Why Do Goats Faint? What’s Happening?

If you’ve been on the internet, and I mean ever, I have no doubt you’ve seen those viral videos about the so-called fainting goats. You know the ones. A loud sound goes off or someone spooks or startles their goats and they lock up and topple over like they’ve passed out on their feet. 

I’ve got to admit, it is pretty hilarious even though I do feel bad at laughing at these poor goats. But have you ever wondered why these goats faint? 

Best of Fainting Goats | EpicVirals | [HD]

It seems peculiar that an animal, even a domestic one, that is ultimately preyed out in the wild would have such a peculiar vulnerability. It just wouldn’t do to get scared by a predator and then go four legs to the sky without a chase even! 

I’ll tell you, these goats aren’t passing out from fright. They aren’t even passing out. Their muscles are locking up due to a hereditary defect. 

I know that sounds a little dry and disappointing, but it’s really quite fascinating and something you need to know about if you own goats. Keep reading and I’ll tell you all about it. 

What is a Fainting Goat Exactly? 

To be clear, a fainting goat isn’t necessarily one that’s afflicted with the condition I just described above, myotonia congenita, or a goat that can be startled into falling over. 

Fainting goats are actually a breed of goat unto themselves, but it is a breed that is characterized not only by its particular physical characteristics, but by the inheritance of that condition. 

And, yes, they are actually called fainting goats, though sometimes you’ll see them referred to as the Tennessee fainting goat or the Tennessee wooden leg. 

So, when you hear someone talking about fainting goats, in any context, you know that they are talking about a particular breed, and not just an illness or condition! 

Myotonia Congenita: What it Is and What it Causes 

Obviously, this condition that gives fainting goats their name deserves some exposition and explanation. 

This fainting syndrome, myotonia congenita, doesn’t actually cause fainting but in reality causes the goat’s muscles to lock up, preventing them from moving. No movement, no fine control, no balance, and the goats topple over in a comedic way. 

This actually occurs because the disorder affects the chloride channels of the skeletal muscles. Don’t worry; we aren’t going too far off into a science lecture here… 

Basically, muscle contraction that is initiated will not terminate when the syndrome is triggered, often by a sudden, rapid contraction when the muscle isn’t warmed up, via a jolt of adrenaline, or just from the sudden triggering of a startle response. 

So, in short, muscles that contract will stay contracted, at “full power” for a few seconds until they’re once again able to function normally. This is why goats that suffer from it will literally lock up, stiff-legged, and then fall over completely rigid- like they’re statues! 

It’s because those major muscle groups responsible for extension are literally frozen in place for a short time! The goats aren’t passed out, they aren’t having a seizure, and they are totally aware of their surroundings. 

Is Myotonia Congenita Dangerous for Goats? 

Generally, no, though it can be. Most goats that are on safe terrain and on the ground that fall over as a result of their syndrome triggering will not be harmed. 

It’s probably annoying and maybe even a little frightening for the goat, but they generally snap out of it within about 10 to 15 seconds and pop up, no worse for the wear! 

However, any goat that is up off the ground is in serious danger of falling and being injured or killed should they lock up at an inopportune time. 

They won’t be able to balance themselves or even attempt to break their fall in any way, and if they stumble and start to fall, the sudden surge of adrenaline and fear is only going to exacerbate the condition in the short term. 

Remember, a goat will usually stay frozen for around 10 seconds at the least! 

And, obviously, a major concern is predators. The sudden appearance or attack of a predator that startles one or more goats means they are absolutely sitting ducks, or rather fainted goats, and sure to be severely injured or killed by the predator if they press the attack. 

They won’t be able to run away, climb, or otherwise take any sort of defensive action until the spell ends… But, other than that, this hereditary disorder does not cause any major health effects. 

Are Goats Groggy After Fainting? 

No, they are not. Goats are not actually falling unconscious, not having a seizure, or anything else of the sort. They are fully conscious; their muscles are just locked up and they are immobile for a short period of time. 

Assuming they just fall over on their sides, when it wears off, they will roll over onto their bellies, stand up, and go on their way like nothing happened. 

Is Myotonia Congenita Contagious? 

No. Again, this is a genetic, congenital disorder, an inherited birth defect. It’s not a virus, bacteria, or parasite and it is not transmissible – though it can, of course, be inherited as mentioned.

Where Did These Goats Come From? 

We aren’t really sure, though in the United States, we know from where they first originated and spread from. These goats came from Tennessee all the way back in the late 19th century, hence the common name of the Tennessee fainting goat or the Tennessee wooden leg

It’s also documented that at that time at least a few such goats were brought up from Texas. 

Back then, considering that many farmers in the area had low, stone walls instead of fences, a goat that was unable to reliably jump over them was considered an asset, and so they were bred and traded for the purpose. That’s why they are still with us today. 

From there, the goats seem to spread rapidly, around the United States of course but even overseas, with some “fainting goats” being sighted as far away as Egypt and Germany in the mid-1920s. 

For a time, they were important animals in nervous system research and were shipped to universities in Texas, Germany, and elsewhere for study. 

Fainting goats actually played a highly important role in the scientific breakthroughs that established the chemical reactions responsible for muscular contraction, so they have that going for them! 

Physical Characteristics of Fainting Goats 

Aside from the fainting, what do these goats actually look like? For starters, physically they tend to be pretty variable, although they have some consistent features that you can rely on to help spot them. 

They tend to be a little smaller than most domestic breeds on average, often standing around 2 feet tall at the tallest. Bucks will rarely weigh more than 200 pounds, but adults might be as small as 60 pounds. 

All will have a very broad body and be quite heavy for their size, showing prominent and dense musculature. This results from the contractions that occur repeatedly; it sounds silly, but that ends up giving these goats quite a workout! 

The back and shoulders will also be notably broad for their size and show indications of overdeveloped musculature. 

Their heads are somewhat variable in shape as with their overall size, and they have large, protruding eyes. They’re often described as bug-eyed or walleyed compared to other goats. Horns are also large for their size, and they stay close to the head. 

Particularly notable are the ears, which show a curious fold or ripple of skin about halfway down their length. Also notable is that bucks have thick-skinned and wrinkly necks. 

Do Fainting Goats Live and Behave Normally? 

Yes, aside from the previously discussed fainting spells, fainting goats do live normal lives and do all the other things that goats do. These goats are known for being alert, attentive, highly intelligent, and surprisingly very responsive to training and interaction. 

Another major benefit is that they’re phenomenally capable foragers and do well even on low-quality food and forage. 

Their enhanced, stout musculature has also led them towards crossbreeding efforts to produce larger, heavier, and stronger goats of a given size, although the perils of inheriting the myotonia congenita gene make this a risky proposition. 

Are Fainting Goats Actually Unhealthy? 

No, aside from the fainting. Depending on your purposes and preferences, this might be a humorous quirk or an intolerable defect, but besides that, these goats tend to be remarkably healthy, hardy, and self-reliant. 

In spite of, or perhaps due to, the fainting condition, these animals are remarkably alert and highly likely to spot threats, predators, and trouble coming. Hopefully, that will be enough to save their lives if you aren’t around to intervene! 

Because of their vulnerability to predation, again due to the fainting, this is one breed of goats that can especially benefit from having a dedicated and capable livestock guardian animal with them. 

Be it a dog, donkey, ostrich, or something else, any creature that can ride to the rescue if they pass out will be a huge benefit. 

What are Fainting Goats Used For? 

Fainting goats are raised for a variety of purposes, aside from the sheer novelty of them and for meme generation. 

As mentioned, they are very capable grazers, and are sometimes used for lawn mowing and clearing back slightly overgrown plots of land and pasture. 

Fainting goats can also come in long or short-hair varieties, and they are known to be one of the best American producers of cashmere. 

Considering that their hair comes in all kinds of different colors, this can make raising them for hair highly lucrative if you know what you’re doing and cultivate the right customers. 

Combined with their good natures and trainability, these goats will prove to be much easier to handle than others. 

Lastly, these goats are also raised for their meat, though they’re considered lacking compared to other meat breeds like the Boer, Kiko, and Spanish despite their heavier average weight and greater muscle density. 

Is it Ethical to Keep and Breed Fainting Goats? 

Yes, definitely. The fainting spells are not the liability that most people seem to think they are, and truly, they do not unduly hurt or traumatize the goats. They really do grow into experiencing and dealing with them, despite the trouble it can sometimes cause as discussed above. 

They have admirable, even superior, qualities in some instances, particularly regarding their intelligence, overall health, and trainability, and this makes them unique among other domestic breeds. 

More so, these goats are presently classified as “at risk” internationally, so getting your own and breeding them is actually doing your part to keep this important, interesting, and unique breed going. 

I say that if you want these goats and plan on raising them the right way, and not just getting them as a pet that you’re going to give away or turn loose, then you should go right ahead as long as you know what you’re getting into.

Do All Goats Faint? 

No. Only goats that have inherited the condition will suffer from fainting, assuming of course that they aren’t actually having seizures or some other sort of mishap where they fall unconscious for real. 

Even in the case of fainting goats, it can be inherited as a dominant trait, or as a recessive trait, and then the preponderance of the condition and the severity of instances can be quite variable. 

Some fainting goats might only stumble or stagger for a short time if they’re very frightened, whereas others might lock up and faint for 10 to 15 seconds if even slightly startled, and do so repeatedly. 

So, unless you’re dealing with actual fainting goats or any goats that have been crossbred or otherwise descended from fainting goats, it will be extremely rare for them to exhibit these fainting symptoms. 

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