Milk digestion in the young rabbit: methodology and first results


  • Thierry Noël Gidenne INRA Occitanie Toulouse
  • Carole Bannelier INRA Occitanie Toulouse
  • Mélanie Gallois INRA Occitanie Toulouse
  • M. Segura INRA Occitanie Toulouse
  • Vincent Lambrecht INRA Occitanie Toulouse



young rabbit, digestion, milk, methodology


This study aims to determine the digestibility of milk by the young rabbit (21-25 d old), taking into account the increment of digesta content and urine excretion. Nineteen litters of 9 young rabbits 21 to 25 d old were used: 12 litters (S group) fed exclusively with milk using controlled suckling, and 7 litters (Control group) with free suckling and access to the pelleted feed of the doe. The faecal digestibility of milk dry matter (DM) was measured between 21 and 25 d of age, for S litters housed from 15 d of age in a metabolism cage separately from their mother. Between 21 and 25 d, the milk intake, faeces and urine excretion were controlled daily, and the mean increment in digesta content was measured by comparing digesta weight of the whole tract at 21 and 25 d of age (one kit per litter). The increment in digesta content from 21 to 25 d averaged 77% (+8.5 g), sourcing mainly from stomach and caecum contents increase (+57 and +120% respectively). The mean increase for the dry content of the gut (from 21 to 25 d) was 1.75 g DM/kit, and was considered as non-digested to calculate the digestibility coefficient of the milk. The milk intake averaged 30 g/d/kit (7.9 g DM/d kit). No faecal excretion was recorded between 21 and 25 d. From the milk intake and increment in digesta content, the corrected digestibility of the milk dry matter reached 94% (minimum=92.9%, maximum=95.6%). The daily urine excretion averaged 5.1 mL/kit, corresponding to 1.2 g DM/kit. Therefore, the corrected DM retention coefficient of the milk was 79.5%. The quantity of nitrogen excreted in urine was low (0.06 g/d kits), thus the corrected nitrogen retention coefficient for milk reached 82% and the nitrogen retained (corrected) reached 0.44 g/d kit. Accordingly, the amount in metabolisable protein for the milk was 90 g/kg (fresh). The corrected energy retention coefficient was estimated to 95.8%, for a crude energy concentration estimated at 28.14 MJ/kg DM for the milk. Thus, the energy retained (corrected) reached 223 kJ/d kit and the content in metabolisable energy for the milk was 26.94 MJ/kg DM.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Thierry Noël Gidenne, INRA Occitanie Toulouse

GenPhySE, Université de Toulouse, INRA, ENVT

Carole Bannelier, INRA Occitanie Toulouse

GenPhySE, Université de Toulouse, INRA, ENVT

Mélanie Gallois, INRA Occitanie Toulouse

GenPhySE, Université de Toulouse, INRA, ENVT

M. Segura, INRA Occitanie Toulouse

GenPhySE, Université de Toulouse, INRA, ENVT

Vincent Lambrecht, INRA Occitanie Toulouse

GenPhySE, Université de Toulouse, INRA, ENVT


Alstin F., Nilsson M. 1990. The Soxtec®hydrolysis system improves the official methods for determining total fat content. Ind. Alim. Agric., 107: 1271-1274.

Carabaño R., Piquer J., Menoyo D., Badiola I. 2010. The digestive system of the rabbit, In: De Blas C., Wiseman J. (Eds.), Nutrition of the rabbit, CABI; Wallingford; UK, pp. 1-18.

EGRAN. 2001. Technical note: Attempts to harmonise chemical analyses of feeds and faeces, for rabbit feed evaluation. World Rabbit Sci., 9: 57-64.

Gallois M., Gidenne T., Fortun-Lamote F., Le Hueron-Luron I., Lallès J.P. 2005. An early stimulation of solid feed intake slightly influences the morphological gut maturation in the rabbit. Reprod. Nutr. Develop., 45: 109-122.

Gallois M., Fortun-Lamothe L., Michelan A., Gidenne T. 2008. Adaptability of the digestive function according to age at weaning in the rabbit: II. Effect on nutrient digestion in the small intestine and in the whole digestive tract. Animal, 2: 536-547.

Gidenne T., Debray L., Fortun-Lamothe L., Le Huerou-Luron I. 2007. Maturation of the intestinal digestion and of microbial activity in the young rabbit: Impact of the dietary fibre:starch ratio. Comp. Bioch. Physiol. - Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 148: 834-844.

Gidenne T., Lebas F., Savietto D., Dorchies P., Duperray J., Davoust C., Fortun-Lamothe L. 2015. Nutrition et alimentation, In: Gidenne T. (Ed.), Le lapin. De la biologie à l’élevage, Quae éditions, pp. 152-196.

Lebas, F. 1971. Composition chimique du lait de lapine évolution au cours de la traite et en fonction du stade de lactation. Ann. Zootech., 20: 185-191.

Maertens L., Lebas F., Szendrő Zs. 2006. Rabbit milk: a review of quantity, quality and non-dietary affecting factors. World Rabbit Sci., 14: 205-203.

Orengo J., Gidenne T. 2007. Feeding behaviour and caecotrophy in the young rabbit before weaning: An approach by analysing the digestive contents. App. Anim. Behav. Sci., 102: 106-118.

Parigi Bini R., Cesselli P. 1976. Estimate of energy excreted in urine by growing rabbits. In: 1st World Rabbit Congress, Dijon, France, Comm. 20, 6.

Parigi Bini R., Xiccato G., Cinetto M., Dalle Zotte A. 1991. Digestive efficiency and energy and protein retention in suckling and weanling rabbits. Zootec. Nutr. Anim., 17: 167-180.

Savietto D., Cervera C., Blas E., Baselga M., Larsen T., Friggens N.C., Pascual J.J. 2014. Environmental sensitivity differs between rabbit lines selected for reproductive intensity and longevity. Animal, 7: 1969-1977.

Ubilla E., Rebollar P.G., Pazo D., Esquifino A., Alvariño J.M.R. 2000. Effects of doe–litter separation on endocrinological and productivity variables in lactating rabbits. Livest. Prod. Sci., 67: 67-74.

Udert K.M., Larsen T.A., Biebow M., Gujer W.P. 2003. Urea hydrolysis and precipitation dynamics in a urinecollecting system. Water Res., 37: 2571-2582.

Zhang Y.K., Cui H.X., Sun D.F., Liu L.H., Xu X.R. 2018. Effects of doe-litter separation on intestinal bacteria, immune response and morphology of suckling rabbits. World Rabbit Sci., 26: 71-79.