Cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) is a major cause of stroke and dementia. Pathologically, three lesions are seen: small vessel arteriopathy, lacunar infarction, and diffuse white matter injury (leukoaraiosis). Appropriate experimental models would aid in understanding these pathologic states and also in preclinical testing of therapies. The objective was to perform a systematic review of animal models of SVD and determine whether these resemble four key clinicopathologic features: (1) small, discrete infarcts; (2) small vessel arteriopathy; (3) diffuse white matter damage; (4) cognitive impairment. Fifteen different models were included, under four categories: (1) embolic injuries (injected blood clot, photochemical, detergent-evoked); (2) hypoperfusion/ischaemic injury (bilateral common carotid occlusion/stenosis, striatal endothelin-1 injection, striatal mitotoxin 3-NPA); (3) hypertension-based injuries (surgical narrowing of the aorta, or genetic mutations, usually in the renin-angiotensin system); (4) blood vessel damage (injected proteases, endothelium-targeting viral infection, or genetic mutations affecting vessel walls). Chronic hypertensive models resembled most key features of SVD, and shared the major risk factors of hypertension and age with human SVD. The most-used model was the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR-SP). No model described all features of the human disease. The optimal choice of model depends on the aspect of pathophysiology being studied.