Abnormal heat shock protein (HSP) levels have been observed in a number of human tumours, where they are involved in all hallmarks of cancer. Since bovine urothelial tumours share striking morphological and biochemical features with their human counterparts, the aim of this study was to evaluate the immunohistochemical levels of Hsp27, Hsp60, Hsp72, Hsp73 and Hsp90 in 28 normal bovine urinary bladders and 30 bovine papillomavirus-positive urothelial tumours (9 in situ carcinomas, 9 low-grade and 12 high-grade carcinomas) and adjacent premalignant lesions obtained from cows suffering from chronic enzootic haematuria, in order to investigate the role of these proteins in the process of urothelial carcinogenesis. A semi-quantitative method was used for the analysis of the results. Western blot analysis was also used to confirm HSP expression in normal controls. All investigated HSPs were expressed in normal bovine urothelium, showing characteristic patterns of immunolabelling throughout urothelial cell layers, which usually appeared to be conserved in urothelial hyperplasia and dysplasia. On the other hand, gradual loss of Hsp27 immunostaining resulted to be significantly associated with increasing histological grade of malignancy (P < 0.01). As well, a significantly reduced immunosignal of Hsp73 and Hsp90 was observed in high-grade and low-/high-grade carcinomas, respectively (P < 0.01). In contrast, Hsp60 (P < 0.01) and Hsp72 (P < 0.05) immunoreactivity appeared to be significantly increased both in premalignant and malignant lesions when compared to that observed in normal urothelium, thus suggesting an early involvement of these proteins in neoplastic transformation of urinary bladder mucosa.