There have been considerable recent advancements in animal breeding and genetics relevant to disease control in cattle, which can now be utilised as part of an overall programme for improved cattle health. This review summarises the contribution of genetic makeup to differences in resistance to many diseases affecting cattle. Significant genetic variation in susceptibility to disease does exist among cattle suggesting that genetic selection for improved resistance to disease will be fruitful. Deficiencies in accurately recorded data on individual animal susceptibility to disease are, however, currently hindering the inclusion of health and disease resistance traits in national breeding goals. Developments in 'omics' technologies, such as genomic selection, may help overcome some of the limitations of traditional breeding programmes and will be especially beneficial in breeding for lowly heritable disease traits that only manifest themselves following exposure to pathogens or environmental stressors in adulthood. However, access to large databases of phenotypes on health and disease will still be necessary. This review clearly shows that genetics make a significant contribution to the overall health and resistance to disease in cattle. Therefore, breeding programmes for improved animal health and disease resistance should be seen as an integral part of any overall national disease control strategy.