INTRODUCTION: Perioperative hypovolemia arises frequently and contributes to intestinal hypoperfusion and subsequent postoperative complications. Goal-directed fluid therapy might reduce these complications. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of goal-directed administration of crystalloids and colloids on the distribution of systemic, hepatosplanchnic, and microcirculatory (small intestine) blood flow after major abdominal surgery in a clinically relevant pig model. METHODS: Twenty-seven pigs were anesthetized and mechanically ventilated and underwent open laparotomy. They were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: the restricted Ringer lactate (R-RL) group (n = 9) received 3 mL/kg per hour of RL, the goal-directed RL (GD-RL) group (n = 9) received 3 mL/kg per hour of RL and intermittent boluses of 250 mL of RL, and the goal-directed colloid (GD-C) group (n = 9) received 3 mL/kg per hour of RL and boluses of 250 mL of 6% hydroxyethyl starch (130/0.4). The latter two groups received a bolus infusion when mixed venous oxygen saturation was below 60% ('lockout' time of 30 minutes). Regional blood flow was measured in the superior mesenteric artery and the celiac trunk. In the small bowel, microcirculatory blood flow was measured using laser Doppler flowmetry. Intestinal tissue oxygen tension was measured with intramural Clark-type electrodes. RESULTS: After 4 hours of treatment, arterial blood pressure, cardiac output, mesenteric artery flow, and mixed oxygen saturation were significantly higher in the GD-C and GD-RL groups than in the R-RL group. Microcirculatory flow in the intestinal mucosa increased by 50% in the GD-C group but remained unchanged in the other two groups. Likewise, tissue oxygen tension in the intestine increased by 30% in the GD-C group but remained unchanged in the GD-RL group and decreased by 18% in the R-RL group. Mesenteric venous glucose concentrations were higher and lactate levels were lower in the GD-C group compared with the two crystalloid groups. CONCLUSIONS: Goal-directed colloid administration markedly increased microcirculatory blood flow in the small intestine and intestinal tissue oxygen tension after abdominal surgery. In contrast, goal-directed crystalloid and restricted crystalloid administrations had no such effects. Additionally, mesenteric venous glucose and lactate concentrations suggest that intestinal cellular substrate levels were higher in the colloid-treated than in the crystalloid-treated animals. These results support the notion that perioperative goal-directed therapy with colloids might be beneficial during major abdominal surgery.