16S rRNA gene sequence analysis provided evidence for two different mycobacterial species, Mycobacterium lepraemurium and a potentially novel species, as causative agents of 'feline leprosy'. Comparison of 16S rRNA gene sequence data obtained for M. lepraemurium and the potentially novel species indicated 12 nucleotide differences over a 446 bp region encompassing the V2 and V3 hypervariable regions. From available 16S rRNA gene sequence data, M. lepraemurium shared greatest nucleotide identity with M. avium subsp paratuberculosis and M. avium. The novel species had a long helix 18 in the V3 region and shared greatest nucleotide identity with M. leprae, M. haemophilum and M. malmoense. The novel species had an additional 'A' nucleotide at position 105 of the aligned 16S rRNA gene sequence, the only other mycobacterial database sequence having this same extra nucleotide being M. leprae. This nucleotide variation was exploited to develop specific PCR assays for the two species. These were found to be effective and specific when tested against a panel of mycobacteria including species found in feline leprosy lesions and closely related mycobacteria and also when applied directly to formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues from feline leprosy cases.