Breeding livestock that are better able to withstand the onslaught of endemic and exotic pathogens is high on the wish list of breeders and farmers world-wide. However the defence systems in both pathogens and their hosts are complex and the degree of genetic variation in resistance and tolerance will depend on the trade-offs that they impose on host fitness as well as their life-histories. The genes and pathways underpinning resistance and tolerance traits may be distinct or intertwined as the outcome of any infection is a result of a balance between collateral damage of host tissues and control of the invading pathogen. Genes and molecular pathways associated with resistance are mainly expressed in the mucosal tract and the innate immune system and control the very early events following pathogen invasion. Resistance genes encode receptors involved in uptake of pathogens, as well as pattern recognition receptors (PRR) such as the toll-like receptor family as well as molecules involved in strong and rapid inflammatory responses which lead to rapid pathogen clearance yet do not lead to immunopathology. In contrast tolerance genes and pathways play a role in reducing immunopathology or enhancing the host’s ability to protect against pathogen associated toxins. Candidate tolerance genes may include cytosolic PRRs and unidentified sensors of pathogen growth, perturbation of host metabolism and intrinsic danger or damage associated molecules. In addition, genes controlling regulatory pathways, tissue repair and resolution are also tolerance candidates. The identities of distinct genetic loci for resistance and tolerance to infectious pathogens in livestock species remain to be determined. A better understanding of the mechanisms involved and phenotypes associated with resistance and tolerance should ultimately help to improve livestock health and welfare.