Abstract Background The aberrant inflammation that is the hallmark of the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) is associated with several factors, including changes in the intestinal microbiota. Here, we confirmed that an intestinal microbiota is needed for development of typhlocolitis in Helicobacter hepaticus infected IL-10-/- C57BL/6 mice, and investigated the role of the microbiota in modulating disease. Results We altered the murine microbiota by treatment with the antibiotics vancomycin or cefoperazone prior to H. hepaticus infection. Through surveys of the 16S rRNA encoding-gene, analyses of histology and changes in expression of host mediators, we correlated alterations in the microbiota with host responses. We found that resident microbes are essential for initiation of disease, as animals mono-associated with H. hepaticus did not develop colitis. Despite the requirement for an indigenous microbiota for the initiation of disease, the severity of disease was independent of antibiotic-induced changes in the microbial community structure. Despite differences in the expression of host inflammatory mediators associated with shifts in the microbiota, H. hepaticus infection led to similar histopathologic lesions in microbial communities exposed to either cefoperazone or vancomycin. Conclusion In conclusion, we demonstrate that colitis due to H. hepaticus infection can be initiated and progress in the presence of several different microbial communities. Furthermore, H. hepaticus is the main driver of inflammation in this model, while the specific structure of the microbiota may modulate the host pathways that lead to chronic inflammation.