Efficient catabolism of host-derived compounds is essential for bacterial survival and virulence. While these links in intracellular bacteria are well studied, such studies in extracellular bacteria lag behind, mostly for technical reasons. The field has identified important metabolic pathways, but the mechanisms by which they impact infection and in particular, establishing the importance of a compound's catabolism versus alternate metabolic roles has been difficult. In this review we will examine evidence for catabolism during extracellular bacterial infections in animals and known or potential roles in virulence. In the process, we point out key gaps in the field that will require new or newly adapted techniques. J. Cell. Biochem. 115: 217–223, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.