We present a comprehensive analysis of the intrinsic variability of the periodicity of ocular dominance columns in cat primary visual cortex (area 17) and its relationship to genetic background and visual experience. We characterized the intra-areal and interindividual variability of column spacing in a large set (n = 49) of ocular dominance patterns adapting a recently developed technique for the two-dimensional analysis of orientation column patterns. Patterns were obtained from three different cat colonies (termed F, M and D), the cats having either normal visual experience or experimentally induced strabismus. Two-dimensional maps of local column spacing were calculated for every pattern. In individual cortices, local column spacings varied by > 50% with the majority of column spacings ranging between 0.6 and 1.5 mm in different animals. In animals from colonies F and M (n = 29), the mean column spacing ranged between 1.03 and 1.27 mm and exhibited no significant differences, either between the two breeds or between strabismic and normal animals. The mean spacing was moderately clustered in the left and right brain hemisphere of individual animals but not in littermates. In animals from colony D (n = 2), average column spacing ranged between 0.73 and 0.95 mm, and was thus significantly different from the distribution of spacings in animals from breeds F and M, suggesting an influence of genetic factors on the layout of ocular dominance columns. Local column spacing exhibited a considerable systematic intra-areal variation, with largest spacings along the representation of the horizontal meridian and smallest spacings along the peripheral representation of the vertical meridian. The total variability of ocular dominance column spacing comprised 24% systematic intra-areal variation, 18% interindividual differences of mean column spacing and 58% nonsystematic intra-areal variability.