The pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli recovered from the intestinal tract of animals fall into categories called enterotoxigenic, enteropathogenic, enterohemorrhagic and necrotoxigenic. The other two categories, enteroinvasive and enteroaggregative, have not been reported in animals. The pathogenicity of these strains is determined by the presence of certain genes that encode adhesins and toxins, are generally organized in large blocks in chromosomes, large plasmids or phages, and are often transmitted horizontally between strains. In this review, we summarize current knowledge of the virulence attributes that determine the pathogenic potential of E. coli strains and the methods available to assess the virulence of the strains. We also discuss the clinical symptoms, the gross and histological lesions, and the molecular diagnostic methods our laboratories have implemented for detecting pathogenic strains of E. coli that are isolated from the gastrointestinal tract of animals.