Severe retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) occurs in the smallest and sickest of premature infants. We hypothesized that, in a rat model of oxygen induced retinopathy, abnormal neovascularization would occur more frequently in larger litters where the pups are subject to postnatal growth retardation. Four litters of newborn Sprague-Dawley rats were studied; rats were randomly mixed to form two large litters (n = 25 each) and two small litters (n = 10 each). All litters were exposed to 7 days cyclic hyperoxia and hypoxia followed by 5 days in room air. ADPase stained retinae were evaluated in a masked manner for the presence and severity of abnormal neovascularization. Fluorescein perfused retinae were digitized and the ratios of vascularized:total retinal area were calculated using computer assisted image analysis. As expected, final weight in the large litters was less than in the small litters (15.3 +/- 3.8g vs. 23.4 +/- 2.1g, p < 0.001). Neovascularization occurred in 53% of rats in the large litters vs. 15% in the small litters (p = 0.009). Rats with retinae demonstrating neovascularization were smaller than those without (16.2 +/- 4.7g vs. 19.6 +/- 5.0g, p = 0.016). The severity of neovascularization in clock h was inversely correlated with final weight (rs = -0.35, p = 0.01) and ratio of vascularized:total retina area (rs = -0.46, p < 0.001). Smaller rat pups raised in larger litters, with resultant growth retardation, develop more frequent and more severe abnormal retinal neovascularization. Our results correlate with clinical experience in the premature infant.