Pathogens that can be transmitted between different host species are of fundamental interest and importance from public health, conservation and economic perspectives, yet systematic quantification of these pathogens is lacking. Here, pathogen characteristics, host range and risk factors determining disease emergence were analysed by constructing a database of disease–causing pathogens of humans and domestic mammals. The database consisted of 1415 pathogens causing disease in humans, 616 in livestock and 374 in domestic carnivores. Multihost pathogens were very prevalent among human pathogens (61.6%) and even more so among domestic mammal pathogens (livestock 77.3%, carnivores 90.0%). Pathogens able to infect human, domestic and wildlife hosts contained a similar proportion of disease–causing pathogens for all three host groups. One hundred and ninety–six pathogens were associated with emerging diseases, 175 in humans, 29 in livestock and 12 in domestic carnivores. Across all these groups, helminths and fungi were relatively unlikely to emerge whereas viruses, particularly RNA viruses, were highly likely to emerge. The ability of a pathogen to infect multiple hosts, particularly hosts in other taxonomic orders or wildlife, were also risk factors for emergence in human and livestock pathogens. There is clearly a need to understand the dynamics of infectious diseases in complex multihost communities in order to mitigate disease threats to public health, livestock economies and wildlife.