Mucositis resulting from cancer chemotherapy is a serious disorder of the alimentary tract. Emu oil has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties in animal models of arthritis and wound healing; however, its effects on the intestine remain unknown. We investigated emu oil for its potential to decrease the severity of mucositis in a rat model. Female Dark Agouti rats (110–150 g) were orogastrically gavaged with emu oil (0·5 or 1 ml) or water (1 ml) for 5 d before intraperitoneal injection of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, 150 mg/kg) or saline (control), and this was continued up to the day of sacrifice (48, 72 and 96 h post 5-FU administration). Histological (villus height, crypt depth (CD) and disease severity score) and biochemical (myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity) parameters were determined in intestinal tissues collected at sacrifice. Sucrase activity in vivo was quantified by the sucrose breath test. Activated neutrophil activity (MPO) in the ileum was significantly decreased by emu oil (0·5 ml, 451 (sem 168) U/g and 1 ml, 503 (sem 213) U/g) compared with 5-FU-treated controls (1724 (sem 431) U/g) 96 h post 5-FU administration. There were also significant increases in CD (152 (sem 8) μm) in the ileum of rats that receivied 1 ml emu oil at 96 h compared with 5-FU-treated controls (CD (106 (sem 12) μm)). Emu oil did not affect sucrase activity. Emu oil decreased acute ileal inflammation, and improved mucosal architecture in the intestine during recovery from chemotherapy in rats. Further studies investigating the potential benefits of emu oil as a nutritional supplement for the treatment of intestinal disorders are indicated.