New Zealand White rabbits were used to investigate the influence of increasing dietary P concentrations on growth performance, mineral balance, kidney calcification and bone development. The minimum dietary P requirement of 0.22 % (National Research Council) is usually exceeded in commercial natural-ingredient chows, leading to undesirable kidney calcifications. In order to study the optimal dietary P level, rabbits were fed semi-purified diets with four different P levels (0.1, 0.2, 0.4, and 0.8 %; w/w) at a constant dietary Ca concentration (0.5 %) during an 8-week period. Body weight and growth were not influenced by the dietary P level. During two periods (days 20-23 and 48-51), faeces and urine were collected quantitatively for the analysis of Ca, Mg and P and balances were calculated. Increased dietary P intake caused increased urinary and faecal P excretion and P apparent absorption and retention. Faecal Ca excretion increased with higher dietary P levels, whereas urinary Ca excretion reacted inversely. The apparent absorption of Ca became reduced at higher dietary P concentrations, but Ca retention was unchanged. The response of Mg was in a similar direction to that of the Ca balance. Kidney mineral content increased with higher dietary P levels, indicating the presence of calcified deposits. Nephrocalcinosis became more severe in kidney cortex and medulla at increasing dietary P levels, as was confirmed by histological analysis. Femur bone length was not differentially influenced by dietary P. Bone density (g/cm(3)) of the femur diaphysis became significantly lower at the 0.8 % dietary P level as compared with the 0.2 % P group only. The bone Mg content was significantly increased on the 0.8 % P diet, both in the diaphysis and epiphysis. Plasma P concentration increased and plasma Ca decreased with higher dietary P levels, whereas plasma Mg levels were unaffected. The present study shows that the current recommended minimum dietary P level of 0.2 % for rabbits, as advised by the National Research Council in 1977, leads to a normal growth and bone development, but also causes some degree of kidney calcifications at a dietary Ca level of 0.5 %. As the dietary P level of 0.1 % virtually prevented kidney calcification and at the same time did not give evidence for any deleterious effects on growth and bone development, this indicates that the current recommended dietary P level for rabbits should be regarded as a maximum advisable concentration, and that a lower P level may be more optimal.