Two experiments were conducted to determine if supplementing soluble fiber (fructooligosaccharide, xylooligosaccharide or gum arabic) to a semi-elemental diet would beneficially change cecal and colonic microbiota populations and enhance epithelial cell proliferation. Experiments 1 and 2 used identical dietary regimens; mice and rats were given free access to a powdered semi-elemental diet. Animals were assigned to one of the four following treatment groups: control, no supplemental dietary fiber, fructooligosaccharide, xylooligosaccharide and gum arabic. Dietary fiber was supplied via drinking water at 30 g/L. In Experiment 1 populations of Bifidobacteria and total anaerobic flora were enumerated from the contents of the cecum and colon of weanling mice. Consumption of fructooligosaccharide increased (P < 0.05) the concentrations of Bifidobacteria and the ratio of Bifidobacteria to total anaerobic flora. In Experiment 2 tissue from the cecum and distal colon of weanling rats was examined for morphological changes of the mucosa. Consumption of xylooligosaccharide increased (P < 0.05) cecal crypt depth and labeling index relative to the other three treatments. Consumption of gum arabic and the control diet increased (P < 0.01) cecal proliferation zone. Consumption of xylooligosaccharide and the control diet increased (P < 0.01) cecal cell density (number of cells in a vertical-half of the crypt). Distal colonic crypt depth was greatest (P < 0.05) in controls and rats fed fructooligosaccharide, intermediate in those fed gum arabic, and smallest in those fed xylooligosaccharide. These results suggest that fructooligosaccharide effectively stimulates growth of Bifidobacteria and xylooligosaccharide supports a modest enhancement of cecal epithelial cell proliferation.