and an ionophore (salinomycin, SA), on the cecal microbiome of chickens. BMD and SA treatments were given as dietary supplements from d 1 to 35 of age. The SAPP (salinomycin+ penicillin G potassium) group was given SA as a dietary supplement from d 1 to 35 of age and PP was added to drinking water from d 19 to 24 of age to simulate common practices for control of necrotic enteritis in broilers. The cecal contents were collected from all treatment groups on d 10, 24, and 35 of age and DNA was extracted for metagenomic analysis of the cecal microbiome. The results revealed that dietary or water supplementation of therapeutic levels of antibiotics and ionophores to chickens significantly altered the cecal microbial homeostasis during different stages of the chicken life. The alpha diversity analysis showed that BMD, SA, and SAPP treatments decreased diversity and evenness of the cecal microbiome of treated chickens on d 10 of age. Species richness was also reduced on d 35 following treatment with BMD. Beta diversity analyses revealed that SAPP and BMD induced significant changes in the relative abundance of Gram-positive and -negative bacteria on d 10, while no significant differences were observed on d 24. On d 35, the non-treated control group had higher relative abundance of unclassified Gram-positive and -negative bacteria compared to SA, SAPP, and BMD treatment groups. Overall, despite their beneficial role in controlling necrotic enteritis outbreaks, the findings of this study highlight the potential negative effects of dietary supplementation of therapeutic levels of antibiotics on the gut microbiome and suggest that adjusting gut bacteria may be required to restore microbial richness and diversity of the gut microbiome following treatment with these antibiotics.

Keywords: antibiotics; chicken; growth promoter; ionophore; microbiome.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria
  • Cecum / microbiology
  • Chickens
  • Diet / veterinary
  • Dietary Supplements / analysis
  • Enteritis* / veterinary
  • Microbiota*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents