Animal models have been commonly used for in vivo and in vitro spinal research. However, the extent to which animal models resemble the human spine has not been well known. We conducted a systematic review to compare the morphometric features of vertebrae between human and animal species, so as to give some suggestions on how to choose an appropriate animal model in spine research. A literature search of all English language peer-reviewed publications was conducted using PubMed, OVID, Springer and Elsevier (Science Direct) for the years 1980–2008. Two reviewers extracted data on the anatomy of large animal spines from the identified articles. Each anatomical study of animals had to include at least three vertebral levels. The anatomical data from all animal studies were compared with the existing data of the human spine in the literature. Of the papers retrieved, seven were included in the review. The animals in the studies involved baboon, sheep, porcine, calf and deer. Distinct anatomical differences of vertebrae were found between the human and each large animal spine. In cervical region, spines of the baboon and human are more similar as compared to other animals. In thoracic and lumbar regions, the mean pedicle height of all animals was greater than the human pedicles. There was similar mean pedicle width between animal and the human specimens, except in thoracic segments of sheep. The human spinal canal was wider and deeper in the anteroposterior plane than any of the animals. The mean human vertebral body width and depth were greater than that of the animals except in upper thoracic segments of the deer. However, the mean vertebral body height was lower than that of all animals. This paper provides a comprehensive review to compare vertebrae geometries of experimental animal models to the human vertebrae, and will help for choosing animal model in vivo and in vitro spine research. When the animal selected for spine research, the structural similarities and differences found in the animal studies must be kept in mind.