BACKGROUND: An increased incidence of nasolacrimal duct fistula in the offspring of dam J and three of her sons (bulls A, B and C) prompted a study to investigate the prevalence and clinical manifestation of this anomaly. The dam J, bull B, 255 direct offspring of bulls A, B, and C and eight other direct and indirect offspring of cow J were examined. The periocular region of each animal was examined for unilateral or bilateral nasolacrimal duct fistula and the location, appearance and size of the lesions. RESULTS: Of 265 cattle examined, 54 had unilateral (n = 24) or bilateral fistula (n = 30). The prevalence of affected offspring differed significantly among the three bulls. The fistulae were located medial to the medial canthus of the eye and were 1 to 10 mm (median, 1 mm) in height and 1 to 12 mm (median, 2 mm) in length. The shape of the opening was circular in 58, oval in 23 and slit-like in three. One other animal had a large opening with an atypical shape and another had an abnormal medial canthus with several fistulous openings. Seventy openings were pigmented and 52 were hairless. The fistulae were clinically significant in 12 animals.