Listeriosis is a leading cause of hospitalization and death due to foodborne illness in the industrialized world. Animal models have played fundamental roles in elucidating the pathophysiology and immunology of listeriosis, and will almost certainly continue to be integral components of the research on listeriosis. Data derived from animal studies helped for example characterize the importance of cell-mediated immunity in controlling infection, allowed evaluation of chemotherapeutic treatments for listeriosis, and contributed to quantitative assessments of the public health risk associated with L. monocytogenes contaminated food commodities. Nonetheless, a number of pivotal questions remain unresolved, including dose-response relationships, which represent essential components of risk assessments. Newly emerging data about species-specific differences have recently raised concern about the validity of most traditional animal models of listeriosis. However, considerable uncertainty about the best choice of animal model remains. Here we review the available data on traditional and potential new animal models to summarize currently recognized strengths and limitations of each model. This knowledge is instrumental for devising future studies and for interpreting current data. We deliberately chose a historical, comparative and cross-disciplinary approach, striving to reveal clues that may help predict the ultimate value of each animal model in spite of incomplete data.