1. A study was conducted with broiler chicks to evaluate the effects of dietary high-methylated citrus pectin (HMC) or low-methylated citrus pectin (LMC) on the performance, nutrient digestibility, morphology of the small intestinal wall and ileal microbial activity. 2. Both pectin products were tested at a dietary content of 30 g/kg using a diet based on maize and soya flour. 3. Inclusion of HMC in the diet depressed weight gain and food utilization significantly. With a dietary addition of LMC there were only small decreases in weight gain and food utilisation. 4. Digestibility of dry matter, organic matter, crude fat, starch and amino acids, nitrogen retention and metabolisable energy value were reduced significantly when HMC was added to the diet. The addition of LMC to the diet reduced fat and ash digestibility and metabolisable energy value significantly. 5. Inclusion of LMC in the diet increased ileal viscosity marginally, whilst HMC had such an effect that the supernatant could not be extracted. Microbial activity in the ileum, particularly that of Enterococci, Bacteroidaceae, Clostridia and E. coli, was increased significantly with dietary addition of HMC. Inclusion of LMC in the diet did not greatly affect microbial activity as only the number of Clostridia was increased. 6. The addition of HMC to the diet markedly affected the morphology of the intestinal wall and significantly increased the number of goblet cells per 100 villus cells and the sucrase isomaltase activity was increased significantly. However, the morphology of the intestinal wall was hardly affected by LMC, whereas the number of goblet cells per 100 villi cells was significantly increased. 7. Results of the present study indicate that the inclusion of water-soluble pectins in diets of chicks changes ileal microbial activity and the morphology of the small intestinal wall. The magnitude of these changes depends on the degree of methylation of the pectins. © 1999 British Poultry Science Ltd.