The evolution of altruistic behaviour, which is costly to the donor but beneficial for the recipient, is among the most intriguing questions in evolutionary biology. Several theories have been proposed to explain it, including kin selection, group selection and reciprocity. Here we propose that microbes that manipulate their hosts to act altruistically could be favoured by selection, and may play a role in the widespread occurrence of altruism. Using computational models, we find that microbe-induced altruism can explain the evolution of host altruistic behaviour under wider conditions than host-centred theories, including in a fully mixed host population, without repeating interactions or individual recognition. Our results suggest that factors such as antibiotics that kill microbes might negatively affect cooperation in a wide range of organisms.