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/cm3) 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.