The healing of colorectal anastomoses after irradiation therapy continues to be a major concern. The authors evaluated the healing of rectal anastomoses in a rat model after a preoperative 500-cGy dose of cobalt60 irradiation. Thirty-six male Wistar rats were divided into two equal groups: control (group A), and irradiation group (group B). Group B received a single 500-cGy dose of irradiation, and a rectal resection and end-to-end anastomosis was performed in both groups on the 7th day after irradiation. Parameters of the healing process included bursting pressure and collagen content on the 5th, 7th, and 14th days after surgery. In the irradiation group, the mean bursting pressure on the 5th, 7th, and 14th days was 116, 218, and 273 mmHg, respectively. The collagen content assessed by histomorphometry was 9.0, 20.8, and 32%, respectively. In contrast, the control group had a mean bursting pressure of 175, 225 and 263 mmHg, and a collagen content of 17.8, 28.1, and 32.1%, respectively. The adverse effect of irradiation on healing was detectable only on the 5th postoperative day, as demonstrated by lower bursting pressure (P < 0.013) and collagen content (P < 0.008). However, there was no failure of anastomotic healing such as leakage or dehiscence due to irradiation. We conclude that a single preoperative 500-cGy dose of irradiation delays the healing of rectal anastomosis in rats.