Review: Enhancing gastrointestinal health in dairy cows

J. C. Plaizier, M. Danesh Mesgaran, H. Derakhshani, H. Golder, E. Khafipour, J. L. Kleen, I. Lean, J. Loor, G. Penner, Q. Zebeli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Due to their high energy requirements, high-yielding dairy cows receive high-grain diets. This commonly jeopardises their gastrointestinal health by causing subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA) and hindgut acidosis. These disorders can disrupt nutrient utilisations, impair the functionalities of gastrointestinal microbiota, and reduce the absorptive and barrier capacities of gastrointestinal epithelia. They can also trigger inflammatory responses. The symptoms of SARA are not only due to a depressed rumen pH. Hence, the diagnosis of this disorder based solely on reticulo-rumen pH values is inaccurate. An accurate diagnosis requires a combination of clinical examinations of cows, including blood, milk, urine and faeces parameters, as well as analyses of herd management and feed quality, including the dietary contents of NDF, starch and physical effective NDF. Grain-induced SARA increases acidity and shifts availabilities of substrates for microorganisms in the reticulo-rumen and hindgut and can result in a dysbiotic microbiota that are characterised by low richness, diversity and functionality. Also, amylolytic microorganisms become more dominant at the expense of proteolytic and fibrolytic ones. Opportunistic microorganisms can take advantage of newly available niches, which, combined with reduced functionalities of epithelia, can contribute to an overall reduction in nutrient utilisation and increasing endotoxins and pathogens in digesta and faeces. The reduced barrier function of epithelia increases translocation of these endotoxins and other immunogenic compounds out of the digestive tract, which may be the cause of inflammations. This needs to be confirmed by determining the toxicity of these compounds. Cows differ in their susceptibility to poor gastrointestinal health, due to variations in genetics, feeding history, diet adaptation, gastrointestinal microbiota, metabolic adaptation, stress and infections. These differences may also offer opportunities for the management of gastrointestinal health. Strategies to prevent SARA include balancing the diet for physical effective fibre, non-fibre carbohydrates and starch, managing the different fractions of non-fibre carbohydrates, and consideration of the type and processing of grain and forage digestibility. Gastrointestinal health disorders due to high grain feeding may be attenuated by a variety of feed supplements and additives, including buffers, antibiotics, probiotics/direct fed microbials and yeast products. However, the efficacy of strategies to prevent these disorders must be improved. This requires a better understanding of the mechanisms through which these strategies affect the functionality of gastrointestinal microbiota and epithelia, and the immunity, inflammation and 'gastrointestinal-health robustness' of cows. More representative models to induce SARA are also needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S399-S418
Issue numbers2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Acidosis
  • Digestive tract
  • Epithelium
  • Microbiota
  • Starch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Review: Enhancing gastrointestinal health in dairy cows'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this