Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is an important disease of cattle caused by infection with Mycobacterium bovis, a pathogen that may be extremely difficult to eradicate in the presence of a true wildlife reservoir. Our objective was to identify and review relevant literature and provide a succinct summary of current knowledge of risk factors for transmission of infection of cattle. Search strings were developed to identify publications from electronic databases to February 2015. Abstracts of 4255 papers identified were reviewed by three reviewers to determine whether the entire article was likely to contain relevant information. Risk factors could be broadly grouped as follows: animal (including nutrition and genetics), herd (including bTB and testing history), environment, wildlife and social factors. Many risk factors are inter-related and study designs often do not enable differentiation between cause and consequence of infection. Despite differences in study design and location, some risk factors are consistently identified, e.g. herd size, bTB history, presence of infected wildlife, whereas the evidence for others is less consistent and coherent, e.g. nutrition, local cattle movements. We have identified knowledge gaps where further research may result in an improved understanding of bTB transmission dynamics. The application of targeted, multifactorial disease control regimens that address a range of risk factors simultaneously is likely to be a key to effective, evidence-informed control strategies.