This paper examines past occurrences in North America relevant to the possibility of biological disasters with animal origins. With respect to naturally occurring animal disease outbreaks, North America, while not as adversely affected by epizootics as other regions, has had its fair share of such outbreaks of both 'traditional' and emerging animal diseases. The traditional category includes such diseases as anthrax, classical swine fever, bluetongue, brucellosis, foot and mouth disease, and the family of equine encephalomyelitis viruses. The emerging diseases include relatively more recent culprits such as postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome, poultry enteritis mortality syndrome, and newly discovered examples of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Additionally, several serious diseases of human beings that involve animal vectors or reservoirs occur naturally in North America or have emerged in recent decades; these include plague, hantavirus, monkeypox, West Nile virus and avian-derived influenza. At the same time, there have been very few intentional attacks on livestock using biological agents and no recorded cases in North America of animals intentionally being used to transmit disease to humans. According to the historical record, therefore, naturally occurring emerging zoonoses probably constitute the greatest threat in terms of biological disasters with animal origins. However, some of the general trends in terrorist activity, such as the intensification of activities by animal rights extremists against facilities undertaking animal research, mean that the possibility of intentional animal-related biological disasters should not be discounted.