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Alternatives to antibiotics and trace elements (copper and zinc) to improve gut health and zootechnical parameters in piglets: a review
López-Gálvez, G.; López-Alonso, M.; Pechova, A.; Mayo, B.; Dierick, N.; Gropp, J. (2021). Alternatives to antibiotics and trace elements (copper and zinc) to improve gut health and zootechnical parameters in piglets: a review. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol. 271: 114727.
In: Animal feed science and technology. Elsevier: Amsterdam; London; New York; Oxford; Tokyo. ISSN 0377-8401; e-ISSN 1873-2216, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    Alternatives to antibiotics; Copper; Zinc; Piglets; Weaning period; Guthealth; Post weaning diarrhoea

Authors  Top 
  • López-Gálvez, G.
  • López-Alonso, M.
  • Pechova, A.
  • Mayo, B.
  • Dierick, N., more
  • Gropp, J.

    The weaning period is a critical stage in pig production and the use of antibiotics and high concentrations of trace elements (copper and zinc) have proved to be very effective at reducing the economic impact of the post weaning diarrhoea that occurs during the first two weeks after weaning. However, the overuse of these substances has led to the development of bacterial resistance and accumulation in the environment, and thus has forced the pig/feed industry to search for alternatives. This paper presents a comprehensive review of the experimental data published in the scientific literature in the last decade focused on the alternatives to antibiotics/trace elements to improve gut health and growth performance in piglets. The diet appeared as the keystone to improve gut health and zootechnical parameters in weaned piglets. The critical points are the reduction of the protein content, the use of highly digestible protein sources to avoid undesirable fermentation of proteins in the hindgut, and the optimisation of the intake of different types of carbohydrates, mainly fibre. A large variety of feed additives were also examined, including probiotics, prebiotics, amino acids, enzymes, organic acids, plants extracts/essential oils, seaweed/seaweed extracts, nucleotides and antimicrobial peptides. The effects of these feed additives on gut health and the growth performance were tested, in most cases, against a commercial control diet, having shown promising results. The few studies that included a comparison of feed additives with a positive control diet, including antibiotics or trace elements (mainly zinc oxide), did not generally show statistically significant differences in gut health and growth performance parameters, which leads to suggest on their potential as alternatives to antibiotics/trace elements. The greatest uncertainties were found for probiotics and prebiotics, where no generalized conclusions can be drawn about their efficacy, as studies showed quite unsteady results. Moreover, the mechanisms responsible for the feed additive’s growth promotion effects are far from being completely known and pivotal data on the complex homeostasis of the gut are still lacking. This information would be essential when combining more than one dietary alternative with different mode of actions. Finally, some of these substances (for example amino acids) exert their effects on gut health at higher concentrations than in standard diets and the effective dose as well as the possible interactions with other feed ingredients/additives (particularly probiotics, prebiotics and organic acids) need further research.

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