This study was designed to evaluate the epidemiology of severe gastroenteritis in children living in Québec rural areas with intensive livestock activities. From September 2005 through June 2007, 165 cases of gastroenteritis in children aged from 6 months to 5 years, hospitalized or notified to the public health department were enrolled, and 326 eligible controls participated. The parents of cases and controls were asked questions about different gastroenteritis risk factors. The quality of the drinking water used by the participants was investigated for microbial indicators as well as for four zoonotic bacterial pathogens (Campylobacter spp, Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp and Yersinia spp) and two enteric parasites (Cryptosporidium spp and Giardia spp). From 134 stool specimen analysed, viruses were detected in 82 cases (61%), while 28 (21%) were found with at least one of the bacteria investigated, and five cases were infected by parasites. Campylobacteriosis was the main bacterial infection (n = 15), followed by Salmonella sp (n = 7) and E. coli O157:H7 (n = 5) among cases with bacterial gastroenteritis. No significant difference was found between cases and controls regarding the quality of water consumed; the frequency of faecal contamination of private wells was also similar between cases and controls. Considering the total cases (including those with a virus), no link was found between severe gastroenteritis and either being in contact with animals or living in a municipality with the highest animal density (4th quartile). However, when considering only cases with a bacterial or parasite infection (n = 32), there was a weak association with pig density that was not statistically significant after adjusting for potential confounders. Contact with domestic, zoo or farm animals were the only environmental factor associated with the disease.