Evidence suggests that altered gut microbiota composition may be involved in the development of obesity. Studies using mice made obese with refined high-fat diets have supported this; however, these have commonly used chow as a control diet, introducing confounding factors from differences in dietary composition that have a key role in shaping microbiota composition. We compared the effects of feeding a refined high-fat diet with those of feeding either a refined low-fat diet or a chow diet on gut microbiota composition and host physiology. Feeding both refined low- or high-fat diets resulted in large alterations in the gut microbiota composition, intestinal fermentation, and gut morphology, compared to a chow diet. However, body weight, body fat, and glucose intolerance only increased in mice fed the refined high-fat diet. The choice of control diet can dissociate broad changes in microbiota composition from obesity, raising questions about the previously proposed relationship between gut microbiota and obesity.