Characterization of gut microbiomes of household pets in the United States using a direct-to-consumer approach

Aashish R. Jha, Justin Shmalberg, Jirayu Tanprasertsuk, Lee Ann Perry, Dan Massey, Ryan W. Honaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of gut microbiomes as important regulators of mammalian health is increasingly recognized, although feline and canine gut microbiomes remain poorly characterized. In this proof-of-concept study, we assessed the utility of a direct-to-consumer approach to executing pet microbiome studies. We characterized the gut microbiomes of 238 pets (46 cats and 192 dogs) by generating ~11 million merged reads that were mapped to the V4 region of 16S ribosomal RNA gene at a sequencing depth of 45,806 (±22,325) reads per sample. Analyses of these reads revealed that both feline and canine gut microbiomes are dominated by three major phyla, namely Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, and Bacteroides and that alpha diversity is higher in the feline gut. In addition to interspecies differences between the feline and canine gut, we also detected appreciable intraspecies bacterial variation within the canine population. While the dogs in this dataset could be assigned to three distinct clusters based on their gut microbiome, no clustering was observed within the feline population. Integration of additional data obtained from survey questionnaires revealed that geography and body weight may be associated with canine gut microbiome composition. Furthermore, we found that both the inter and intraspecies differences are more pronounced at finer taxonomic levels, indicating that strain-level investigations may be necessary in the future. This study demonstrates that the direct-to-consumer approach overcomes existing limitations in pet microbiome research, for example, it allows collection of large numbers of pet samples. The direct-to-consumer approach has proven successful in human genomics as well as human microbiomics and this study demonstrates that by building partnerships with an engaged general public this approach can also propel the field of pet microbiomics forward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0227289
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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