Current research

An overview of the studies, conducted by the Animal Nutrition Lab.

Anne Becker

Diversity and nutritional modulation of fecal microbiota in captive cheetahs

With top speeds higher than 100 km / h are cheetahs, the fastest land animals in the world. But this miracle of evolution is threatened with extinction and is already listed on Appendix I (CITES). Research and conservation centers therefore do everything possible to protect the animals. Cheetahs in captivity, however, faced with too many gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases. Here the impact of erroneous or little balanced diet is often overlooked. Different types of diet (meat versus full prey) indeed modulate the intestinal flora. The degree of microbial fermentation of nutritional components and the resultant formation of metabolites may affect the intestinal and general health, both positive and negative. Examination of the intestinal microflora is therefore invaluable to gain a better understanding of the microbial fermentation profiles. Knowledge contributes to the targeted nutritional management of diseases and promote good health of cheetahs in captivity. This project aims to build a bridge between dietary variety and intestinal metabolism. In addition, two objectives are targeted:

  • The characterization of the diversity and dynamism of the predominant intestinal microflora of cheetahs. For this, both culture-dependent and culture-independent microbiological techniques used.
  • The nutritional control of the intestinal microflora by the observation of differences in the fermentation profiles of various dietary types. For this purpose be carried out both in vitro and in vivo tests.


Andrea Brenes

Andrea Brenes is studying nutrient metabolism in amphibians.


An Cools

An gives support to the PhD students of our lab on experimental design and statistical analysis of the research data. She is also responsible for the service related to pig nutrition that our lab has to offer.


Sandra Debevere

Impact of high haem content and non-digestible animal protein in natural diets on the gastrointestinal health of cats

Feeding natural diets (diets based on raw animal products) to cats become an increasingly popular trend, although there is still insufficient research performed regarding the effect of such diets on the gastrointestinal health of those animals.
An important research question is how cats deal with a high haem content in natural diets. Several meta-analysis in humans have found an association between high intake of red meat and an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. The mechanism responsible for this is most likely the formation of cyto- and genotoxic products during oxidation and nitrosation processes whereby proteins, unsaturated fats but also heme (as main promoter of these reactions) are important factors. Since these factors are all present in relative large quantities in natural diets, this may lead to adverse effects on the gastrointestinal health of the cat. However, natural diets also contain non-digestible animal protein that may exert a similar effect as plant fibers (positive fermentation profile or bulk effect) and therefore may promote the health of the gastrointestinal tract.
The goal of this project is to examine the impact of haem content and non-digestible animal protein on the gastrointestinal health of the cat whereby oxidative parameters, fermentation parameters and faecal microbiota will be determined. First, an in vitro model (SHIME®) will be used as first screening before performing an in vivo study. In addition, we will determine the content of non digestible animal protein by means of a new analytical technique.

Annelies De Cuyper

Feeding strategies and satiety mechanisms in carnivore species

The aim of this project is to investigate how the choice for a specific range in prey size by carnivore species co-evolved with adaptations in meal size and the rates of gastric emptying, nutrient absorption and intestinal fermentation. Since malnutrition in zoos is still perceived as a main cause of problems to breed endangered species in captivity, unraveling carnivore feeding strategies and satiety mechanisms can be of utmost importance. Also carnivore species kept as companion animals, such as dogs and cats, but for instance also ferrets, experience many nutritional disorders that still need unraveling, and their origin likely lies in the lack of fit of their food with evolutionary adaptations.


Sofie Dupont

Sofie Dupont is working as a teaching assistant and is in charge of developing the practical courses for the last year students of veterinary medicine with the specialization in small animal or equine veterinary medicine. Further, Sofie also supervises last year veterinarian students during their clinic weeks, together with the residents Veerle Vandendriesche and Wendy Wambacq. In addition, she works closely together with the clinic for small animals and horses at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Merelbeke, giving nutritional advice for hospitalized patients and consults for referral patients. Pet and horse owners are able to request a direct clinical consult as well. Nutritional advice is also provided for veterinarians in practice, companies, the government and other agencies. She is also a resident at the European College for Veterinary and Comparative Nutrition ( ECVCN ), under supervision of Prof. Dr . Myriam Hesta. This is a training to become a Diplomate and specialist in animal nutrition.


Fikremariam Geda

Fikremariam Geda is investigating how nutrition can modulate the metabolism of fish when exposed to elevated water temperature.


Biruk Kebebe

Impact of tannins on gut mineral bioavailability in ruminants

Research will focus on the impact of tannins on gut mineral bioavailability. For this, concentrations of tannins and minerals throughout the gut will be measured, especially the release of minerals from tannins. The latter will be assessed for both browsers and grazers. Finally the impact of dietary treatments with polyethyleneglycol, proline and ash on gut mineral bioavailability will be studied.


Alireza Khadem

Use of non-starch polysaccharide enzymes in poultry nutrition

Nowadays, poultry diets are wheat/corn based but in the future to come, these diets will have to rely on other agricultural by-products. Wheat and other agricultural by-products contain both soluble and insoluble non-starch polysaccharides (NSP), which can elicit anti-nutritive effects in poultry. NSP hydrolyzing enzyme can lower the anti-nutritive aspects of wheat and other agricultural by-products NSP and improve the growth performance of broiler chickens. This research is done together with an industrial partner, Agrimex.


Marta Lourenço

Marta helps in the development and in the writing of research and educational projects. She also makes the bridge between our lab and the collaborative research in the South – development cooperation – in countries such as Ethiopia, Bolivia and South Africa, among others. She is also the link between the industrial partners and the lab regarding the development of research. Further she also supervises Master and PhD students during their research work.


Daisy Liu

Obesity in dogs

Obesity is one of the most common nutritional disorders in dogs and as in humans it is also associated with a number of comorbidities such as insulin resistance, hypertension, orthopedic problems and tumors. Besides diet and lack of exercise as major risk factors for the development of obesity, recent research in rodents and humans suggest that gut microbiota may be an additional factor. This project investigates the role of gut microbiota and high-fat diets in canine obesity by looking at microbial composition, fermentation and metabolic and immune responses of the dog. A second project is investigating the effect of obesity on renal function as in humans an increased body condition is a risk factor for vascular dysfunction renal disease. Renal function will be tested using a novel technique CEUS (Contrast-enhanced ultrasound). In a second phase the effect of weight loss and omega 3 fatty acids supplementation will be tested for their effect on renal perfusion in dogs.


Arturo Muñoz

Arturo is studying metabolism of amphibians and factors that affect this metabolism, with focus on the water frog of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.


Jana Pauwels

Chickens consume diet sources that are highly wanted in the human diet too, such as corn, soy and wheat. By comparing rural harsh chickens with the chickens that are reared in a commercial way, we try to find features that are important for chickens to deal with less valuable feed. This includes for example sources high in insoluble fiber and insects. The cecal microbiome plays a key role in our research.


Luk Sobry

Luk Sobry is working as a teaching assistant and is in charge of developing the practical courses for the 3rd year students within the course of animal nutrition and for the last year students of veterinary medicine with the specialization in ruminant or in pig, poultry and rabbit medicine. Further, Luk also supervises veterinarian students during their Master work.


Veerle Vandendriessche

Veerle Vandendriessche started as Resident for Nutrition of Companion Animals for the European College of Veterinary Comparative Nutrition (ECVCN) in October 2013, at the Laboratory for Animal Nutrition, under the supervision of Prof. dr. Myriam Hesta. She supervised last year veterinarian students during their clinic weeks of nutrition of companion animals. Veerle also makes feeding advises for all patients taken up in the clinic and for referral patients. Further, she does research for her sponsor regarding diabetes in cats and their nutrition as the fifth Vital Assessment.


Donna Vanhauteghem

Donna supervises the analytical work of the research done at our lab and helps in the interpretation of the results.


Hubèrt van Hees

Hubèrt van Hees is working at Nutreco, but doing his PhD research on nutrition of piglets in the farrowing crate period.


Marielle Van Zelst

Bioavailability of Selenium in Dog Food

Selenium (Se) is an essential component of certain enzymes, such as glutathione peroxidases and thioredoxin reductase that act as antioxidants. Because of the narrow margin between the amount of selenium causing deficiency and the amount of selenium causing toxicity, the bioavailability is very important. To date, little is known about the precise metabolism of selenium and the bioavailability of the mineral in dog food. The aim of this research project is to optimize the selenium provision in dog food. Therefore, first the factors that affect the bioavailability of selenium will be determined. This research project is supported by WALTHAM (MARS inc.). Besides the promoters Prof. dr. ir. Geert Janssens and Prof. dr. Myriam Hesta, the studies will be performed in collaboration with leading scientists in the field of (pet) animal nutrition. Among others, Prof. dr. ir. Wouter Hendriks en dr. ir. Guido Bosch from Wageningen University (the Netherlands), Prof. Dr. Ellen Kienzle from the Ludwig-Maximilians University (Germany), Prof. Dr. Jürgen Zentek from the Free University of Berlin (Germany) and Prof. Dr. Christine Iben from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna (Austria) are involved in this research.


Wendy Wambacq

Wendy Wambacq started on April 1, 2013 with her residency for the European College of Veterinary Comparative Nutrition (ECVCN) at the Laboratory of Animal Nutrition. Together with veterinarians Sophie Dupont and Veerle Vandendriessche and under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Myriam Hesta, she is a part of the equine and small animal nutrition services. These services compose dietary advice for hospitalized animals at the clinic as well as for external patients


Jia Xu

Nutritional manipulation of colon microbiota as a possible treatment for inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an emerging disease, which is often seen in humans, but also dogs and cats. At present it is believed that pathogenic mechanism of IBD involves an abnormal interaction between commensal flora and the intestinal immune system in predisposed individuals. Studies with animal models show that intestinal bacteria are required for spontaneous induction of inflammatory bowel disease, irrespective of the underlying immune defect. Indeed, GI flora may be affected by substrates available for fermentation, such as proteins and carbohydrates. There may also influence performance by adding pre-, pro- and synbiotics, but there are no studies on the effect of pre-, pro-, synthesis and postbiotica in dogs with IBD. Therefore, food-related manipulation of the gut ecology can serve as a potential treatment for IBD dogs. The goal of my project is to understand the differences between healthy and IBD dogs to investigate the intestinal and fecal flora, identify nutritional effects that may be important in the pathogenesis of IBD in dogs, and eventually to come to a science-based dietary treatment for IBD.