Background: A study was designed to elucidate effects of selected carbohydrates on composition and activity of the intestinal microbiota. Five groups of eight rats were fed a western type diet containing cornstarch (reference group), sucrose, potato starch, inulin (a long-chained fructan) or oligofructose (a short-chained fructan). Fructans are, opposite sucrose and starches, not digestible by mammalian gut enzymes, but are known to be fermentable by specific bacteria in the large intestine. Results: Animals fed with diets containing potato starch, or either of the fructans had a significantly (p <0.05) higher caecal weight and lower caecal pH when compared to the reference group, indicating increased fermentation. Selective cultivation from faeces revealed a higher amount of lactic acid bacteria cultivable on Rogosa agar in these animals. Additionally, the fructan groups had a lower amount of coliform bacteria in faeces. In the inulin and oligofructose groups, higher levels of butyrate and propionate, respectively, were measured. Principal Component Analysis of profiles of the faecal microbiota obtained by Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis (DGGE) of PCR amplified bacterial 16S rRNA genes as well as of Reverse Transcriptase-PCR amplified bacterial 16S rRNA resulted in different phylogenetic profiles for each of the five animal groups as revealed by Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of band patterns. Conclusion: Even though sucrose and cornstarch are both easily digestible and are not expected to reach the large intestine, the DGGE band patterns obtained indicated that these carbohydrates indeed affected the composition of bacteria in the large gut. Also the two fructans resulted in completely different molecular fingerprints of the faecal microbiota, indicating that even though they are chemically similar, different intestinal bacteria ferment them. Comparison of DNA-based and RNA-based profiles suggested that two species within the phylum Bacteroidetes were not abundant in numbers but had a particularly high ribosome content in the animals fed with inulin.