Weaning - a challenge to gut physiologists

J.P. Lalles, P. Bosi, H. Smidt, C.R. Stokes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

236 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this paper is to review the most relevant findings obtained over the last four years on the physiology, microbiology and immunology of the gastrointestinal tract of pigs as influenced by weaning and nutrition in the post-weaning period through the action of feed components or alternative substances to in-feed antibiotics. In recent years, some light has been shed on the physiology of the stomach, including motility, gastric emptying and acid secretion. This organ is important in the control of pathogen entry into the intestines. Recent studies on basic intestinal physiology around weaning have been scarce. Most investigations have been devoted to nutritional approaches on the effects of diet components (e.g. protein, fibre, etc.) and alternative substances (e.g. organic acids, zinc, prebiotics, probiotics, other substances of animal or plant origins) on pig performance and various aspects of gastrointestinal tract physiology, microbiology and immunology. Among these, beneficial effects of some organic acids have been confirmed. Additional data with zinc sources include possible mechanisms of protection. Overall it appears that manipulating carbohydrate (prebiotic) composition of the weaning diet may be the most promising way to improve gut health in weaned piglets. In that respect, consistent results have been obtained with lactose supplementation, and interactions with other feed constituents have been studied. Significant positive results have also been produced with probiotics (bacteria, yeasts) fed to the piglets or to the sows. The major parts of the responses appear to be mediated through changes in gastrointestinal microbiology, including enhanced numbers of favourable bacteria (lactobacilli, bifidobacteria) and/or decreased numbers of potentially pathogenic bacteria (Escherichia coli, Clostridia, etc.) together with more favourable profiles of fermentation products along the intestines. In contrast, measurable effects of these dietary factors on intestinal physiology and mucosal immunology have been limited or difficult to interpret in many cases. Finally, investigations have been conducted with varying diet composition (other than carbohydrates: protein source or level, amino acids, etc) or supplementing with different substances of animal or plant origin. However, positive effects on the gut have often been more variable and sometimes inconsistent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-93
JournalLivestock Science
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • enterotoxigenic escherichia-coli
  • newly weaned piglets
  • yeast saccharomyces-boulardii
  • enterococcus-faecium strain
  • small-intestinal morphology
  • fatty-acid concentrations
  • mucosal immune-system
  • dried porcine plasma
  • cereus var. toyoi
  • egg-yolk antibody


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